Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Theory Which Is Mine

My current theory is that tedious committee work is actually the glue that cements the relationships among the faculty on a campus. A great deal of bonding happens over stacks of file folders and the labyrinths of budget codes. This is very different from the heated exchanges that take place at department meetings. I'm talking about the plain-old, everyday, garden variety committee work that nobody likes, but that everybody has to do.

I've spent the past few days toiling over application files as part of the work for a faculty search committee I'm serving on. I've been sequestered in a cushy administrative conference room alongside a handful of my colleagues reading through stacks of files and busily taking notes. The work isn't hard, and it's often interesting. But, still, there is a lot of it and it can get repetitive. During our confinement, folks talk. One of the first subjects tends to be the shared common ground of the time-consuming committee work itself. We're all in it together, so we can safely grouse about it to each other. Like cafeteria food. Or airport parking. I may not have much in common with my colleagues in the Math Department or from over in the College of Business but, by God, we can all be bored to tears by the same committee assignments and we can commiserate about it together.

It may even be that committee work in academia provides some of the same social function as boot camp in the army, or hazing in a fraternity. We bond over our shared suffering. Committee work is simply the substitute form for middle-aged intellectuals who are ill-suited to more physically demanding forms of collective pain. What's important, though, is that it hurts and that we do it together.


  1. I actually like that kind of work because in the conversations that arise from it some actual solutions to problems like direction of program, etc., can get sorted out ...
    often better than in meetings specifically designated for that purpose.

  2. Hmm, I like that picture. I may have to borrow it!

  3. This image was my second choice. You might like it too Sisyphus.

  4. I've been meaning to ask you, what do you think of the (

    Also, do you plan to read Marc Bousquet's How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low Wage Nation (

  5. Thanks for those links. They both look very interesting. When I've had a chance to look at them more carefully, I'll try to post something on them.