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Senioritis and Other Seasonal Afflictions

Classically, senioritis is a high school affliction, the product of the gap between sending off college applications (and especially learning of admission!) and the end of the school year.  But anyone who’s taught in higher education knows that a similar illness plagues college students.  Second-semester seniors, with a mere 12-18 credits remaining before graduation, can be pretty hard to motivate.  This month, there was a rash of absences right around April 1, as students received admissions decisions–both up and down–from various professional or graduate programs, and took a day to take stock.

But it’s not just seniors who go a little batty.  Teachers start to look ahead, too: Registration for next semester is well underway.  Book orders are probably due.  One starts to imagine future classes, chock-full of eager, inquisitive learners.  If a class isn’t going well–it happens, right?–then you start to count down the number of class meetings until the end, rather than figuring out ways to triage the semester.  Sigh.  We won’t even mention sabbatical-itis, which arises, for the lucky, once every 6 years, or the gloom that starts to take over those people without contracts for the fall.

In today’s post, though, I wanted to flag two different types of academic seasonal affective disorder, as they impact service.

  • “Let next year’s committee deal with it.”  By mid-April, it’s not even theoretically possible to have many more meetings of any particular committee.  If you’re willing to just sit tight for a couple of hours, you can probably kick any decision down the road yet another year.  You can even make this sound principled by insisting that whatever topic is under consideration needs further study, or that it wouldn’t be fair to hamstring a new committee with a hasty decision now.  This impulse is as common as it is understandable: As the semester’s end approaches, people get busier and busier, and naturally look for any plausible way to get a handle on their inboxes.  But there’s a real risk here: If a committee fails often enough to act on a particular problem, many administrators will take action for you.  Moreover, you’re not really putting off the decision for a few meetings–you’re probably putting off implementation for a calendar year or more.
  • “We HAVE to pass it–the year’s almost over.”  The opposite temptation is just as bad.  Many committees/bodies will believe that they need to have something to show for the year–or that a particular issue really can’t wait until the fall–and so they’ll rush to pass it now.  But a hasty approval is no better than a lazy refusal.  A policy that’s approved is often pretty hard to undo.  Worse still than faculty committees in this regard are administrative ones, especially ones with budgetary authority.  After all, the end of the fiscal year is also rapidly approaching, and usually it’s bad form to leave money unspent.  All too often, especially in bad financial times, a university will carefully hoard its resources all year against the possibility of further state budget cuts, only to find itself at the end of the year with an embarrassing surplus that needs to be spent down.  (After all, money that’s not spent is money that can be safely cut–or so legislators often seem to think.)

From a governance and service point of view, the thing to remember is that April and May are just two more months.  Yes, it’s true that there won’t be (as many) committee meetings during the summer, but that shouldn’t drive you to decisions you wouldn’t otherwise take.  If it’s not a good decision in October or February, it’s probably not a good decision now.

[Image by Flickr user Seattle Miles / Creative Commons licensed]

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