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.