Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Faculty Meeting Bouncer

When I was an economist I attended my first faculty meeting. After about 20 minutes of inane discussion about the exact wording of a course description I felt myself getting angry. I actually thought highly educated people were above petty speech making. Disillusionment would not be too strong a word. I think I lasted 30 minutes before I left.

When I went to law school, my fellow students were demonstrating to be permitted to attend faculty meetings. Having at that point taught economics for 5 years and avoided the spectacles of faculty meetings, I did not get it.

Nothing changes. Now I also avoid faculty meetings. It's not that the issues discussed are not important. Sometimes they are and I'd like to have a say. Its the posturing, long-windedness and the indirectness that drives me away. Does it all go back to class and entitlement? To some extent. For example, I recently attended a meeting that was scheduled for one hour. Maybe 5 people were able to speak because two or three, once they are called on had no apparent consideration for others. In fact, one habitually long winded fellow was mistakenly called on -- hand not even up -- yet manage to speak anyway like he was being paid by the word. He probably took all the food for himself when he was a kid but it really wasn't all the food because mommy or one of the staff quickly replenished the serving trays.

And then there is the posturing. Name dropping -- "when I was at Harvard," "I was just talking to Guido or Randall" or "When I was testifying before Senator ________'s subcommittee" and the broad and boring displays of irrelevant knowledge -- "In know in the Equine Psychology literature it works this way." Pleeeeze, no one impresses anyone when these games are played in faculty meetings. How about a 3 minute limit on comments. This is actually 2.75 minutes longer than necessary for most.

And then there is the BS. A committee comes in and recommends a new program and is asked about the need. "We determined there is a very high need." And how did you determine that? "Oh, well, several students actually inquired about it just last Thursday when I asked them about it." Huh? Then the question is what will the impact be on the curriculum. Answer. "We examined this and except for ordering one new book for the library there will be no impact." And how did you determine this? "Associate Dean Jones who is not here, surveyed other schools and I have a letter from Professor Smith who retired three years ago and he says it is a good idea." And this question can come up. "Isn't this actually against the law?" Answer "So what?"

Every faculty meeting needs a bouncer with one of those big hooks that yanks people right out of their chairs and out of the room if he or she talks for more than 3 minutes, drops a name, says anything irrelevant (the bouncer should be well versed on evidence) or claims to have studied something but cannot produce tangible evidence.


Lucky Jim said...

An alternative to a bouncer might be Faculty Meeting Bullshit Bingo. Of course, lacking both temerity and tenure, I'm not about to start this at Acorn U. But perhaps others will be more bold. It shouldn't be at all difficult to come up with 25 standard bullshit phrases to fill up a card. I'll start the ball rolling with "Best Practices" and "Engaged Learning".

Anonymous said...

Can we add "I (or we) care about the students"? I can't say for sure this is said a lot in the faculty meetings, but it is said quite a lot in the meetings with students. This is the mantra of every dean wanting you to come to their law school. Only what they don't tell you is that the classes you want you will not be able to get. This is because they are all scheduled at exactly the same time and only once every two years. So the student is forced to prioritize in a ridiculous fashion because my guess is, they care more about the professors than the students.

Jeff Harrison said...

That's a good addition and it is said in a number of ways and some of the time it is sincere. It's like "mom and apply pie." On the other hand, make no mistake about the fact that Law Schools are operated for the convenience of faculty. Sometimes this is consistent with student needs, sometimes not. And sometimes what is convenient for students and faculty are inconsistent with good educational practices.