One of the university committees to which I devote some of my time involves discussion and voting via email. Thus far this year, the committee had not met in person in a real room with chairs and a table and a carafe of ice water and such. In fact, one of the enticements the Dean used when he called me last year to convince me to be on this committee was the fact that this committee "never" meets except by email.
This has been fortunate, because the committee involves a fair amount of time reviewing documents and summarizing things and making decisions. The time commitment would be oppressive if we had actual meetings.
One member of the committee, however, has been longing for us to meet. He has made passionate pleas for an actual meeting because he thinks that the back-and-forth element of discussion in real-time with real people is an invaluable aspect of the decision-making process.
He is right of course, and the committee chair finally acceded to these pleas. We recently provided our schedules for the near future (a sobering thing, seeing one's essentially full schedule typed out for the purposes of filling in one of the few 'open' time slots in it), and a time was found for us to meet.
Regarding scheduling, appearances are deceiving. It's true that I didn't have a class or other meeting at the chosen time and chosen day, but I don't really have time. I had agreed to substitute-teach for another professor later that same day of the meeting, and I had 57 million other extra things to do on top of the usual things during a week when my husband is traveling and my daughter has a disrupted school schedule and so on and so on.
But meet we must, I suppose, so I went to the meeting and tried not to resent the committee member who wanted us to get together. I did not make passive-aggressive pseudo-sarcastic comments to him such as "So, you're having a relatively easy term?" or "I'm really inspired by your dedication to this committee".
I don't know whether I'm glad we met or not. The positive aspects were some of the discussions and the random chit-chatting with professors from other departments.
The negative aspects were the time and the fact that I didn't feel entirely comfortable during some of the more contentious discussions. I have felt quite comfortable contributing my opinions by email, but it is an entirely different experience to sit around a table and argue.
My semi-discomfort stemmed in part from the specific composition of this committee. I am by far the youngest person on the committee, I am the only woman, and I am the only physical scientist -- the others are all older male engineers and mathematicians. It would not be unrealistic to suppose that my presence on this committee is owing entirely to the fact that they needed to have at least one woman member, and, because of the nature of the committee, the woman needs to be a full professor. That decreases the pool of candidates to a very small, sad number.
[Some commenters yesterday were right that being a full professor makes you eligible for all sorts of additional fun professional service opportunities, though I haven't seen any decrease in the number of these opportunities from when I was an associate professor. The committee types change, but not the committee numbers.]
In any case, I've spent enough time on committees as The Woman Committee Member to not obsess so much about having TOKEN stamped on my forehead. Mostly I just focus on the tasks at hand and make whatever contribution I have to make.
So I argued with the engineers and the math guys because they were using very rigid quantitative measures to assess things and I was using a more synoptic approach, and I was out-voted on almost everything and that was how I spent most of a morning earlier this week. I don't think I will be inspired anytime soon to plead for an actual meeting of this committee and will try to content myself with sending impersonal email votes.
8 years ago