‘When I was teaching at Loretto in Scotland our staff meetings were dire. For some reason they took place in a half-lit drab classroom. A friend of mine, a gifted maths teacher, spent every minute of these interminable events with two stopwatches at the ready. He saw the meetings not as professional gatherings where issues were openly discussed, which they never were, but as material for research. He timed exactly how long each teacher spoke, leaving out only those who made the briefest interjections. The next day he would send me a detailed breakdown of the total contributions in minutes and seconds made by each member of staff. The point he was privately keen to prove was that the length of the teacher’s contribution was in inverse proportion to his value to the school community.
I have to say the evidence was compelling.’
The Learning Game, Jonathan Smith
‘A committee is a small group of people who get together to dream up difficulties and avoid decisions. Anything that has a budget has a committee attached. In effect, it’s a form of contraception which prevents the budget conceiving anything new and exciting.
Committees have procedures. These are designed to do three things: waste time, cut out any kind of fun, and reduce the will to live. It’s perfectly possible to have a three-hour committee meeting that consists entirely of procedures without any content at all. It is an iron rule that the person who knows most about procedures knows least about anything else. For the really keen there are subcommittees, which are little pools of procedural overspill from the main committee. Minutes are the DNA of a meeting. The first half of any meeting is going through the minutes of the last meeting. This is like having the old meeting again, and it’s a great chance to revisit the circular arguments that made the last meeting last until well after midnight. The person writing the minutes therefore has to be a combination of copywriter, diplomat and marriage guidance counsellor.’
Never Hit A Jellyfish With A Spade, Guy Browning
‘Benita Preem’s alarm has pinged at 14.00 hours, according to her own notes; it is 14.20 before the meeting has decided how long it is to continue, and whether it is quorate, and if it should have the window open, and 14.30 before Professor Marvin has managed to sign the minutes of the last meeting, so that they can begin on item 1 of the agenda of this one, which concerns the appointment of external examiners for finals. ‘An uncontentious item, I think,’ says Professor Marvin.
It is 15.05 before the uncontentious item is resolved. Nobody likes the two names proposed by Professor Marvin. But their dissents are founded on such radically different premises that no two other names can be proposed from the meeting and agreed upon. A working party is suggested, to bring names to the next meeting; no one can agree on the membership of the working party. A select committee of the department is proposed, to suggest names for the members of the working party; no one can agree on the membership of the select committee. […] Two ladies in blue overalls come in with cups of tea and a plate of biscuits, and place cups in front of all the people present. A proposal that, since the agenda is moving slowly, discussion continue during tea is put and accepted, with one abstainer, who takes his cup of tea outside and drinks it there. The fact that tea has come without an item settled appears to have some effect: a motion that Professor Marvin be allowed to make his own choice of external examiners, acting on behalf of the department, is put and accepted. Professor Marvin promptly indicates that he will recommend to Senate the two names originally mentioned, an hour before; and then he moves onto the next item.’
The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury