Saturday, September 17, 2016

Minor Irritations

I serve on an interdisciplinary program committee; in fact, for the past year or so, I've been chair.  I offered to become chair when I did because the person who's primary service responsibility in this program and committee, the person who had been chair, irritated the heck out of me when they were chair because they wouldn't prepare an agenda (until I told them they needed to, and then the night before) and thus would introduce something half-assedly into a meeting and expect us to all be ready to go along with their idea without having a chance to think about it or whatever.  In other words, we'd have X business to do, and an agenda would come out the night before saying we had X business to do, and then in the meeting, they'd want to start with Y.  (Let's call this person the Slacker.)

It's not that I'm a super stickler for agendas or something, it's that when I get an agenda for a meeting, I look at the materials ahead of time, try to find answers to questions I have, make notes, and am prepared to discuss the issue.  So if there's an emergency or something really urgent, by all means, let's introduce it and see what we can do.  But if it's just bad planning, then let's talk about what we've prepared to talk about.

The corollary, of course, is that the Slacker never bothers to prepare for meetings.

There's the background.

This semester, the Slacker has backed away (probably legitimately) from other service, and so is only serving this interdisciplinary program on a couple of committees.

I, on the other hand, am chairing a search for my department, serving on several other committees, and the usual.  (I'm not doing anything extraordinary, but keeping busy.  I thus have a legitimate reason to say I'm not going to chair the interdisciplinary program committee this year.  Everyone would nod in agreement about it being someone else's turn.  And there's one person who might step in (but who's at their limit already in service in a BIG way), and would do a stellar job just because this person always does a stellar job.

But, my guess is that the committee would turn to the Slacker, who's service is all in the interdisciplinary program.  I don't know if they'd refuse or not.

I have to decide, because I can do 2-3 times the work as chair, or I can be possibly irritated for the rest of the year by this Slacker's learned incompetence.  (I think the Slacker could be totally competent; they are super competent about their own stuff.  But in service, not.  All big talk, no actual work.)

I have to decide, because if I offer, the program leader would be much happier, and everyone else on the committee would be happier, and I may actually be less stressed than if the Slacker chairs.

Side story: this committee does some work that goes to a college committee for their decision; some of that work is assigned by the college.  Paperwork A takes about an hour of a committee member's time, and then the committee looks at it, and takes maybe 10-15 minutes max, approves, and passes it forward.  We split up this work so that everyone on the committee does one or two iterations of Paperwork A.  (There's also Paperwork B, C, and D, which are way more onerous.)

Okay, last year, the slacker was assigned Paperwork A for X issue.  Everyone else on the committee did their Paperwork A issue.  Near the end of last academic year, we had a Paperwork B issue for X, and someone else on the committee did that, and it got sent forward to the college committee.

This week, the Deanling who runs the college committee emailed me to thank me for the Paperwork B we'd done for several issues, and then said that she'd done Paperwork A for X issue as well, because it had to be done before Paperwork B could go through, and she'd used the information for Paperwork B to fill out the Paperwork A form.

So the slacker put off Paperwork A for the year, and now never has to do it.  How's that for a reward!

(The Paperwork A stuff is 90% bullputty, and 10% meaningful, and normally, I'd be all over someone avoiding the bullputty part.  But I'm already irritated at the Slacker, so I'm more irritated now.)

(This is my last year on this committee, which I think is good.)


  1. Good luck with this. I've come to see that, with folks like Slacker, they've confidently sussed out the reality that academia offers no penalty for service incompetence, so they will happily drop the ball over and over!

  2. "Learned incompetence". Exactly. What drives me nuts is that I have one colleague who is always willing to take on service, but actually never does anything. But because they smile somewhat benignly, everyone thinks they are fine. Now ze is chairing the campus personnel committee, where you have to actually work...

    But indeed, as Janice says, there is no penalty for incompetence, and being willing to do the job gets you as much credit whether you do it well or badly.


  3. We call them plate-droppers here - when asked to do something they don't want, like wash the dishes, they make a point of dropping (and damaging) a dish you actually care about, so you won't ask them again.

    What Susan says. The reward for screwing up is basically more research time (or going home early time), once you reach a certain level of the job which also, unfairly, varies according to gender, skin colour etc. - and adding more administrators to the system has just made it worse, as far as I can see...

    1. Another of my colleagues was cranky about not getting a merit he wanted, and decided that service wasn't rewarded so he'd do NOTHING. The result is that he publishes a lot, comes in two days a week, and does nothing for anyone.

    2. So frustrating, Susan!