In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, “Ms. Mentor” Emily Toth (the Emily Post of academe) opines on meetings:
Meetings can chew up your life, eviscerate the blocks of time you need for writing and thinking, and mentor you into oblivion.
They can be good if they’re focused, and the best ones can build community….
But good meetings are rare.
Toth nails a lot of the standard-brand personality mixes that can make academic meetings so exasperating. But she misses an opportunity to tie the proliferation of meetings to more fundamental shifts in academic culture.
It is a well-documented trend that American colleges and universities increasingly are dominated by an “administrative class” that has been growing by leaps and bounds, even at schools that have cut, or sharply slowed the growth of, their full-time faculties.
The addition of administrators is not, per se, a bad thing, especially when specific programs and initiatives require staffing and direction. However, the accompanying power shifts have gone too far in many institutions, leading to a diminution of faculty voice, along with soaring budgets that often are paid for by students via higher tuition.
The administrative mindset
In a mundane yet significant sense, the addition of administrators usually means more meetings. After all, calling meetings and creating committees help to justify one’s position and provide ways to keep busy. Such efforts frequently generate endless exchanges of e-mails & memos and painful exercises in group “wordsmithing.”
All too often, these activities culminate in tepid reports or wholly predictable recommendations that are less than the sum of their parts. At times, the consequences are worse, with “groupthink” producing ideas that are downright batty or ill-informed.
Impact on faculty
Perhaps there’s a case for all these meetings to be a chief activity for administrators, but they shouldn’t be for faculty. Nevertheless, if anecdotal evidence is accurate, this is a growing occurrence on many college campuses.
When faculty are drawn into these spider webs of chatter, they often experience a huge drain on time and emotional energy, both of which are premium ingredients for successful teaching, scholarship, and (real) service. It means that the most important aspects of faculty work sometimes are lost amidst a sea of meetings and committee assignments, usually at the behest of senior administrators.
Think about it
For full-time faculty who might be reading this, here’s the question: Are there weeks during a typical semester when you spend more time in meetings with other faculty and administrators than in classes and meetings with students? If so, then there’s a good possibility that the administrative mindset has taken over your institution.