Committee Baby

Sometimes I feel like I grownup. Usually when I achieve something on behalf of my kids or my students.

Other times, I feel like such an infant. This involves being in a position of some authority — chair of a committee, for example. I feel like I am a kid wearing Dad’s shoes. Like someone put me in charge my mistake, and everyone is internally rolling their eyes at my blatant incompetence. It doesn’t help that I find everything humorous and need to work very hard not to crack jokes. Or to crack only one out of every ten jokes I want to crack. The older I am, the goofier I am, and everything seems ridiculous and hilarious. (You should see my creative endeavors. 100% of my poetry turns out silly. Way too much of my fiction, especially the kind that was supposed to be terrifying or earnestly moving, ends up funny.) I can’t help it that people are being very serious about things that seem, to me, to be only molehills made into mountains. But maybe that’s because I am really an infant and don’t realize the gravity of the issues. Or maybe I do, and the gravity is nil, and we are all pretending to be more purposeful and important and engaged than we really are.

Or maybe significant administrative load changes a person. One colleague in an admin post seems positively hurt whenever I suggest we cancel a standing committee meeting because we have no pressing business. But there is always minor, trivial business! The meeting must not be cancelled! You’d think the f*cking pandemic would be a good time to not waste breath on stupid busy work. (Also, how come, regardless of my level of seniority, I am always the only one with young kids? And how come I still have young kids? The kind that goes to school all morning? Where are other people’s kids?)

Another faculty member, who has held several serious admin posts at the university level, basically said that, yes, this obscure document was available to all, in one of the (hundreds of frantic) emails sent by (various leadership or leadership-adjacent bodies of) the university. With a straight face (maybe he really is a master of deadpan the likes of whom the world has never seen) he basically implied that , of course, we have all read the attachment in that email. In reality, I have never in my life read any email sent by said body, let alone opened any attachments. As of a few years ago, I’ve been ignoring a vast majority of emails, because the stream is unbearable. Then the pandemic hit, and all the anxious emailers lost their damn minds and tripled their efforts.

Maybe I am just a baby, unappreciative of the important work done on the committees. Or maybe this goddamn meeting could’ve been an email.

How’s it serving, blogosphere?


  1. Ha ha. That was funny… your “problem” (the irrepressible goofiness) is self-evident in this post.

    To do is to be.

  2. Where I am, a lot of the committees faculty are tapped to lead are fairly toothless. Although, attending without a commute via Teams/Zoom is so much easier for me, so I’m not complaining too much.

    I think my proudest mentoring moment this week was suggesting to the student org I advise that we didn’t *have* to meet if they thought the work could be accomplished via email. 😉

  3. My best boss to date always joked about the ridiculous stuff.

    Right now I am very angry about service. I have been transformative to the department in many service ways. Over the past 3 years, our newest chair has put me in charge of several committees that I did not volunteer for because, for example, “we cannot afford to fail this search” and it got to a point where I was completely overburdened and it was negatively affecting my research. Meanwhile, my close substitute in the department has not only been not called upon to do these things because she can’t be trusted, but she’s also not answering student emails or service emails etc. etc. and I have been expected to pick up her slack by EVERYBODY. I complained to the dept head when it got to a point, which the dept head took as me disliking this person instead of me being pissed off that I was always asked to do her grunt work on top of mine. (Amusingly, when she does deign to attend meetings, she says something at the beginning of the meeting but during the meeting she is silent and she makes sure to have a picture of herself looking attentive with the background she uses *wearing the same clothing* she wore at the start of the meeting so it looks like she’s actually paying attention.)

    Result: This year two chairs (the money kind, not the in charge of people kind) $25K/each became available, one at the university level and one at the department level. My department head nominated/gave BOTH of them to this woman who is completely checked out of the department because she has a “higher citation count on google scholar”. But the citation count isn’t that much higher and she’s been out a lot longer than I have and those highly cited pieces are with a superstar whereas my highly cited pieces are all single author or authored with junior people. Arguably my publication record is better. I’ve also been here longer and was promised the departmental chair 6 years ago but it got taken away at the last minute when another one of my colleagues got an outside offer (which he eventually took a couple years later, but then the chair was put into limbo for reasons I don’t fully understand involving transitions and “fairness”).

    So… message received. Service is useless and should be avoided. Every time I think about doing something useful for the department, I stop myself and just write it down on a trello board as a reminder of some transformative service I have already done for my full professor packet.

  4. Please keep making dumb jokes. Surely there must be someone at your U without a stick up their ass? I need all the humor and goodwill I can get these days!

    @nicoleandmaggie – does every department have an anointed ‘superstar’ who gets all the goodies and leaves all the work for everyone else? I am increasingly disgruntled by a similar phenomenon. Someone who is very productive research-wise and a great teacher, but does f*ck all for service and everyone else gets to pick up their slack because they’re perceived as just too great to do their share? The irony being that when you look at comparative metrics, we have several other people in the department who are just as good and also carry major service loads. I want to be the anointed one for a year or two.

  5. @pyrope Yeah, it does seem bizarre who is protected. My current line is that if being terrible at service means people think I’m more productive, then so be it. I draw the line at not answering student emails or not showing up to class though. And I’m still going to show up for junior faculty, just not my fellow senior faculty. Too busy. So I will still be doing MORE service. But I wouldn’t like myself if I stopped mentoring.

  6. I chair a kind of important committee. I make sure we only meet when we need to, and we almost always adjourn early. We figure out what we need to do, we do it, we go home. And I regularly remind administrators that we don’t really give a shit about the things they want us to give a shit about, but if a non-negotiable rule requires us to pretend we can provide whatever paperwork is needed, so just tell us what to produce and we’ll produce it.

    We recently got the academic senate to pass a rule change that will streamline some mandatory paperwork. Sweet.

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