Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Departmental Staff

I know, everybody says it: the office staff are the people who make departments run. But we hear it so often that it's almost become a cliché. However, my department at Urban University has easily the best departmental staff ever: über-competent, helpful, friendly, knowledgeable in the ways of bureaucracy, and able to put up with a stress case like me. I got another demonstration of that today, and I need to give mad props, as the kids supposedly used to say. [note to self: Never actually say "mad props" out loud. Ever.]

Here's the deal: Every year, our faculty have to turn in a packet that the departmental and college committees use to evaluate our progress toward retention, tenure, or promotion. And every year, like clockwork, the whole thing seems to come as a complete surprise to me. I've got some sort of paperwork amnesia that enables me to forget procedures from one year to the next.

So, I find myself a couple of days before this deadline, realizing that I don't have all the materials that I need to complete my review packet. Said materials are in the department office in Job City, which is two time zones away from Fellowship City. I'm not sure I could have gotten my hands on them before I left, even if I were the kind of person to have that sort of foresight, but the fact is that I don't have them, and the deadline is approaching.


I e-mail Omniscient Office Admin. (they're all pretty fantastic, but this one in particular has been with our department for years, and deals with my panic attacks with aplomb and good humor), but get no reply. Later in the day, I call Stupendous Chair, who has more looming crises to deal with right now, and she tells me not to worry, even though that's what I do best. She also tells me that O.O.A. has been out of the office for a few days with a flu, but that she'll leave a note.


O.O.A. e-mails me, when she's got every business being home resting, and not checking her e-mail, and offers the following:

"Just let me know what you need--I'll be hapy to look for it and e-mail it to you as a PDF, or copy it and insert it at this end, whichever you're comfortable with."


I've seen little signs posted in other administrative offices, saying things like "Lack of proper planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part," and I can sympathize with the sentiment. But we should all be profoundly grateful for office staff who make everything run so smoothly, even when it's really our problem.

Here's to them.


Becca said...

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The History Enthusiast said...

I only wish all of our staff here in U-Town were nearly this competent! Two days before my orals, and then again on the day before the exam, our staff informed me of some snafus which should've been caught two weeks before when I submitted my paperwork. It would've made my life a lot less stressful!

Meagan said...

We have an OOA as well. I don't know what I would do without her! She has deftly maneuvered my sorry arse out of many a pickle...

Dr. S said...

Yes, hear hear. My home department's administrative assistant is far from being an "assistant" to anything; she runs our show, and I love her for it. We are all a little frightened of what our lives are going to be like when she retires.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ social skills: "panic attack" was, in this case, a figure of speech. I don't get real, medically-defined panic attacks, but I do get very anxious over certain things.

To others: I realize that we're fortunate to have the staff we do. We've poached them from other places in the university, and are doing our darndest to hang on to them. Not every department is so lucky.

Belle said...

Hear! Hear! I learned early on the value of good AAs, and how little people generally appreciate them (partly from being one in a business context_). The grad secretaries in all my various places were great friends, and our AA here I consider my best friend in town. I've told her any number of times that we're simply not going to let her retire, as we'd all fall apart without her.

Meanwhile, I take her to lunch whenever I can, tell her she's wonderful, and do whatever I can to make her life easier. I cannot count the number of times she's saved my butt, and my sanity.