Committees. Seemingly endless, boring discussions going nowhere. No university survives without them, and no faculty member can avoid them. Why are there such a plethora of committees in the university? What functions do they serve? And how can you, as a committee member or chair, ensure that the work gets done quickly and effectively with a minimum of conflict, boredom, or wasted time? Author Neil J. Smelser has incorporated decades of experience on a myriad of committees from the local level up to national policy advisory groups into this book. He skillfully demystifies committees and explains how to get on certain committees and avoid others, how to get the committee work done as efficiently as possible, how to ensure that your views are properly represented in the committee's report, how chairing a committee can help shape its mission and direct its outcome, and how to use committees as a positive factor for your academic career. Smelser's advice will be useful to anyone working in the university setting.

The Committee as Creature

The committee as creature

A committee never has an existence in and of itself. It is always embedded in a larger organization or is a part of a larger political process. If this context is not understood, those who work on committees lack direction, and they operate even more in the organizational dark than they normally do. There are no hard and fast rules for dealing with a committee's organizational environment, but there are features about it that can be understood. In this chapter I attempt modestly to increase that understanding.

To that end I pose two simple but essential questions:

  • What do committees do for and against organizations—or, alternatively, what are their functions?
  • What are the major types of committees?

The two questions ...

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