When I was a young professor, I had a brief but transformative experience that still affects my behavior in Faculty Meetings to this day.
I was in a department in which various faculty were having trouble behaving in a respectful way to each other. I got along reasonably well with everyone, perhaps because I had not been there for very long, but I may have been the only one who did.
Even so, I often felt that my opinion did not count as much as that of my senior colleagues. I was new to being a professor, however, and assumed that this was the fate of assistant professors.
Some of my colleagues eventually got to the point where they couldn't even say hello to each other in the hall, so we had a special faculty meeting to discuss ways to be nicer to each other. We talked about the importance of collegiality. We talked about being respectful of our differences of opinion, and we all agreed to try to be nicer to each other.
The department chair said that he strongly believed that each and every faculty member had something valuable to contribute and that he would like each of us to give our opinion on a certain important issue facing the department. We went around the table and each person gave their opinion.
When it was my turn, the chair and another senior faculty member got up and went to pour themselves some coffee. While doing so, they chatted with each other about something else. I wondered if I should wait for them to come back to the table, but another colleague said "Go on, finish what you're saying."
So I did, although the chair and the other colleague clearly had no idea what my opinion was and clearly did not care. They returned in time for the senior colleague sitting next to me to expound on the issue, and gave him their full attention.
What do I do now that I am a senior professor and have been to many many faculty meetings? Do I give each and every person my full attention? Well, no, I do not, but neither do I try to be overt about my attention-straying. I have worked long and hard at appearing to be listening even when I am not giving someone my full attention.
Perhaps this strays perilously close to behaving like my obnoxious former colleagues, but it is a sanity-saving method that I find necessary to employ from time to time in faculty meetings.
I was thinking about this recently during a meeting in which a colleague sitting next to me sighed loudly, shifted in his chair, and rolled his eyes whenever a certain other colleague spoke. I actually felt the same way he did, but I suppressed my sighs, stayed still in my chair, and restrained my eyes from rolling. I did not pay close attention to what the crazy-boring colleague was saying, but I was respectful.
There are certain faculty who, when they start to speak, can safely be tuned out with no danger of losing the overall thread of the discussion. I think that the department chair should develop a polite way to circumvent or shut down their rants. I wish that we as a faculty could find polite ways to make it clear that self-serving pointless rants are not an acceptable way to spend our collective time. I wish that these ranting people would move to a moon of Saturn.
Perhaps my polite passivity in the face of time-wasting speechifying is part of the problem of why faculty meetings are generally useless and annoying. Perhaps, but I do not want to be like my former colleagues who ignored me in a humiliating way in my professorial youth.
10 years ago