Faculty Meeting Theater
It’s that magical time of the month: the faculty meeting.
I’ve only been attending these time-honored rituals for about five years, but I’ve noticed something a little unsettling about the behavior of my colleagues: Though some are as quirky and unpredictable as the Chicago weather, many cling like spandex to the same role, month after month, year after year, agenda after agenda. They seem a little typecast -- much like an actor who is always The Ingénue or The Mustache-twirling Villain.
In the interests of taxonomy and comedy, I’ve identified and named some of these character types. See if you recognize any of the following roles, which you may have played with gusto, admired from afar, or suffered through in perturbed silence. All pronouns reflect the gender of the specimens at my college, but I trust males and females of all these types can be found in the academic wilds.
Also known as The Yammerer, The Eternal Flame, and He Who Has Fallen In Love With His Own Voice And Is Happily Married Until Death Do Us All Mercifully Part. The Yakker has made many a faculty member pray for death, even a painful one, if it would only distract from the all-too-familiar tones of this bottomless bucket of bloviation. Singlevoicedly, he adds a half hour to every meeting, for no issue of any kind can pass without The Yakker attacking it at length, in depth, and ad nauseum.
It’s not that The Yakker has nothing useful to say. Sometimes he makes a solid point, but because his comments come in such massive and predictable bulk, any quality is lost in the quantity, like a dead squirrel under six feet of snow. Faculty members who have been at my college for decades have given several full years of their lives listening to The Yakker. Yet I feel the greatest sympathy for Mrs. Yakker -- also on the faculty—who has sacrificed so much more for the cause, whatever that cause may be.
Just as Indiana Jones cautioned foes, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight,” these multitaskers believe one should never enter a faculty meeting without a tall stack of student papers. Always sitting in the back, preferably behind a post or big-boned colleague, The Grader is rude but efficient.
Since The Grader contributes nothing to the meeting, there’s not much to say about her. She does raise an interesting question though: I always wonder if papers graded during a faculty meeting are evaluated differently than papers graded in coffee shops, offices, or bathtubs. Does the constant drone of The Yakker cause The Grader to bitterly dish out Cs and Ds? Or do the students seem like paragons of sane clarity next to the blatherings and blitherings of faculty? Further research is needed.
Not far from The Grader, someone is getting a few winks in, and I don’t mean the sexually harassing kind. It’s hard to say whether this character is more courageous or cowardly. I’d never have the stones to openly close my eyes (and occasionally snore) in front of my peers, but The Snoozer does. Then again, maybe it’s more lily-livered to turn away from the budgets and bureaucracy of meetings in favor of the beaches and bunnies of dreams. But let’s move on from The Snoozer, lest we interrupt the flow of drool.
I once saw a literal, professional regurgitator on the Letterman show. This guy could swallow pennies, then immediately (ew) bring them back up -- and his most dangerous trick involved a light bulb. At faculty meetings, The Regurgitator performs a function that is not as impressive or gross: the perpetual reintroducing of ancient issues and settled arguments. If there’s a dead end we’ve already gone down seven or more times, The Regurgitator will intrepidly lead us there again. If there’s a deceased horse who has lacked flogging for even one meeting, The Regurgitator will raise the whip. Nothing is ever settled for The Regurgitator; nothing is ever pointless to discuss.
Warning: The Regurgitator may cause The Eye-rollers (a well-stocked segment of the faculty troupe who are like a passive-aggressive Greek chorus) to exert themselves to the point of optical damage.
At my college, we have a few different species of Wonk, but though they display different plumages and jargon, they are all pretty much the same. Each month, they bring forth handouts and overhead presentations about rules, policy, governance, technology, assessment, and many other technical matters. The Wonk -- usually a staff member, not faculty -- is greeted with a mixture of confused boredom, technophobic fear, wistful nostalgia, and defeated resignation to a lack of understanding. Ultimately, The Wonk is a sad (though occasionally informative) role.
The Voice of Reason
Lest you think I find every one of my colleagues a source of comedy or aggravation, there is at least one person I enjoy: She is The Voice of Reason. What The Yakker takes twenty minutes to say, The Voice of Reason covers in five. The Voice of Reason can explain The Wonk’s tired wonkery better than The Wonk, while politely and swiftly bringing an end to The Regurgitator’s gross performance. Even The Grader or The Snoozer might look up from their student papers and blissful slumbers to take note of The Voice of Reason’s ideas.
If The Voice of Reason were also The Dean, our college would have few troubles, and the hills would be alive with logic and common sense.
But then there would be no need for The Unknown Humorist: a role about which -- thank Zeus -- no details are available at this time.
Al Campbell is the pseudonym for an unknown humorist who teaches writing at a public university in the Northeast.
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