December 13, 2012

Why not eliminate faculty meetings — or most of them — and conduct business via email?

Lawprof  Jacqueline Lipton asks. The first comment nails the reason:
Isn't there some concern about having a paper trail?... I assume live faculty meetings can help maintain confidentiality better than sending emails on a controversial topic....
Even on noncontroversial topics, most lawprofs don't want the risk and pressure of putting it in writing. A few reckless graphomaniacs would dominate the discussion. Squelched passive aggressives may take revenge. 
At my law school [Orin Kerr comments] an "all faculty" e-mail exchange was recently forwarded to and published by Above the Law. That was suboptimal.
Of course, he just put that in writing, and whatever was up at Above the Law is still there to be searched for. Was it this? ("You mistake me for someone who is actually intimidated by you Dick...")

30 comments:

sydney said...

The family medicine department at one of our local hospitals does this. They send us a monthly email with the agenda items they wanted to present. We sign off and send it back as read. On the one hand, you miss out on some collegiality. On the other hand, you don't miss as many items since one is less likely to skip the email than to skip a meeting.

MayBee said...

WIthout an email trail, how can you win an award and hit "reply all" to let all your colleagues know they can suck it?

It's hard to do that kind of gloating face-to-face.

DADvocate said...

Interesting link at Above the Law. Funny how even lawyers (Carter in this instance) believe in making accusations and taking the "you're guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent" stance.

At my work we want a paper trail. I save all emails for a minimum of a year. We've established a documentation system for projects checking and changes also. Too many people like to tell you to do something and then deny they told you.

Writing stuff down often forces you to organize your thoughts much more clearly. It's amazing how many people are sloppy thinkers.

Surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Surfed said...

Then we couldn't be browbeaten. We couldn't be threatened with job loss. We couldn't be . . . inner city school teachers at failing schools where all the best students have been siphoned off to attend magnet schools.

DADvocate said...

MayBee - The reply all is always great.

One of my favorites was when someone found a twenty dollar bill on the floor in the breakroom and emailed everyone telling the to "describe" it and they could claim it. She got about 100 replies describing a $20 bill.

bpm4532 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marshal said...

DADvocate said...
At my work we want a paper trail. I save all emails for a minimum of a year. We've established a documentation system for projects checking and changes also. Too many people like to tell you to do something and then deny they told you.


An unwillingness to respond via email is a red flag for incompetence.

rhhardin said...

If you don't have meetings, people who like meetings can't run everything.

For every system, there is a type of person adapted to thrive on it or in it. - John Gall _Systemantics_

rhhardin said...

I write and say the same things.

I'm surprised it's so unusual.

Palladian said...

I'd miss the gesturing and scowls.

Jay Vogt said...

. . ."Why not eliminate faculty meetings — or most of them — and conduct business via email?"

Uh, I dunno, maybe because waking up to headlines like this is just a drag.

Iowa faculty told to destroy records in dean dispute

From USA Today 12/07/2012

http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/1753359

MadisonMan said...

Google hangouts.

TosaGuy said...

Every meeting should have a purpose that cannot be completed via other means of communication.

If it is to merely disseminate information, then send email.

If it is a decision that needs to be made, then have a meeting.

All meetings should have an agenda and be limited to one hour.

The person in charge does not run the meeting, that is the No. 2 person's job. The person in charge needs to focus on listening to everybody's input.

All sidebars need to wait until after the meeting. Nothing is worse than watching two people talk about their pet issue for 10 minutes.

TosaGuy said...

I find it amusing that a group of people whose very profession requires the crafting of clear and reasoned writing is afraid of what they may write down.

bpm4532 said...

open meetings by public employees are sooo inconvenient.

Bryan C said...

"I assume live faculty meetings can help maintain confidentiality better than sending emails on a controversial topic."

Why do professors in a routine faculty meeting expect or require any level of "confidentiality"? They're just teachers, for heaven's sake. Not international spymasters.

When someone routinely objects to having what they say documented - and they don't have very, very good reasons - they're really just wasting my time.

Hagar said...

Don't you guys all have recording cell phones?

Dr Weevil said...

DADvocate obviously works in a non-academic environment. When I started work at a small cutting-edge technology company after seven years as an adjunct instructor at a flagship state university, I was amazed when I went to my first company-wide meeting. People were actually suggesting things that would improve the product, not things that would increase their own power and privileges. I got used to that real fast.

Dr Weevil said...

I forgot: no senior executive ever threw a chair at a colleague in the small business. Of course, no one, even the president, was effectively unfirable, like a tenured professor.

MayBee said...

rhhardin said:
" I write and say the same things."

Oh, I can just imagine rhhardin at a meeting:

-Chris speaks about his agenda item.

-rhhardin says, "Thanks, Chris. That is a women's soap opera problem, for the entertainment of women. Not a real problem. Meeting adjourned."

Bruce Hayden said...

I am not an academic, so all this is coming from the outside, and, as a result is inevitably quite biased.

Over time, I think that email tends to result in significantly less collegiality and communications. I think that you ultimately end up ignoring much of the email that you receive, or giving it pro forma attention. I find myself doing this even on the committee I chair. I get well over 100 emails a day, and only a couple dozen really warrant my attention. When you get busy, one of the first things that suffers is the reading of emails, and once in that mode, it is hard to get back into reading the relevant ones thoroughly.

Then, there is the question of what do you do in those faculty meetings? Someone once asked why academic fights were so vicious, and the answer is that the stakes are so low. And, in my experience, some of the most vicious political in-fighters have been academics. I think that at least some academics would miss the excitement of springing a well executed political maneuver, if faculty went to email instead of live meetings. But, again, I speak from the outside, so take this as highly biased.

The Gold Digger said...

I agree with TosaGuy that meetings should have an agenda. The nightmare part of my job (other than having to lock my toilet paper in my desk lest it be stolen) when I was a Peace Corps volunteer was the 8-hour, agenda-less meetings. We would spend all day talking about if our mission should be to serve Mapuche women or young Mapuche women.

I finally started taking my knitting just so I could accomplish something. That's when the director of the agency, who had an infant attached to her naked breast at the time, told me that my knitting was "distracting."

edutcher said...

A good many people wouldn't have a social life if it weren't for meetings.

madAsHell said...

Eliminate faculty meetings?!?

Where will I go to preen and prattle?? It's just not the same without an audience.

Joe Schmoe said...

Fen's Law strikes again.

MikeR said...

Recently took the family to the Capitol to see the Senate. It was in session. Imagine our astonishment to see no one in the room. I think there were two Senators there, one of whom was the Majority Leader, and the other was Joe Lieberman, who gave a 45-minute speech. To nobody. We found out that most of the senators stay in their offices, and watch the "proceedings" on their TVs. Of course they do. They come in for votes or something.

Eric Rasmusen said...

"A few reckless graphomaniacs would dominate the discussion."

That's the point. Using email, nobody has to pay any attention to the bores, the scatterbrained, or the self-serving. Of course, you may want people to have to listen to other people saying unpleasant truths, in which case a live meeting is necessary. And you may want to reduce the amount of mindless follow-the-leadership voting (tho in that case, just try to discourage the lemmings from coming to the meetings).

I take comfort in the thought that live meetings actually have some social value in the pleasure it gives to people who like to hear themselves talk. Often they don't care about actually having anybody listen, as long as they get to talk. And they might do some damage if we actually let them affect the decision process, as might happen if we didn't let them talk.

Zach said...

The other drawback about email is that it's permanent, and it's infinitely forwardable. That means you can never take it back.

A good rule for life is, if you ever piss somebody off, try to do it out loud. Then you can apologize or back down. But if you do it in writing, it's there forever.

Fred Drinkwater said...

One can always tell when a company is circling the drain (or getting ready to seriously screw the employees). It's when you notice that the Legal dept. never responds to ANYTHING in writing or email, or even voicemail. When they will only talk face-to-face, with no record, it's time to pull the ripcord.