The Million Meeting March

On the first day of class, I always try to avoid reading through the syllabus. One reason is that students, anticipating a day of tedium, sometimes skip the first day and miss hearing the course requirements. The main reason, though, is that I don’t want to start the semester with a day of tedium.

For some reason, however, for faculty the academic year generally starts with several days of tedium, most of which have no relevance to the things that excite us about teaching. At the start of the year, what I find most invigorating are discussions of pedagogy, innovative assignments, and shared insights from a summer of reflection; but where we spend most of our time is sitting in large halls listening to announcement after announcement and wishing we were back in the classroom.

In my opinion, the just-kill-me-now endless rounds of meetings are a wasted opportunity. When we teach a course, we have course outcomes and activities that support these outcomes. The more interactive and active the classroom activities are, the more likely participants will meet the outcomes. When we go to conferences, we have specific disciplinary or pedagogical issues and problems that the presentations address. In most of the everyone-must-go meetings, the intended outcomes are not clear, the activities are not tied to student success and don’t actively involve participants, and the speakers generally repeat information that has already been delivered via email, at other meetings, and even within the same meeting.

I have heard staff complain that the meeting content is too academic, and faculty routinely complain that the meetings rob us of valuable start-of-semester prep time. Administrators, as far as I can tell, are not free to give their opinions. I will be honest: I am writing this blog entry from an auditorium in a meeting that has already gone on nearly two hours and shows no sign of ending. The highlights were the delightful acceptance speeches for the staff and faculty excellence awards – but they didn’t come up in the agenda until well after the meeting was scheduled to end.

While we’re sitting in here, our college wrestles with a reorganization, an upcoming accreditation review, budget crises, public pressure to demonstrate that our students are learning, and sometimes-flailing efforts to bolster student retention, persistence, and completion. As of this writing, midway through the week, I have already attended more than 12 hours of meetings, with at least six more hours to come before the end of the week. The clock is ticking, and my fingernails and toenails are turning blue.

As I have said more than once, I am blessed to work at a college where everyone – faculty, staff, and administration – are talented, intelligent, innovative, collegial, and dedicated to improving the lives of our students. So why are we wasting our own time?

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