Monday, December 06, 2004

December is the Second-Cruelest Month

One of the major differences between managing in a community college and managing at a for-profit is the greater importance of ceremony at the community college. Since the mission here is more diffuse (and altruistic) than at the for-profit, the college sustains any number of extra-curricular groups for the benefit of students and faculty. December and late April-early May are when every last one of these groups has end-of-the-year dinners, celebrations, performances, exhibitions, and the like, and one of the jobs of the dean is to attend as a way of giving the college’s impramateur to the event.

The late April-early May swing is the worst, since every single end-of-the-year event happens then, as do most of the faculty retirement dinners (a few happen in December, but most faculty wait until the end of the academic year.) Still, December has quite a few holiday-themed events, concerts, performances, etc., each of which is terribly important to the people involved. Attendance by the dean is noticed, and non-attendance is noticed, too. The only excuse I’ve had for non-attendance that anyone accepted was when two events happened at the same time – even administrators are subject to those pesky laws of physics. Short of that, it’s time to see and be seen.

While most of the events are enjoyable in their own right, the sheer number can be wearing. The late Spring rush is insane; last year, I averaged four nights a week for about a month; you can imagine how that impacts on parenting time. December is less severe, but it does put a dent in attempts to do holiday shopping, as well as in parenting time.

The etiquette involved is reminiscent of the old science of Kremlinology in the 1980’s. Dress must be appropriate; you must sit in the right place, with the right people. You must be light and companionable, remembering always that anything you say can and will be used against you at any time. You must greet the organizer upon arrival and again before departure; sneaking out the back is not an option. Late arrival is verboten, since it precludes the meet-and-greet beforehand. You have to remember that while this is the third event this week and next week will be worse and you really just want to go home and play with the kids, it’s the culmination of months of work by whomever, and anything less than ebullience will be forever remembered as both a personal and professional insult. (“The administration just doesn’t care about…”) Opinions are welcome, as long as they are positive.

The next day, thank-you notes are mandatory, as are effusions of spontaneous praise in the hallway.

In many ways, this should be filed under problems-you-want-to-have. Most of the performances, dinners, etc., are quite good, and it’s terrific that so many people at the college spend so much time and energy on ways to help the students. I’ll just say that if it weren’t for online shopping, I’d be sunk.