Upon returning from my Winter Vacation, I waded through the usual stack of holiday newsletters, in which I read with great fascination the names of my nephews' elementary school teachers and the names of distant long-dead relatives unearthed by my geneology-obsessed relative (living relatives were dispensed with much more efficiently), and gazed at collages comprised of hundreds of tiny photos that might contain images of people (or their pets?).
In December 2006 in this blog, I wrote an attempt-at-humor parody of such newsletters and said that that would likely be my first and last newsletter. I am going to stick by my campaign promise, although the statement was slightly inaccurate in that both last year and this year I am in charge of my department's annual newsletter.
Putting together the department newsletter used to be the job of a staff member who only managed to come up with a boring and ugly newsletter-like thing every few years. Last year, the new department chair decided that someone else should be in charge of the newsletter and appointed a faculty member who is not very active in research. This faculty member was offended to be asked to do a task formerly done by a staff person, and did not work on the newsletter.
Question 1: Who should put together the department newsletter?
I don't know, but I volunteered to do the newsletter because I think it is important that the department have a newsletter and I like to write and maybe I have a masochistic tendency to take on ever yet more service activities. Whatever the reason, I don't really know who should be responsible for producing the department newsletter. Some departments hire a technical writer with experience producing media-savvy brochures, some departments have a staff member who puts together a newsletter, and some departments have a faculty member assemble it. I suspect the latter option might be rare at a research university, but I don't really know.
Last year, creating the newsletter was a huge task because (1) I had never done it before, and (2) It had been so long since the previous newsletter that there were many things to write about and there was a huge pile of unsorted data to sift through and organize (alumni/ae news, donations, scholarships/awards etc.). I had a lot of help writing the newsletter (various faculty, students, and staff wrote parts of the newsletter), but it was still a lot of work.
I have agreed to be the Newsletter Editor again this year, but only for this year. I think that this job should rotate around the department every year or two so that different people are involved in it.
Last week, the department chair asked to speak with me. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
Department Chair (DCh): Now, I know that you think that someone else should take over the newsletter next year, but to be honest, when I consider all the faculty in the department, the number who have the appropriate skill set to produce a great newsletter is very small.
FSP: That's OK if the number is small, as long as the number isn't one.
DCh: The number might actually be one, and that one is you.
FSP: As I recall, last year you initially assigned this job to Another Professor. You must have done that because you thought that Another Professor was capable of this task. [<-- I thought this was a fairly clever response, as it left the chair the choice of admitting that there are non-me options or admitting he had been wrong in his initial choice of newsletter editor, and I was betting he'd do the former. Alas, I was wrong.]
DCh: I was wrong.
FSP: No you weren't. I think Another Professor would do a great job with the newsletter. Creating a good newsletter is not a 'skill set' that I alone possess.
DCh: Let's talk about this more next week.
(FSP thinks: We can talk, but .. no means no)
Question 2: How many professional service activities can one person do and remain sane?
(or is even too late to be asking that question?)
2 years ago