Avoid Departmental Meetings

When Barry Fraser became the director of the Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) at WAIT I noticed that he demonstrated his value for research and scholarship by minimizing the number of SMEC meetings that he called. In SMEC he inherited a tradition whereby the faculty and full-time graduate students would assemble for morning and afternoon tea in a roundtable at one end of his office. I am certain this practice was inconvenient in many ways but it also fit well with the idea that the business of the center could be done collectively over morning and afternoon tea and at other times through individual updates. He accomplished the latter by visiting each of the faculty at least once and often several times a week, toward the end of the day. The purpose of these visits was to “catch up.”

The other notable aspect of Barry’s administrative style was his insistence that each person should take a research day once a week. This was a day when faculty were expected to stay at home to write. Since this all occurred in the early 1980s it served to distinguish a research oriented institution from one that is primarily teaching oriented.

The wisdom of minimizing departmental level meetings has been reinforced repeatedly in the years since I left WAIT. Successive Deans, Heads of Department, and Executive Officers have fallen into a trap, I believe, by scheduling meetings when the time could be used for more productive purposes. For the most part the meetings serve as opportunities for grandstanding, coworkers taking the opportunity to represent themselves in ways intended to promote their identities, and for administrators to disseminate information that has previously been disseminated via email or that should’ve been disseminated via email. More often than not the meetings are regarded as places to inform “how it is” rather than sites for dialogue, learning about and from difference and negotiating consensus.