Monday, April 25, 2005

Return of the Rubber Chicken Circuit

It’s ceremony season. As the end of the semester approaches (two weeks until finals!) every last program, department, and club has its end-of-year performance or celebration or gathering, and they all request the presence of the administration.

This battery of events happens twice a year – late Fall and late Spring. The late Spring version has more events, but no holiday shopping, so they roughly even out in terms of time commitment.

Woody Allen once said that 60 percent of life (or was it 90?) is just showing up. This time of year, that’s true. A deanly presence is a way of showing approval, granting an imprimateur, demonstrating support, etc. This holds whether I actually do anything or not. The trick is to be noticed, but not conspicuous; supportive, but not annoying; committed, yet non-committal; serious, yet chipper. It’s harder than it looks.

The next few weeks are six- or seven-day weeks with several late (post-10 p.m.) evenings, and a few breakfast gatherings. I don’t mind any particular event – some of them are actually fun, they’re all positive in one way or another, and I’ve learned to like the ubiquitous chicken in white sauce – but it makes family life a little tricky. (This is where the feminist argument about jobs presuming the presence of at-home spouses is dead-on accurate; a single parent in this position would be dead meat.) Last Spring, by the end of the run, The Wife was even more exhausted than I was. The In-Laws, bless them, have been generous about babysitting when the etiquette of the event requires The Wife to attend, too, but one can go to that well only so many times. Besides, The Boy has a heartbreaking way of asking “are you staying home today?” that I really get tired of saying ‘no’ to.

Deans wear several hats – academic leader, business manager, diplomat – but for the next few weeks, it’s mostly Public Face of the College. Not a bad thing, but an odd blend of passivity and publicity. The times I’m most noticed are the times when I’m part of the audience. I suspect this may be at the root of some of the faculty distrust of ‘administration’ generally – the times we’re most noticed are the times when other people are doing the work. What they don’t notice is that even if we went home at 11 the night before, we still dragged ourselves in by 8:30 the following morning, and stayed until 11 that night, too. (That’s not a royal ‘we’ – the deans here form a sort of foxhole camaraderie at this time of year. By graduation, we’re all running on fumes.)

I’ve developed a training ritual – the stash of caffeinated diet soda sits at the ready, the blistering soliloquies in the car on the way home are getting more heated, and I’ve noticed a much more aggressive lawn-mowing technique developing of late – but it’s still a tough month. I never thought I’d say this, but I’d almost rather be grading papers.