Friday, May 2, 2014

Dr. Amelia rounds out our week with a Friday Thirsty

When we were in grad school, Mr. Dr. Amelia's advisor had a wife who had a doctorate, and a theory. Her theory: That academics have a particular deficit in administrative ability. I don't mean the moderate evil characterizing bad dean and other adminiflakes we write about here. I mean the administrative stuff that is the legitimate responsibility of the faculty.

Case in point: search committees. I have yet to be on a search committee where we treated candidates with anything resembling humane consideration. We'd eliminate folks in the first round who were CLEARLY unqualified for the position in the ad, but not tell them until after the job was accepted by someone else, not because we were evil, but because of some vague concern over legality and keeping options open and the paperwork in not batch-sending responses. It's not because we're evil, I don't think. It's something else.

Case in point: any other committee. When have you been on a committee when the people on it did anything without constant reminders and support from the chair? Read important materials in advance. Remember where the meeting is. Etc. this a deficit? Or learned helplessness? Or something else? Or is the theory unsupportable?

Dr. A


  1. It depends.

    One colleague is such a flake (albeit, well meaning) that I am amazed he gets it together to show up to work. Always late to committee meetings. Always unprepared. Some committees appoint members via a ballot and a vote. So what this effectively does, is mean this individual rarely gets voted onto these committees. Leaving the lion's share of the work to others who bother to show up. Regardless of whether it is a deficit or learned helplessness, this isn't charming. It's annoying, and it makes more work for others whose time is just as valuable.

    I'm unsympathetic either way. It is the responsibility of the individual to step up to their responsibilities. It is also the responsibility of the individual's superiors to point this out, via annual reviews, and help get this individual on track, assuming they are working towards tenure. Unfortunately (for those of us who live up to our responsibilities), this seems to be largely unimportant and goes overlooked.

    And then there is the issue of so many meetings, that there is no time for grading, prep, or research... Deficit or learned helplessness, I can sympathize with this to some degree.

  2. I can't really comment on academic committees (one of the very few perks of my contingent position is that I don't do service -- and of course, in what I realize may be a grass-is-greener way, but also out of a desire to be truly involved in faculty governance, I wish I did). I do, however, belong to a denomination that is known for its committees (in fact, our denomination name refers to what might be seen as a big elected committee), and I can say that some of the same patterns obtain on church committees, even in a pretty functional congregation: people do need reminding of committee meetings and responsibilities, other commitments tend to take precedence over committee meetings (a major aspect of the problems in academe, I suspect), meetings (in part because significant people are often missing) aren't always particularly productive (but if you don't hold them on some kind of semi-regular schedule, people tend to both forget about the work of the committee, and fill up their calendars with other things, making it hard to schedule a meeting that draws a critical mass of the people who genuinely need to be involved), and a very small number of people often end up doing most of the actual work (the one thing that may be different when it comes to church committees is that someone can get away with saying "look, I'll do x, y, and z -- which the person has often been doing, reliably, for years -- but I'm not coming to any meetings" and the committee is likely to agree to the deal. There may be a clue to one approach that works, with some people, somewhere in there.)

    Church search committees do, I think, do somewhat better. Since it's usually a rolling/ongoing process, we certainly don't wait until the very end to send rejections. Of course, if one is going to send out interim rejections, one really has to do it right (bcc'd, without accidentally rejecting people still under consideration, etc., etc.). I'd guess that the awareness that that takes work and care (and for that reason, and reasons of confidentiality, can't be foisted off on a work-study student) is part of what keeps it from happening more frequently.

    Bottom line: a lot of organizations need to find better ways of doing committee work (and/or of doing the work that committees do). But, in academia, it's still worth keeping in mind that the only thing worse than committee work is having no say in the sorts of things committees decide. Many full-time administrators would be perfectly happy to make all the decisions in *their* meetings, and relieve the faculty of the burden of service in exchange for more teaching (they'd also, of course, be happy to relieve all but a few star/grant-gaining faculty of the burden of research and publication in exchange for more teaching, and have, in fact, silently made that exchange by altering the balance of teaching/service/research and teaching-only faculty positions over the last few decades). So faculty probably need to pay more/better attention to committee work, even if it doesn't come naturally, or bring many obvious rewards.

  3. I'm convinced that if our chair weren't such a micro-manager, 3/4 the faculty in our department would not remember to attend anything beyond their own classes. They're pretty much useless!