Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Meeting Will Come to Disorder

Every so often at the university, we actually have to do some work. Thankfully it’s not very often; work is something for which faculty are not well prepared. At a university, when there is a new problem, we need a new committee. And the golden rule about committees is that they are composed of professors who individually can do nothing but as a group inevitably decide that nothing can be done.

There are some universally accepted rules about committee participation:

• Never arrive on time, or you will be stamped a beginner.

• Don't say anything until the meeting is half over; this stamps you as being wise.

• Be as vague as possible; this prevents irritating the others.

• When in doubt, suggest that a subcommittee be appointed.

• Appear very interested in the minutes of the last meeting, suggest corrections and insist that the minutes be accurate. This will help hide the fact that the minutes contain nothing useful.

• Be the first to move for adjournment; this will make you popular - it's what everyone is waiting for.

Committees as a group rarely accomplish much. If the original task is to dig a hole, committees do not move much dirt. They can talk about a hole forever, but what is needed is for someone to grab a shovel and actually move some dirt.

There is an old story about the man driving through the country. As he went around a long curve, a deer was standing in the middle of the road. The man frantically swerved the car, missing the deer by only a few inches. Unfortunately, in the process the car ended up in a ditch, stuck deeply in the mud.

Nearby, the man saw a light from a farmhouse. He walked up the driveway and knocked on the door, which was soon answered by a kindly looking farmer. The man explained his situation to the farmer, who said, “Don’t worry, Old Buck can fix you up.”

The farmer led him to the barn and he watched as the farmer attached a harness to a large mule. Then the two men led the mule back to the car and the farmer attached a chain from the mule’s harness to the frame of the car.

“Yaa, Buck! Yaa, Pete! Pull, Bob! Yaa, Sam! Gee there, Buck! Yaa, Bob!” yelled the farmer. And slowly the car was pulled smoothly out of the mud.

The man thanked the farmer and then he asked, “Why did you call out commands to four different mules? There was only Old Buck pulling the car.”

“Well, Old Buck is kinda old and is mostly blind,” explained the farmer. “But he don’t mind pulling as long as he thinks he’s part of a team.”

I thought of this old story a lot this week as I sat in committee meetings at the university. Big jobs don’t seem as if they can be handled by a single person, so from necessity a committee is formed and many people are appointed to it. In the long run however, most of the real work is actually being done by a single person. And if you are that person, the only person actually working on a committee, chances are you’re a jackass.


  1. I loved the story about the mule, and ending the blog calling the only one working a jackass was one of the funniest things I have read in a while! Keep writing! And, as a high school teacher, I understand your hatred of committees

  2. I always move for adjourment. But next time I may wait you out...

  3. Oh, come on! You know I secretly love meetings. Where else can I find an unproductive hour in which to write this blog?