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Delegate! To whom?

In reflecting on my draft letter to the incoming chair, many readers, including my wonderful wife, noted that I appear to have difficulty delegating. I suppose that’s true [1]. So Michelle and I have been discussing ways to delegate.

The CS department self-caters almost all of its events: the social time before the weekly CS extras talks; the senior breakfast, candidate talks, student lunches with candidates, the CS/Math/Stats picnic, and so on and so forth. I also self-cater the monthly Science Division meeting.

Why do we self-cater? A variety of reasons. Our budget would not support the costs of College Catering for the weekly social time, the picnic, and the senior breakfast. That’s also related to the reason that I self-cater the monthly Science Division meeting: When I was Division Chair, the Dean’s office indicated that they would no longer pay the costs of College Catering. I asked whether they’d allow me to self-cater at about half the cost, and they said that it was fine. I’ve continued that job through a series of Division Chairs [2].

What about the candidate talks and student lunches with candidates? Those are a bit more complicated. The Dean’s office covers those costs, so, in principle, I need not self-cater. However, during the big hiring push in late 2014 [3], we had a number of problems using College Catering. They were unable to cater some talks that we were counting on. They canceled another at the last minute and I had to rush to the store to pick up food. At that point, I decided that I was better off self-catering so that I could be sure that we had what we wanted. It also saves the Dean’s office money and provides more food for our students. So, other than the loss of my time, it’s a win.

Lunches are a bit more complicated. If I remember correctly, we’re told to use the dining hall. But our experience is that students are much less inclined to meet with candidates in the dining hall, and wander in and out during the meeting, which gives the candidate a less good experience. In contrast, when we serve food in the CS Commons, the students generally stay for the whole time [4]. We do order from Pagliai’s half of the time, but that still requires that we pick up soda and sides. Students also get bored if we only order from Pag’s, so we order from Chuong Garden the other half of the time.

Michelle sensibly suggested that I make shopping lists and then send a student or an Academic Support Assistant to pick up the food. Other than my inclination to adapt my purchases on the fly, that was a sensible suggestion. And so I asked. Can I hire a student to pick up food at Fareway. The answer? No, we want to avoid risk. I then asked, Can I have ASA’s pick up the food? I had a bit of hope, even though I know that a decade or so we were told that we could not send the ASA’s, since the Dean’s office has been sending them on similar errands. But the answer was the same. We don’t allow it because of the risk. I wonder why it’s not a risk when the Dean’s office asks the ASAs? I wonder why it’s not a risk when I’m picking up the food? [5,6]

Thanks, Michelle! It was a good idea, but it doesn’t work in the bureaucracy [7] that is Grinnell. I know that your next comments will be If it’s important enough, someone will pick up the task if you don’t do it. But I’m not sure that it’s fair for me to pass on these tasks to my junior faculty, and they help make our department better.

Tomorrow, we’ll work on another task I might delegate or cut.

[1] Okay, I know that’s true.

[2] My students certainly appreciate the leftovers.

[3] Was it really that long ago? I think so. The new faculty started in Fall 2015, so we were searching between Fall 2014 and spring 2015..

[4] I often have to pull the candidate away from conversations to bring them to their next appointment.

[5] I wonder if those questions are too snarky.

[6] I also wonder whether they need a question mark.

[7] I have amazing difficulty spelling bureaucracy. I’m not sure why. Once I see the correct spelling, it seems obvious.

Version 1.0 of 2017-05-27.