Sunday, December 03, 2006

Whither Meetings?

I've been unable to muster the minimum of two brain cells necessary to write a blog post (let alone the half-hour or so of uninterrupted time), but I have been reading along with you all, never fear. There's an interesting thread up on Clancy Ratcliff's blog this week about academic meetings that's giving me pause. In it, she asks about how many meetings professors are really asked to attend, given the high level of griping about them (that latter comment is mine, not hers).

So, ponder with me--how many meetings are we all attending, and why are we griping? On many many occasions, I've found the phrase "I spend my life in meetings" escaping my mouth. Is it true? Let's do a count:
1. weekly department meeting
2. once monthly committee meeting
3. once monthly faculty meeting
4. once monthly school meeting
5. once monthly ACUN meeting
6. twice monthly administrative meeting
7. once monthly steering committee for interdisciplinary program meeting
8. once monthly lunch session meeting (which my colleague and I set up, so I guess we brought it on ourselves)

By my count, that's 12 meetings a month minimum, excluding meetings with students, meetings for various side projects, meetings related to administrative work, etc. Each of those listed above (as well as assorted others) lasts 90 minutes. Thus (and someone please check my math--it's not my strong point) I spend about 18 hours a month in required meetings. This is about 2/3 as much time as I spend in the classroom.

I have no idea if this is typical for the professoriate, if it's more specific to teaching at a SLAC, or if it's institution-specific. Any way you slice it, it's a lot. I can't help wondering if the school wouldn't rather have me investing that time into my research, or writing a grant, or even learning to be a better person?

One of the commenters in Clancy's thread mentions that it's not just the time that is an issue, but the use of that time. What exactly do these meetings accomplish? Many of the summons to meetings I receive oscillate between a sense of urgency (these are the issues that have to be done by this date) and an Eeyore tone of "it's the meeting time; let's get together and talk stuff through." I can't help but notice that suddenly, in the last week of courses, meetings have largely ceased; the assumption is that none of us have time to get to meetings because of finishing courses, grading, working with students, etc. This is, of course, right on the money--but it's also true during the rest of the semester. Why is it an institution-wide revelation now, but not in October?

In my most cynical moments, it's difficult not to reflect on the disciplinary nature of meetings. The message at some is: your time is not your own. You will sit here quietly for the appointed amount of time and listen. Particularly for new faculty members, this function serves two different purposes--the first to force them to recognize all of the inner workings of the institution/department/program that they don't know, and the second, and related element, to "school" them in the dynamics and etiquette of faculty interactions.

These kinds of revelations have, I hope, driven me to run a different kind of meeting. I try my best to be efficient, to make them dynamic, and to solicit ideas from newer faculty. Proactively, I can, to some extent, address the disciplinary function of meetings. But the time issue? I got nada. Any ideas on how to protect one's own time, or help your junior colleagues protect theirs?

***More on this topic up at profgrrrrl's place too!

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