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Planning the weekly department meeting

In a recent musing, I suggested that I was considering writing up the public parts of my plans for the department meeting as a musing. But, hey, I might as well do it retrospectively since I didn’t do them prospectively. Or perhaps these can be prospective for next week’s meeting.

Grinnell’s CS department holds weekly meetings. We do so for many reasons. One reason is that we always have things to discuss (more on that as we look at the agenda). However, the more important reason is that weekly department meetings build a culture of collaboration, consultation, and collegiality. If we get together regularly, we feel free to talk about a wide variety of things and can consider informal items as well as formal items.

What do we discuss? Let’s consider what I planned for the most recent meeting and what actually happened. I tend to start our meetings with quick announcements. Those may be an acknowledgement of a recent accomplishment (e.g., a grant, a student getting an award, or whatever). Those may be notices about upcoming events (e.g., that we are not having a meeting on May 17 because Kate Walker is giving her annual budget presentation or that Part A of Summer MAP proposals are due on May 8). Usually, it’s whatever comes to mind when I’m putting together the announcements.

We have two weekly topics: CS Table and CS Extras. CS Table is our weekly student, faculty, and staff discussion group. CS Extras is our weekly presentation series. Each week, we check in to make sure that we have upcoming topics and, early in the semester, to try to plan a full semester of topics for CS Extras [1].

In next week’s CS Extra, we will have Lakesia Johnson and Maure Smith-Benati speaking to us about inclusion. Since that’s a particularly important topic, I included an agenda item for us to talk more about it: How would we encourage students to attend? What followup activities might we do? Since we hope to have particularly high turnout, we’re holding it in a different location than normal, so we considered some associated issues. Next week we should probably revisit plans one more time.

We normally have a discussion about peer educators early in the meeting. However, Sarah Dahlby Albright, our Peer-Education Coordinator, had a conflicting meeting, so we postponed that until later in the meeting.

This week’s meeting was in the middle of preregistration, so I planned a short discussion of the state of our courses. I always have such discussions, but, given the change from Wednesday morning to Thursday evening [2], I’m not sure that the advance review is necessary. However, we did have some related topics that were useful to discuss, such as what to do about some prerequisite issues. Since we have now completed the preregistration period, I expect that we’ll spend a significant amount of time on cuts, closes, and balancing at next week’s meeting [3].

We have a variety of social events at the end of the semester, including a joint picnic with Math/Stats, a Senior Lunch, a Graduation Breakfast, and a Pledge of the Computing Professional ceremony. We chatted quickly about those events. We’ll probably do so again this coming week.

Ursula Wolz, our Noyce Visiting Professor, has been coordinating a variety of outreach activities to our local school district. She had asked for time in the schedule to discuss plans for the coming year. I put her as close to the top of the agenda as I could [5]. We may need a short followup for this topic, too.

A number of colleagues in other departments had proposed some collaborations with our department [6]. We considered those quickly.

I had delayed one of our bigger topics, revisions to our catalog copy I think that was supposed to be done by today. It’s not. In any case, we looked through it and identified some revisions. That will probably be the tomorrow’s musing. I think we can handle the rest of that issue via email.

By this time, Sarah had arrived. The deadlines for Peer Educator applications for the fall had just passed, so we spent some time discussing who might be appropriate for our upper-level classes [7]. Sarah also distributed peer evaluation forms. I should remember to give those out in class!

Then we hit the topics that I’d forgotten to put on the agenda [8].

In some past years, Henry Walker has generously given of his time to supervise students who want to do the CSC 161 material over the summer. The students don’t get credit, but they can jump ahead in the major. But Henry is now on Senior Faculty Status and none of us are as familiar with Henry’s materials. A variety of students have been asking what we will be doing this summer. We’ve tried alternatives, such as the Harvard/EdX CS 50 course, but they have not worked well. We have not been able to identify other venues. Given the other demands on the CS faculty this summer, we decided to put this option on hold for the time being [9].

We’re early on in the search for a new Linux System Administrator. I had intended to put some aspects of that search on our agenda, but had forgotten. We spent a few minutes considering the state of the search. The advertisements should be posted soon [10].

I try to cover the state of our budget at every other meeting, but I’d forgotten to put it on the agenda. I distributed the latest spreadsheet, but we did not discuss it. We should definitely revisit the budget at our next meeting.

I think that’s it for the things I planned or should have planned. My faculty also raised some issues about summer internships that include academic credit [11].

That’s about it. There was the usual side chatter. I had planned to set a date for our summer workshop on the curriculum, but didn’t make it.

Not too shabby for a fifty-minute meeting! I would, of course, prefer that our meetings were a bit more leisurely. They are in some weeks; it’s just a busy time of the semester.

What else do I need to add for next week? Certainly, we need to spend more time on the budget. When are academic equipment requests due? Damn! They are due on May 1. I guess we’ll cover those via email this weekend, with some in-person chats on Monday morning. Jerod has been sending some updates as he visits study abroad programs. We might want to consider those quickly. But I think between normal topics, CCB, and the budget, we’ll have a pretty full meeting.

I know that other departments do without weekly meetings. I’m still trying to figure out how [12].

[1] It feels like the extras have had more gaps than normal this semester. But we’ll be back on track this fall.

[2] From doable to over-enrolled.

[3] In some years, we need to get a start on some shifting that will take time, such as asking the Dean for permission to shift some responsibilities or negotiate with another department to balance things [4].

[4] Once in a while, we can convince the Dean to hire a term person for Math and to have one of the Math/Stats faculty help with a CS course that falls within their wheelhouse.

[5] While I did not expect to run out of time before Ursula’s presentation, it was less time critical than those other topics, and so could wait. I did consider it more critical than the topics that follow.

[6] Sorry, no details.

[7] We need to do some interviews before assigning evening tutors and mentors for the lower-level classes.

[8] See, I knew that the agenda should have been my musing of the day!

[9] If someone knows of a really good MOOC that teaches C programming, including memory management with linked structures, please let me know. We’ll consider it for future years.

[10] If you know of someone with strong Linux SysAdmin skills who would like to work at a small liberal arts college, please have them apply. The job should show up on next week. Or have them send me email.

[11] Supervising internships is not one of my strengths; I’m glad that our young faculty are happy to do so.

[12] I don’t want to change what we do. I just don’t understand how other departments can get all of this work done without weekly meetings.

Version 1.0 of 28 April 2017.