Valentine: To meet or not to meet: What a question

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

Welcome to Murray State. If you are a returning party to this ongoing search for truth, justice and a parking space, welcome home.

You will be pleased to note that, over the summer, no pieces of historic architecture have been leveled like Ordway Hall was.

Some strange-looking parking barriers have been erected on 15th Street (which now has crosswalks again), and Rainey T. Wells is still patiently guarding the back door to Pogue Library.

Also, there’s a new president; he doesn’t play trombone, but he seems like a pretty cool guy.

If you are new to our campus, please notice the lovely flowers and the flowering trees. This is a pretty, friendly campus; you’ll like it, if you don’t already feel that way.

Remember: “classification” means “What year are you?” We try not to say “freshman,” because that is considered sexist, and we avoid “freshperson,” because it is idiotic. We say “first year,” because it is slightly less idiotic.

After five years, just say, “senior.”

Bob Davies is in his first year, just like you. Unlike you, he is president of Murray State. Don’t call him a “freshman.”

The only downside to the whole experience is the inevitable encounter with a form of medieval torture common to all campuses, whether public or private. This brutal dishing out of pain afflicts the freshman as harshly as it does the most senior faculty member. It should be outlawed, but it is too popular as a cruel initiation ritual into the ancient and hallowed institution that is higher education.

It is called “a meeting.”

What’s wrong with meetings? Where to begin? Humorist Dave Barry has, perhaps, put it best:

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings.’”

The great inventor, Thomas Edison, had much the same to say. If we may paraphrase his critique of litigation, we would hear him say, “A meeting is the suicide of time.”

That seems to be the problem: we dread meetings because we feel they are a poor investment of our time. Classes are a form of meeting, but since you seldom get a vote on the content or conduct of a class, let’s put “classes” in a special category of human behavior, shall we?

Meetings go on too long, accomplish too little, are insufficiently entertaining and prevent us from texting, dancing, drinking, sleeping or playing “Dungeons and Dragons.” It was ever thus.

Meetings, we are told by meeting experts, fall into various categories. These include:

Informational meetings: it is often easier to tell everyone at once, although most of these meetings are now needless because we have email, texting, social networking and cell phones.

We still have these meetings, which everyone tries to avoid. Classes may fall into this category, as do sessions of the House of Representatives.

Decision-making meetings: These are gatherings in which all the participants have a chance to share their feelings, their knowledge and to reason together about the best course of action. Or hear what the president or executive committee has already decided so we can all vote for it. These meetings often feature snacks.

Regularly scheduled meetings: these are important human interactions held because “we always meet on Wednesday nights.” That may seem idiotic to you, but only because it is. Take heart: there are things you can do to avoid being trapped in mindless, needless meetings. Even better: there are ways to avoid calling such meetings and presiding over them.

Next week: “How to Fake an Illness.”

See you in class.


This column is part one of a two-part series.


Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising