Meetings and Committee Work Can Build Community

“The committee from hell.”

“I dreaded coming to this meeting every time.”

We’ve all heard comments like these. Sometimes the language is more colorful. Yet, committees proliferate at St. Thomas and in higher education generally. I remember a former dean, John Nemo, telling a story about his son asking him what he did at the office. John told him, “Well, son, I go to meetings all day.” His son was not impressed.

Meetings are where decisions get made and approved. Does that make them just a necessary evil – at best?

Meetings (and email and Bulletin Today) are where information is exchanged. That helps with inclusivity, participation and community. Sometimes it even makes for better actions and better decisions.

But communication and shared governance take time and effort. We have to show up. We have to read. We have to say. We have to listen. The last one may be the hardest.

We have to listen as members of a community with a shared purpose and common mission.

We have to give each other the benefit of the doubt and at the same time protect our community from damaging behaviors.

We have to accept the less than perfect policy. H.G. Wells observed that “no passion in the world is equal to the passion to change someone else’s draft.” That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t object to terrible points, but it does mean that we sometimes just need to get the job done.

We have to acknowledge that we may not always get our way and that this might actually be a good thing. Benjamin Franklin said it this way: “if a man could have half of his wishes, he would double his trouble.” For us women, no doubt the odds are better. But I still like to remember Franklin’s observation when a major – or minor – decision goes contrary to what I would choose.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this recently is the work of the Shared Governance Committee, a group of faculty and administrators. Chaired by Don Miller (Modern and Classical Languages), the committee was charged by the Senate to review the shared governance structure five years after its implementation. It was also a member of this committee, Dean Bruce Kramer (College of Applied Professional Studies) who said, “I dreaded coming to every meeting – at first.” He went on to talk about how collegiality and understanding grew as the group worked toward a common purpose.

As I think about it, this is a very real value of committee work. It builds community.