Usually, when people complain about faculty and service, it’s along a few well-defined paths: faculty who shirk service; the resulting disproportionate service burden; or how nothing ever gets done. There is, however, another problem: the faculty member who won’t let go.
Example 1: I’m always a little sad to see requests of the following type: “Due to the unusual expertise of Prof. X, we request a waiver of the term limit for the committee for gerundal pontification & beard-stroking.” Now, sometimes there’s a real problem: The committee needs someone from department Y, and, due to retirements / health problems / internecine warfare / lack of hires, there’s no one left in the department. Usually, though, it means Professor X has failed the committee in a crucial way: by not mentoring a replacement.
Example 2: If you organize events long enough, you’ll find someone saying things like: “I enjoy the seminar for junior faculty, but I’ve been attending for 15 years and wonder if we can shake things up?” The correct answer here: “No, let someone else attend in your place.”
Example 3: The person who *used* to be the chair of committee Y, and who relinquished the title and the annoyance of meetings but who still arrogates to themselves the imagined power of the position. ”In my day, we handled this problem in this way . . . why would the process have changed? I’ll just do it the old way.”
I hope it’s clear that example 3 is undemocratic and disrespectful of one’s colleagues. (Doesn’t mean it never happens, but I probably don’t have to argue against it.) But all three examples embody a common problem: We don’t often enough consciously train replacements for ourselves. As a consequence, we’re too often left with the person who really *wants* to do it, which is usually creepy, or who doesn’t know how to get out of the way, which can be dangerous.
Or, worse, we’re left with the same person performing a particular role, apparently forever, becoming simultaneously bitter about and possessive of their role in the university. (“Why don’t they recognize me more . . . I’ve been secretary of the senate for 15 years!? How dare that person run against me . . . I’ve been secretary of the senate for 15 years!?” [Let me apologize in advance to anyone who has actually had that role for so long! I'm not thinking about you!])
All of which is just to say that it’s a handy thing, should you ever get elected to anything, to think a little about who’ll replace you when your term is done. Because you should leave. It’s good for your brain, and it’s good for the university. It’s also good for the soul to know that you’re not irreplaceable.
Often, it just doesn’t occur to people that they’d be great in a particular role, or that they have a perspective that would be invaluable for the beard-stroking committee. Your nudge that they should run, or your giving a new committee member some small, well-defined task, can make all the difference.
Image by Flickr user Eneas / Creative Commons licensed