The Curse of ATTTS

>>   Dear undergrad: You come to class irregularly and don’t come to discussion because you have team meetings for another class seemingly non-stop. You submit homework intermittently. After you had come to inform me how much more important that other class is to you than mine, you asked me to move the time and day when the homework is usually due so that I can even better accommodate your schedule for this other class. My response?



>> I have lost another colleague to the curse of ATTTS (Administrators Taking Themselves Too Seriously).

We are having way too many faculty meetings, one every week. They run for 2 hours each and it’s a waste of time, especially in the midst of the proposal-writing season for most of us. My class somewhat overlaps with the meetings, so I am always late. The other day, I was on my way to the meeting at about 30 min past, when I ran into a colleague who was already leaving the meeting; the colleague informed me the meeting was still in full swing, but that they had to leave. I jokingly pleaded “Take me with you!!!” to which the colleague responded “Oh, it’s not that bad.” The colleague had recently taken up a college-level admin position and the Koolaid has apparently been overflowing their glass. I remember a time not that long ago when the colleague  would have smiled or laughed at the joke, or even commiserated at the thought of yet another meeting. The colleague has since been fully assimilated and, I fear, can never go back to being a real professor. (By the way, the meeting was deathly boring, with the same old characters droning; even though I was late, I left early because I had way too much work to do, and  nothing was getting done. Life is too short anyway to spend listening to people’s verbal onania).

I really hate meetings. That’s probably because too many meetings are poorly run, don’t stay on target, go overtime, and don’t accomplish anything. So I avoid them like a plague. When I am in charge of a committee, I do as much as humanly possible via email and only meet occasionally when the amount of material or the way it needs to be handled is such that it’s more efficient to meet once and knock it all off the list at once. Enjoying daily meetings, which admins do, is completely alien to me. I am now confident that I will NEVER be an administrator, because I would be a really bad one, unable to keep any of the Koolaid down.

There are two types of time I devote to work:

1. Prime time, the large blocks of time when I am at work and fully alert, during the day or early evening. This is the time when I read papers, write manuscripts and proposals, meet individually with my students, essentially do my science. I also prep for classes and teach during this time, create exams, and review other people’s papers and proposals. I am extremely protective of my limited prime time.

2. Not-exactly-prime time, which would be the time when I am tired in the evening, or small amounts of time on the weekend or during the work week, which are insufficient to do a large amount of work that requires creativity or deep focus. This is the time when I grade exams, prepare homework or write solutions, organize upcoming travel, file for travel reimbursement, do the budget or boilerplate for proposal submissions. I might also write letters of recommendation or sometimes finalize reports for manuscript review. If at all possible, I try to schedule most meetings during not-exactly-prime time, since prime time is sacred.

Now that I think of it, my ATTTS-afflicted colleague has always displayed just a little too much tolerance for meetings, while  writing papers or proposals together was just not a very high priority; it seems that a lot of stupid non-research stuff has always cluttered the colleague’s schedule. Perhaps the colleague had been running out of research breath for a while and this might be a natural consequence. I, however, find that I am in better scientific shape than ever, have more and better ideas, am writing better papers and proposals and doing it faster than before, and am feeling bold and confident.

I am not saying admin work is not important. It is, and someone has to do it.
I just don’t understand a scientist who prefers this work to actual science. And who so readily morphs into  a full-fledged Koolaid abuser.


  1. Hahaha! I sometimes wonder if we are related. I was just thinking the same thing the other day when a previously-normal colleague was talking to me in admin-speak. Another colleague recently told me that his research has been slow lately, and that he feels like he has not had a good idea in a while. So he is seriously thinking about taking up an admin position…
    There are people who become good deans and still do research and enjoy it all. But I agree with you – I don’t think I would ever want to do that. Too allergic to meetings. Not to mention meetings with people who like to invent problems, and then take a lot of time and a lot of talking to solve them (we have a few of those on the faculty). I just turn into a totally impatient bitch and have trouble holding my tongue, which does not lead to anything good.

  2. We were just talking about how a survey of new administrators at our uni said that they felt like they were no longer accepted by their colleagues and they could never go back from administration because they were now the “other.” They’d have to switch universities to go back to being accepted as regular faculty.

    Re: meetings. A few years back we had a new chair institute agendas and action items who also kept meetings on task and would do things like vote not to re-discuss the same old unsolved issues again until a certain amount of time had passed. Fortunately the new chair has kept to those habits, so our monthly meetings are mostly productive, which is so much better than pointless and repetitive.

  3. Weekly faculty meetings? That run for 2 hrs? I feel for you. That should be considered hazardous working conditions.

  4. Now I want to become a Dean and treat the job as performance art. I figure I could last long enough to film a season of a reality show before getting fired and sent back to faculty ranks.

  5. Woah. We have maybe 4-5 meetings a year, max. Our chair is awesome and she keeps everything on point.

    I remember being surprised as a grad student that my successful advisor would have meetings without a specific duration or agenda. I had that sort of inefficiency knocked out of me at my uber intense high school, but it’s funny how it has crept back into my life. I’m trying to avoid reflexive meeting-scheduling within my lab group.

    I’m new, and I get a lot of emails about orientations and seminars on ways to succeed on the tenure track and all that. I always ask for an agenda. Often there isn’t one, or it just reads, “Deanlet 1, 9:45-10:15; deanlet 2, 10:20-10:50; coffee break; deanlet 3…” I went to one and realized how stupid it was to be lectured on obvious things, like prioritizing research time, by people who seem keen on avoiding their own advice.

    But seriously, you should be an administrator just to show the other admin how it can be done!

  6. Well, some of those weekly meetings are faculty meetings and some are executive committee (tenured profs) meetings. It’s the shared governance concept, and my school takes it very seriously.

  7. We take shared governance very seriously also, but manage to keep our department meetings down to one a month (for about 2 hours). A lot of that time is spent on personnel cases (about half our faculty are being reviewed at some level every year). A lot of the mundane stuff is delegated (as undergrad director and vice chair, all the undergrad curricular stuff lands on me), and many of the faculty have other committee meetings (at the division or academic senate level). But I really can’t see the point of weekly meetings at the faculty level for anything other than the campus-wide Committee on Academic Personnel (which reviews every tenure-track promotion or merit review).

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