Friday, August 27, 2010

The Welcome Back Function

I am not quite sure how it works for you chaps in the lower parts of this continent, but here in the Armpit of the Empire, we are winding up for the start of semester in a couple of weeks. No one is happy about this fact, so our Dean, in his wisdom, hosts Faculty Drinks, in order to create the illusion that we are a jolly team of happy minions.

I am sure you are familiar with these events: there's a bit of food, a lot of low-quality alcohol (the wine is always swill, so stick to the BEER, which is at least name brand), and you skulk around the room trying (but not quite succeeding) to avoid the people you can't stand, while you exchange vacuous "how was your summer" pleasantries with the colleagues whose faces you don't want to push in.

The key to enjoying your BEER is to drink fast enough and be close enough to the door that you can duck out before the Dean's remarks. We all know this. I know this. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to make it out this year before the speeches started. I did manage to get another BEER and move nonchalantly closer to the couches, which, my god, ended up being necessary.

What the Dean is supposed to do is introduce the new hires, so we can recognize them in the hallway, and then let us get on with drinking the last of the booze. Instead, he opened with a 10 minute ramble about how, although he is thinking about retiring, he can't really do it yet (he says he wants to see students in our new degree program graduate, but I suspect it's because he needs to pay off his villa in Italy). This is a meandering speech with little point, and it reminds me of the time my father-in-law talked about the Great Space Turtle at my wedding reception.

Then we get to the introduction parts, and the speech goes from merely dull to the kind where you cringe and think about throwing yourself out a window.

  • He introduced a new specialist in Native Literatures with a long digression into his boyhood enjoyment of playing "Cowboys and Indians". NO, I am not joking. Then he made a point of misidentifying the specialist's ethnic background, and had to be loudly corrected by the horrified onlookers.
  • He introduced a new hire as "Julie" and when corrected that the person's name was "Norman" said "Julie is what's written here, so I am going to go with that."
  • When he got to discussing the Philosophy hire, he did meander off into the Great Space Turtle, as far as I and the BEER could tell.
As a team-building exercise, it could be described as a qualified success. I had a little bonding moment with my Chair as we were sitting on the couch together, trying to suppress our guffaws of horrified laughter.


  1. Besides the "bonding," I'd also hope people would come away realizing that dumbass dean really needs to retire.

    Like now!

  2. Our dean gets drunk. It's a hoot.

  3. One Chair in our faculty in another department gets very drunk at social functions (which I attend as I'm cross-appointed to that dept). Falling down drunk. His lovely wife is best described as 'patient and understanding', and always attends the social functions, I'm guessing so that said Chair can drink to his heart's content.

  4. As a grad student I was pressured into attending our department's terribly awkward "Sherry Hour." At one of them, after a faculty member had died unexpectedly a week or two before, another faculty member sidled up to me and whispered, "I'm so glad [Professor So and So] is dead. Now we get to hire a real Medievalist."

    I gave him the fish-eye over my drink and said "Professor So and So is a friend of our family." Which was kind of true -- my dad knew him. It was such fun to watch him splutter drunken non-apologies, you know, the kind that are worse than the original comment.

    Department social functions. What a blast.

  5. Our dean is a member of my department. I'm never going to any such functions ever. It's a no-win situation. Either the dean acts foolish and I have to see it. Or I punch someone and the dean has to see it.

  6. Archie, what about the combination of you punching the dean who is too drunk to remember?

  7. I wish my dean would get drunk. He's not a terribly evil man, but it would be nice if he loosened up a bit.

  8. My department would improve no end with a little shared drunkenness. I may have to start doctoring the communal coffeepot.

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  10. My freshman year of college, we had these "Friday Afternoon Teas" - true biscuit-and-scone-and-hot-tea-in-cute-china-cups teas. We were required to invite at least 3 faculty and they were required to show up. If was hell. It only became fun when there was a traveling lecturer (which house can snag Jocelyn Elders for tea?) or a celebrity doing a book tour or a college-concerts-series *we got Harry Connick Jr!!!!) or the chem prof whose hair looked literally like Einstein's and who frequently ran out of class mid-lecture, only to return with a comment like this: "Phew! Left the burner on again! That experiment could have leveled this building! Ok, so back to chair confirmations in organic chemisty..."

    (Edited for redonkulous grammatical mistakes...)

  11. Beaker,

    That would be great. But some weasel would be sure to tell the dean where the black eye came from. And since my institution works on a merit-raise-only-no-cola system, my salary would be frozen until the end of time. Or at least until my next outside offer.

    Then again, could be worth it...

  12. I have to admit that the best thing about a college is to be surrounded by other humans who you can spend time with, whether it be roller blading, tipping a beer, tipping a canoe, or just eating some lo mein. When you don't have colleagues who you can stand, it makes no difference what sort of students you have, or how prestigious the college. Your life sucks if you have sucky colleagues.

  13. When I was a PhD candidate, my department (computer science) was very serious about research, but didn't really have much in the way of social events. However, I also did a lot work with the math department, whose students didn't even attend the department colloquiums, but they had incredible parties, especially around Christmas time, with expensive catered food (lobster even) and wine. I didn't miss those functions. Once, I was walking out of the math department Christmas party, where I had had a bit too much wine to drive (fortunately I was walking) when I was snagged into a small party thrown by a couple professors in the Laboratory I worked in in the computer science department and fed hot spiced wine and even more food. I'm lucky that I didn't get run over walking home.

    As far as parties for faculty go, I was working as a visiting instructor at another college when I defended my PhD thesis. I threw a party to celebrate, inviting everyone in my department over. Only one colleague turned up. It was actually nice, we had a long talk, although he didn't like my chili.


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