14.7.06

THE DOWNSIDE OF UP FROM THE RANKS. A few days ago I contemplated the adverse consequences of entry-level workers seeking greater pay and responsibilities without first paying their dues. As with any other resource-allocation problem, there are tradeoffs. The dean at Anonymous Community is struggling with the consequences of excessive dues-paying.

My college, like every college in the known universe, has plenty of standing committees. Most of the committees on the academic side are peopled with stalwarts – department chairs who have held their positions since the Carter administration, mostly, and their hangers-on. Since everybody has dirt on everybody else, and everybody has been trapped in the same sandbox for far too long, protocol has become increasingly baroque.

Since the only thing everybody can agree upon is process, process has become a goal unto itself. I’ve seen, and I’m not making this up, a committee spend the first half-hour of its meeting going over the minutes of the previous meeting.

Yes, I've served (until I can manage my escape) on committees like that. But there's something more at work. The dean is too kind (or too young?) to use the "Silent Generation relics" rhetoric I deploy here (even when I'm not into my second Sprecher.) But that "held their positions since the Carter administration" and some remarks he's made elsewhere about the age profile of his institution suggest he's confronting the worst of two worlds: a cohort that enjoyed relatively easy access to jobs (the Millenials balking at making copies) that has also come up through the ranks at his institution. It's not just an institutional memory problem he's dealing with, it's a Musical Chairs game that ended badly. A colleague, now retired, told me that in the early and middle 1960s, Higher Education didn't fret too much about tenure. If a department wanted to get rid of a colleague, the salary committee would simply not recommend that person for a pay raise. Tenure or not, that person could usually obtain a more lucrative offer someplace else. But that game of Musical Chairs ceased to be fun about 1970 (in other words, just about when I was writing the college boards.) And when the music stopped, Anonymous Community was stuck with people who ... would stay there. (The same phenomenon was in effect everywhere. The only saving grace elsewhere in the food chain was, to use the words of another now retired colleague, that the piss-ants at least were "intelligent piss-ants." More so at some places than at others.)

So to break the deadlock, my friendly connection somewhere in the east endorses the ad-hoc committee.
Yesterday I attended a meeting of an ad hoc committee that had been convened to address a new issue. The meeting was just over an hour, and insanely productive; it was probably the single most productive meeting I’ve seen here. I actually congratulated the chair when it was over.
I concur with his recommendation, further down, that there be sunset procedures for standing committees. I'm less enthusiastic about the creation of ad-hoc committees, particularly during the summer, for their potential to serve as rubber stamps for the administration and to be filled with people who have no research plans for the summer.

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