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?