Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Artful Dodger

What the hell is wrong with men on faculty committees? Especially the older, straight, white men. I mean, DAMN!

After all of the great posts about committee meetings and their limitations and abuses, I felt the need to bitch about my own recent committee meeting experiences and my encounters with a kind of academic man I like to call the Artful Dodger.

Okay, so here is the scenario. As we wrap up the first meeting of new committee to change the world, we start to review and assign the list of tasks we identified to complete before the next meeting. Of course, a few people step up to take on tasks, but those few are women. I suggest that one of the senior white men take on another task, which I swear to God was something as mundane as "ask someone for a document," and the Artful Dodger quickly passes it off to a junior white man. As a result, Dr. Dodger has no responsibilities as we walk away. I am irritated, because I realize that this happens in almost every damn meeting I attend outside my department. Hell, it occurs at some meetings inside my department, too!

I know I am not alone in my frustration. I complain about this phenomenon with women I know all the time.

My favorite recent story about this phenomenon actually happened to a friend at an LGBT meeting. The committee members agreed to pass around the responsibility for taking minutes during their long-as-hell meeting, so no one would get stuck taking minutes the whole time. After three women took minutes, the laptop was passed to the next woman... bypassing 2 Artful Dodgers in the process. That woman, a no-nonsense feminist, said that she would not take notes until at least one of the men had done so. The silence, she told me, laughing, could have been cut with a knife and went on for more than a minute. Eventually, one of the younger gay men anted up and did the typing.

This gendered division of labor--even among the queers--led us to wonder, what happens in all-male groups? Do they forego minutes and between meeting tasks? Do they just pass these along to a secretary or intern?

I rejoice in my few white male colleagues who will step up to the plate and do the shit work, but there are far too few of them. I want to shake those Artful Dodgers by their lapels and say, "This is a working group. That means that everyone in the group is supposed to work, dammit!" Instead, of course, I bitch about it to the gf, who tells me that the situation is the same in business meetings and on nonprofit boards, which does little to pacify me.

So, I am going to take my anger and turn it into something useful. Beware straight white men! I will be watching you to see if you step up in our meetings. If you don't, I predict that I will be that bitch who points out that you don't seem to have a task, and asks you what you would like to do. That should win friends, eh? And even scarier, I soon will be chairing a committee, and I will make sure that each Artful Dodger gets a freakin' assignment to complete. And if you don't get it done, the women on the committee will not fix it for you! No, we will leave it on your desk, let you know publicly that we are waiting on you, and shame you into finally getting it done. Your Artful Dodger days have come to an end!

This has been a public service announcement.


GHW said...

Right on! I've also noticed that whenever there's a committee that needs minutes, it's almost always a woman who ends up doing them. Whenever I've chaired a committee (which has been rare), I've pointed this out and asked that we avoid this phenomenon. Whenever I've been on a committee, I've done my best to do my fare share of minutes-taking.

Here's a strategy for calling out Artful Dodgers:

If you have a chalkboard or whiteboard in the room during your meeting, create a list of all the people on the committee with the word "task" next to or under each name.

Then write down on that list the task the person will complete between this meeting and the next (or whenever).

If someone doesn't end up with a task next to their name, ask them what they can do so that they--like everyone else--will be pulling their fair share of the weight.

Just an idea (one I've never actually tried).

(And if you don't have a whiteboard or a chalkboard, maybe use one of those big paper-holding easels. Or pass around a sign up sheet.)

In short--sorry, but I'm undercaffeinated at the moment and so finding it hard to find my point--don't ask the Artful Dodgers "Will you do this task?" Instead, ask them (and everyone else), "What will you accomplish for this committee between now and our next meeting?"

If the answer is "Nothing," it shouldn't be necessary to point out explicitly that this is an unacceptable answer.

Dr. Crazy said...

Yes, yes, YES! And I love the way that you reframe the question at the end.

I want to add something actually substantial to this comment, but I don't seem to have anything other than, "Lesboprof Rules!"

GHW said...


Sometimes there just aren't that many differences between how some of our fellow faculty members behave and how some of our students behave. I've started to put all my strategies for working with them into the same basket, instead of keeping 2 separate baskets.

And, yes, "Lesboprof Rules!"

Dr.GunPowderPlot said...

I remember a meme about this last (academic) year, and the resulting term, "dickitude," has now become a staple in my vocabulary and among many female friends on campus.....

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

In my dept, the minute-taking passes alphabetically.

Emily said...

...if I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "Oh, but I'm TERRIBLE at typing!"

GHW said...

Try responding with a friendly "Oh, it's fine to use pen or pencil: just type it up later at your own pace."

Anonymous said...

When I was a junior white male, I did a lot of scut work, including taking minutes. And indeed we had a more senior white female on our faculty. In doing the scutwork, I learned how things worked. Now I am one of those very senior white males and on the committee(s) for my experience, and whatever wisdom I might have come into. If you want my help or suggestions, I'll be glad to help you and tell you whome to call, &c., but it is now your turn to do scutwork.

Guess who it is in the confidential closed conferences of the Justices of the Supreme Court who keeps the minutes, who answers the door, &c. ? It isn't the Chief Justice. It is the most junior Associate Justice, in this instance, a Latina female.

Lesbo Profe, quit whining and "bitching" and pay your dues. Like the rest of us have done.

GHW said...

Isn't it strange how the only people who have already paid their dues are always the senior white males?

Funny, huh?

I mean, what were the senior females doing while they were still junior? Apparently, not paying their dues.

And what do you do in a meeting with nothing but senior people? Does everyone sit around twiddling their thumbs waiting for someone else to do the work?

And why are some people so ready to think that the basic responsibilities of their job are accurately described as "scut work"?

Don't like what your job requires? Retire and find something else to do with your time. There are plenty of qualified people ready to take your place (and, it sounds like, do a much better job than you currently are).

Lesboprof said...

Thanks, GHW. And what is the funniest part of Anon's post is that he assumes I am a junior woman. I am actually tenured, hold an administrative post, and have taught for more than a decade. Strangely enough, I still think it is appropriate for me to be an active, contributing member of the committee. Just showing up with my "wisdom" isn't sufficient. Ah, well, I guess he just proves the point, eh?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

The sad flip side of this is the phenomenon of faculty shouldering the grunt work when other faculty develop a pattern of dropping the ball when you *do* force them to be on some committee. In other words, it's a case of strategic incompetence. This does not always fall along sex/gender lines, but it does so often in my department that the women are starting to grumble.

mrc-w said...

Yes - agreed - Lesboprof Rules!

This situation seems to happen a lot when students work in groups too.

I am one of the very few junior faculty in my CC dept. and also one of the 2 women, which means that in our meetings, senior white men actually do some of the work. Nice!

But I've seen the exact thing you're describing happening at other institutions I've attended/worked. Go on, call them out on their laziness!