Tuesday, November 21, 2006


The Tap on the Shoulder

This week I have to do one of my absolute least favorite parts of my job, which is to recruit a tenured faculty member to serve on a committee. Given that this is not a popular committee, and that the bylaws of this one require that the faculty member be tenured and of relatively long standing at the college, there is really no graceful way to do this.

We have any number of formal standing committees on campus, most of which are constituted by a dumbed-down version of John C. Calhoun's theory of concurrent majorities. Each committee has to have 'representation' from all kinds of campus stakeholders, with the proportions varying only somewhat according to the subject matter jurisdiction of the committee (so, for example, we have department secretaries on the curriculum committee).

I've tried asking a few folks directly, only to receive the 'hollow yes' followed by backing-out-by-email.

There's an episode of “Sex and the City” in which Carrie gets dumped via a post-it note; that's roughly how I feel about folks who back out by email.

I've tried asking department chairs for suggestions, but they react as if I'd asked them to sacrifice one of their children. Which, in a way, I have.

I could lurk in the hallways, rubbing my hands with glee and cackling maniacally, waiting to pounce on some unsuspecting denizen of the tenured warrens, but I'm pretty sure HR has regs about that sort of thing.

It's getting to the point where I'm starting to consider the kinds of measures typically used in The Boy's kindergarten class. Musical chairs is looking pretty good. “Everybody who thinks they're not on this committee, take a step forward. Not so fast, Johnson!” The cheese stands alone.

For all of the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about administrative overreach, it's incredibly hard to get tenured professors to serve on committees. Oscar Wilde once said of socialism that he would be a socialist, but he likes to keep his evenings free. The spirit of Wilde lives on, albeit frumpier and less witty.

Given just how senior the faculty is, most have long since developed immunity to appeals to civic virtue or the better angels of our nature. Administrative overreach strikes many as exactly the kind of problem that other people should get to work on immediately. By default, the 'good soldiers,' of whom there are several, are already overbooked, so I can't just go to them. I could always use scare tactics, threatening them with the consequence of having to live with decisions made by those who bothered to show up, but they seem to prefer waiting for bad decisions to happen and then filing grievances. I don't know why.


Any ideas out there?

Just ask. You're thinking too much.
If the budget bears, serve good food. The only way we've been able to get our faculty meetings attended at *all* is to have nice lunches. Fortunately we're a small faculty so this does not cost a mint.
Would it be political suicide to explain it to faculty exactly as you explained it here? Set out the bind of demanding responsibility yet not acting responsible, then ask for advice? "Professor X, what do you recommend?" Doing so would force them to recognize the contradiction, which just might soften a few of the harder heads. Maybe. I dunno.

Hammer on the idea of "somebody has to do it, and if I do it alone, you'll scream bloody freakin' murder, so either help or formally withdraw the stakeholder requirement. There is no third option." Make them be the bad guys, and keep in touch with enough faculty so that a griping prof won't be able to claim you're bullying him or singling him out.

Twenty bucks says you've already tried this.

Is there a way a stakeholder community could send a proxy vote or some such, saying "we're not coming this month, just do what you think is right this time?" Is that even possible? Not many groups would sign on for it, since it'd be a symbolic loss of turf, but it might work once in a while.

You could form a people's army and seize control of the means of production. That'd do it.
Maybe you could locate the most recent people who filed grievances or otherwise threw a fit about something, then tell them to put their money where their mouth is and participate? Point out that those who don't contribute lose the right to bitch about the outcome?
At my university, the committees meet and write reports and have long meetings. University Senate kills many trees and much hot air is spoken. Then for anything substantial, the dean/provost/president forms an ad-hoc committee to recommend what they want to hear, its rubber stamped, overides any "governance" procedures. So no, I won't serve on any committees....
Not sure how helpful these are: 1) Emphasize the importance of the issue at hand to someone who seems to care about the issue (a variation on the don't bitch if you're not willing to put in the time to fix it strategy.) 2) Make sure that outcomes are real and emphasize your commitment to this, 3) Tie some sort of resource to campus service - a grader or technician or percent time for part of an adjunct. That might get the department chair's attention (bribe them!), 4) (And now for your next impossible trick) Change the way promotion happens so service is still important for College faculty. There are additional levels of promotion after tenure at my campus and documenting service is a required component of the application
for promotion. We get reduced teaching loads for advising, helping with student clubs and other "student sucess" activities. This helps some.

We also look down on wankers who don't pull their weight.
I am one of the usual suspects who will take on that committee assignment, which means I get on some even though they know I will raise annoying questions. Hence this tactical suggestion: Pass a rule that says no one can file a grievance about a policy if they turned down a specific request to serve on the committee that produced that policy.

Record keeping would be your problem. ltwuot
Theodora's right that if your committee gets a reputation for serving good food or meeting in a coveted venue (say, with comfy chairs), you can start turning around the reputation.

The bribery tactic aside, the best you can do is also to lay out to department chairs that there's so much misery to go around in terms of committee appointments and that they are all going to have to pull a proportionate share. Let them realize that with so many vacancies, that will translate into so many committee spots out of their own department. At which point, whether it's their own ass in the chair or another of their buddies? Totally up to them!
Other possibilities are sincere flattery (what he or she brings that is special and particularly needed), or an offer to meet some other interest or want that they have.

Good luck with this.
I second the suggestion on creature comforts. They're the kind of thing which really does take the sting out of a sucky job.
Three words:

"Rock, Paper, Scissors"
No one who turned a committee assignement down gets a raise. Service is part of the package. You just need a memory. Add this to all reviews, eg. Prf. X was asked to serve on committee Y this year and refused.
I don't work at a college but there are a number of things we're asked to do that aren't part of our job. It's part of my metrics to be helpful. That's not how they state it but that's basically what it means. If I'm not helpful I make less money and don't get perks.
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