Let Us Work
I had to go to convocation this past week. For those who don’t work at a college or haven’t been there in a long time, convocation is a big gathering, a meeting/presentation, at the beginning of the semester. Normally, I do not go to them. Early on in my employment, I did. I did all the things I was supposed to, like a good boy. But I came to learn that convocation is an exceedingly boring, sometimes depressing, and largely pointless event. So I stopped going. I’d prefer to do actual work, my actual job, than sit in a crowded auditorium and listen to the financial minutiae and masturbatory backslapping of college administrators. That there were no consequences to missing the pointless event made it an easy choice.
The Covid era made skipping convocation easier, too. Like most institutions, in-person events were canceled, so convocation happened on Zoom, making it as easy to ignore as every other inconsequential thing that takes place on Zoom. There was still no point in attending, but it was easier to pop in, and there was hardly any pressure to do so: part of the small handful of silver linings during the pandemic.
Now that people are pretending that the pandemic is over and that it’s safe to gather hundreds of people into enclosed spaces again, the college had its first in-person convocation in years, and I was pressured into going. My department has a new dean, and we were told that she expected everyone to be there. I bowed to managerial pressure and showed up.
What a mistake that was.
The fact that most of the event occurred indoors was a decision of irresponsible idiocy. While most, if not all, people where I work are vaccinated, that doesn’t mean that anyone is immune, or that it’s worth the risk to jam them all into one room together. There are some truly elderly and unfit folks working at the college. Even fully vaccinated, they could still get horribly sick. Anyone could still get sick. People act like that’s fine now because of the probability that infection will give a vaccinated person symptoms comparable to the flu. But who the fuck wants the flu? Having the flu sucks, and there are much more worthwhile ways to get a viral disease than listening to some overpaid suits drone on about budget projections and enrollment trends.
The experience is for damn sure not worth the price of a sandwich. Because that’s all we got for sitting through hours of tedium, was a goddamn chicken sandwich. That was infuriating. In the past, the one positive to these time-stealing events was that there was decent food provided for lunch afterwards. There was a catered buffet, with real food, that was good enough to almost make you forget the nonsense you endured all morning. A mediocre chicken sandwich, provided in place of real food, in the interest of cheapness and presumably Covid caution (though that doesn’t bear out since there was little caution shown in packing everyone they could into a little event hall), rather than alleviate one’s hunger and irritation, only fanned the flames.
While we were at convocation, throughout the day, I occasionally checked my work email. All day, requests were coming in from students for library items that they wanted to borrow. My annoyance built as I thought about how many of those compounded requests I’d have to respond to the next day. Unlike for many departments and workers on campus, convocation did not mean a break from work for the library staff; it meant that even more work was piling up while we languished and lost a little chunk of our lives. The next morning was a mad rush, making up the time that was stolen from us. But you know what, it was preferable. I’d rather do my job. What a thought.
Apart from being largely pointless, much of what was conveyed to us at convocation was depressing. Because, guess what, community colleges, like most non-oligarchical capitalist organizations in this economy, aren’t doing so great. Most of the time was spent listening to guys in expensive suits, whose expensive cars and homes are paid for and/or subsidized by college funds, tell us, with smiles in their voices, that the situation is flat out bad, and, well, let’s just see how those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy are inevitably harmed by that. Unless you’re telling us how you’re going to take a cut to your salary and benefits to ensure the continued viability of the institution and the employment of everyone in the room, keep your damn fool mouth shut.
This situation is not directly analogous to everyone’s experience. Not everyone has to deal with the specific bullshit of attending a college convocation. Not everyone is in a position where they can bail on such a thing or something similar. But many of us do have to deal with some manner of forced gathering and interaction bullshit at work, and it needs to stop. No more meetings. No more bullshit. Put it in an email. Or at most, send a Zoom link, so we can either ignore it or do something worthwhile while it plays in the background.