25 years ago, ish, I had to serve on the faculty senate at my college. I’m certain it was one of those “send the new gal,” things, but I perceived it as an honor, of course. Midway through my career I served on several high level committees with more or less “success,” but that’s not what today’s musing is about…no, I’m just reporting about attending what we call a “Division Meeting” which is run by our Dean, in the area of “Media, Arts, and Communications.” Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure that’s the current name of our particular cluster of subject matters. The name keeps changing of late. At one point, we were called “The School of the Arts” which I vehemently opposed…we were no “school of the arts” since we all spent a lot of time just getting our students to bring supplies to class. School of the Arts connotes a mastery that is far far out of reach for most of the students at my school. This is not a bash-my-students moment, just a reality check.
25 years ago, I attended a faculty senate meeting and experienced a panic attack, of sorts. I looked around the room at these people, looked hard at their faces, leaned in on the heavy oak conference table in the senate chambers, and I just…I just….couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying. Panic breeds panic, as we know. What was wrong with me? I was intelligent, I taught my classes with aplomb, I studied pedagogy…what was this? I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Even one of the senior faculty members on “the bench” was speaking in gobblygook…call it some form of jabberwakky. I was so nervous about having to report what the senate was up to, that I called that senior faculty member at her home on a Sunday! To ask, “hey, what happened at that meeting? I was a little lost.” (Little? Ha!) This was before email, but still, calling someone at home made it appear very urgent. It was. I didn’t know what anyone was saying. They were speaking English to be sure, but no matter… I was a wreck.
I stayed a wreck, though I think I got a few little notes to report.
When it came my time to report to the smaller area meeting that week, I just said some vague things, hoping to pass…”We discussed the budget allocation model and some new grant proposals on the table.” Something akin to that…Everyone nodded, I was free! No one paid much attention and no one seemed curious to ask for anything specific. My friends in the arts (a much much smaller group than now) seemed to get it—I was saying that nothing really happened and that was commonplace. Whew…I was with my people and I didn’t have to stand up and quit my job because I failed so completely to proudly represent my constituents at a Senate meeting in the Senate Chamber.
Fast forward: This past week, I attended our first large division meeting for the year (on Zoom of course). Fast backward: I sat there in my box, nodding a little, but having no idea what they were talking about. Here’s a peek into some of the delicious new words that I grabbed, but I failed again to capture any the whole of anything. I had the same thoughts I had in the early 90s. “I’m smart, I know what I’m doing (enough), I’m looking around the room at the boxes, and I have no clue as to what is happening…are we voting on something, if so, what? My boss – and those who are pal around on the inside management track—use some of the following words and phrases onboarding, critical race theory, leverage our efficiency, cross platform delivery systems, seamless integration.
Academia is always a few years behind the fashions of the day in private business. We pick up the words, the models of management from corporate America, we really do. Some of my colleagues will be loathe to admit this at all…but yes, my sweets, we try hard to be like Corporate America, we do…on the administrative side of the tracks. Our senior administrators would die to be compared to Bezos and Musk, I’m just sure of it… curious, innovators, visionaries, blahblahblah… so we pick up the language, we’re just a little slow. But as far as talking in businessspeak, or administrativespeak…jargon I guess, the whole fricking meeting was truly blahblahblahblah. I try to be polite, sit still in my zoom box. I tell myself, “ don’t eat my bowl of cereal in front of everyone. Stay quiet. Try to nod sometimes.” I focus on other things, analyzing their background choices, their hairdos. Before zoom meetings, I spent a lot of meeting hours observing shoes—do you realize how shoes come in black? That was way more engaging than discussion of the Allocation Model.
I have to tell myself these things, because I’m confess that I’ve taken on that role of the snarky, sarcastic member of the group who says things like, “Follow the money.” While some folks have thanked me for speaking truth to power (my activism, in a meeting), I’m mainly just lost. One or two folks speak and everyone seems grateful for clarity, but I’m just as lost as ever. I’m alone in this, I conclude. I am just alone………… in this………………the world of meetingspeak. Is it possible?
But language is language and I am not copacetic about this phenomenon. I want to play in the mud too, but I’m kept out of this game, because truly, I have no idea what anyone was saying. By the time I get back to my bowl of cereal, it tastes so so so good. Something I know about. FOOD. It comforts my anxious mind. I try to shine it on, but it lingers – why and how do I feel so lost in a world that I’ve inhabited for decades? Maybe, maybe…I don’t belong there anymore.