Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Who Invented Service?

I was solving a crossword puzzle last night and got stuck on the clue that said, "Committees are often this way." "Boring, stupid, useless, ridiculous, a total waste of time" were my immediate responses. None of them, however, had the requisite number of letters to fit the actual response, which was a lot more tame: "ad hoc." Still, once I got on the subject of my hatred of committees, there was no returning to the peaceful crossword puzzle solving.

Every academic is expected to divide his or her working time between activities dedicated to teaching, research, and what is called "service to the university community." While the latter sounds quite noble, in reality it is nothing but tedious paper-pushing. Even when a committee starts out with a task that sounds mildly relevant to our academic lives, a moment always comes when bureaucrats intervene and make a travesty of the whole thing. I always sit at endless committee meetings fuming to the degree where I'm afraid that smoke will start coming out of my ears. Why do I need to waste the time I could have dedicated to reading, doing research, or planning interesting activities for my students on something that has no other use than give yet another bureaucrat an excuse to get their huge salary? Of course, I wouldn't mind giving them much bigger salaries on the condition that they leave me in peace.

As much as I love blaming administrators for every ill under the sun, I am forced to recognize that we, the academics, are just as much to blame for the proliferation of utterly useless service-related activities. During the meetings of our Promotion and Tenure committee where we were deciding on the number of committees we needed to attend, committees on which we needed to "take a leadership role" and publications, everybody was very eager to lower the number of publications and raise the number of committees ad infinitum. My colleagues at a variety of educational institutions across the continent keep complaining about service. However, they participate in committee work with such enthusiasm that I seriously doubt their commitment to committee-hating.

I'm bitter because today I'm due to take a leadership role on one of our committees.

I dream of a day when my research will make me so famous that I will be able to do very little committee work. Other people dream of fame and fortune. As for me, it's freedom from service that I covet.


Pagan Topologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pagan Topologist said...

I think the issue is "faculty governance," which means that faculty are supposed to have some say over how the university operates. Committees supposedly give faculty that power. How much difference they make is debatable, but only sometimes is it enough to matter.

-corrected version. I have deleted the original.