Adam Kotsko, a doctoral student at Chicago Theological Seminary, wrote a great column in Inside Higher Ed on the usefulness of participating in committee work for doctoral students. I completely agree with Kotsko's point. As a doctoral student, I found it very helpful to serve on committees. I participated on a search committee and the doctoral program committee, and I served as a doctoral student rep to the teaching support center on campus and the faculty meeting .
Each of these committees gave me great insights into the culture of higher education and the interests/purposes of each committee. Even though I was a doctoral student and fairly young, I thought that my input was useful; most of the time it was welcome, too! And I brought important information back to my home community, whether that was doctoral students or my department.
I got a lot of flak from other students who just saw my committee work as a waste of time, detracting from schoolwork and research. Yet, I learned very important skills from attending these meetings. I learned about the rigors of Roberts Rules of Order and the many ways in which people bastardize them, selectively emphasize different elements, and ignore them while pretending to follow them. I learned to read between the lines of what people say about their interests to hear what people actually mean. I learned the power of legal opinions with administrators (I have a long but wonderfully amusing story that I will tell sometime about this). I saw the dynamics of gender, race, and status and their effects on individuals' participation, and I has to wrestle with people's different perceptions of the role of student representatives.
As someone who knew I wanted to go into administration one day, participating in these meetings has helped me learn how to run meetings of my own. I know what works well (strong, organized facilitation) and what to avoid (meetings for the sake of meetings, with no clear agenda and a lot of endless speechifying).
I believe that committees have been given a bad name, especially committees at the university level, due to poor planning, unclear charge, or wasted effort because nothing is done with the work produced. However, a good committee can make a real difference in a program, a department, a college, and a university. And a great committee (yes, they do exist!!) can change the committee members, as well.
I think that Fritz, the snarky poster to the IHE column, is showing his grumpy butt. He has been playing the game a little too long. Some of us are still new enough to be enjoying the game, yet seasoned enough to want to play it well. And perhaps we can improve the stadium, the rulebook, the pay scale, the player support, and the refereeing while we are at it!
As someone who takes faculty governance seriously, I recognize that we cannot sustain any role in governance if we are not going to serve on committees. So, all we are saying... is give committees a chance!