Tuesday, January 11, 2011


There's this committee, which is responsible for a program, and I'm lucky enough to be on it, except the lucky part isn't so much what I think of as luck.

The thing is, this committee's program has had changes that have to be approved (like all the program changes of similar committees) by a high level Not-A-Deanling (NAD) before it is really supposed to go into effect. Such things are written officially in the Program Program, which is supposed to tell everyone (and it's supposed to be a publicly available document) what the Program does and how we programatically do it.

Anyway, things seem to become much more formalized around here, and there's probably a good reason for that. We can't have committees that run programs just running them to the best of their abilities now, can we? They need to be overseen by NADs so that they don't run amok! And, of course, there have been, in the history of the world, more than one or two occasions where committees such as this have, indeed, run amok and messed with people in unethical, improper ways, and those people have, very occasionally, rightly sued. And so, much paperwork must be done to prevent suits and to make sure that all proceedures having to do with the program this committee runs being approved and so on.

Unfortunately, three things have been changing rapidly around here: the program has developed, because that's what it needed to do. And the committee has been running to push that development, and so changed things on the run. And it's not always done the best job keeping records. And the NAD in charge has been changed both in terms of the person filling the job, but also in terms of the job descriptions. So a NAD that's got the title NAD1 was in charge from 2007-8, then the job description was changed so that NAD2 was in charge from 2008-9. But then the person who'd been NAD1 in 2007-8 took over the NAD2 position, and didn't like what the previous NAD2 had done. And now there's an interim NAD1 who has been given the older job description because the two people who'd danced around there have both left the university.

The new NAD was all over everything being super legal and up to date earlier this year. But then, when asked in an open meeting, the new NAD admitted that the NAD approval of the programs our sort of committee runs is at least two years behind, but, of course, it's not his fault because he only took over last year.

I'm willing to bet that almost any other public institution of higher learning has similar problems somewhere along the way.

The upshot is, our committee decided that we really did need to get on top of this, and actually have our Program Program (the written rules and procedures) reflect what various committees over the year have voted into place, and that the actual practices should reflect what we say we're doing. But there being little time for such work during the semester, several of us took it on for break.

We met yesterday and went over what the NAD's secretary (because, of course, he has one) had, including letters from various NADs to tell us this and that about our Program Program, and reports of this and that thing. We can't even find that last officially sanctioned version of the Program Program, because we've made changes piecemeal, and the various NADs haven't reviewed those changes before the Program Committee made another change.

So I've spent the past several hours going through meeting minutes (and here I thank the dogs of committee notetakers for putting them all in place properly) and finding out when the committee has voted on something, and try to figure out the language that was supposed to go into the Program Program. It's lovely.

There's the whole thing on reviewing the program that was revised and revisited in minutes, but not actually added to the Program Program.

And then there's the part about changing the committee structure that runs the program, and which is changed in practice according to the vote, but recorded nowhere in the Program Program.

There's also a part about the Chair of the Program, a position that doesn't actually exist in the Program Program, but that several people have filled for successive years, quite successfully, thank you. And the arcana of how that chair was chosen is just, well, laughably complicated and arcane for no reason except that it totally made sense some years ago to the people involved, none of whom actually wanted the responsibility. (So much for Nietzsche's will to power thing.)

I think it's time to go play outside in the snow.


  1. And somehow, even though it's too strong an image for what you describe, I am reminded of the scene in Brazil where Jonathan Pryce is having a screaming argument with two plumbers about bureaucratic authorization while all of them are being drenched. My eyes began to glaze of their own will when you launched into the history of the deanlings.

    Go play in the snow. :D

  2. Anonymous3:34 PM

    Are they paying you to do this over break, sister? Because this is a thankless, thankless task. Sending you all good vibes that you get the mess untangled without it taking way too much time!

  3. it's time for all the committee minutes to reflect the need for "institutional knowledge" about how things work well with the program program. then someone with authority will declare the preservation of institutional knowledge to be a priority, and order a restructuring to "preserve" that. everyone who has been around for a few years will eventually flee in horror at the proposals thus generated. the management consultant will declare the restructuring a victory.

    or at least, that's how it went one time for me. not in academia, but the wild world of weird management crosses professional boundaries, i think.