The Godfather: Peter Corris on meetings
I’ve always disliked meetings. At school I was fidgety and resentful at assemblies and gatherings to commemorate notable events like the death of King George VI and the Battle of the Coral Sea (when did that particular anniversary slip off the school calendar – or has it?)
At university I worked too hard to have time for political clubs and their inevitable meetings. With details now obscure to me I became treasurer for a year of the student historical society. I don’t remember any meetings, or money – perhaps it was an honorary title for the look of the thing.
At Monash, where I was a staff member, there were meetings of the History department but they were fairly casual affairs. No agenda was circulated, as I recall, certainly not to all bodies; perhaps it was posted on a notice board. There was no particular pressure to attend but, as it resembled an extension of the tea break, no reason not to. Still, I skipped quite a few. From memory, with about 30 staff members present, there were three females, Dorothy Fitzpatrick and Miriam Roberts, both tutors and the secretary keeping minutes.
Above all it was a smoky occasion. About half of those present (including me) were smokers; one was a pipe smoker and two were chain smokers. The room was a fug.
I remember nothing memorable about the meetings except a remark by the head of department, John Legge: ‘A university department is not a democracy.’ But it was a benevolent dictatorship for the most part.
As a postgraduate student at the ANU I joined the Labor Party in the Don’s Party spirit, in the expectation that the 1969 election would see the end of the conservative government. But I found the meetings dull and the procedures tedious and quickly dropped out.
But there was no avoiding meetings a few years later when I was a staff member. There were three: the department meeting, the School Board meeting and the Faculty Board. I had to attend some of them. I made no contributions and listened with only half an ear, hoping for something interesting to be said. It happened only twice. Heinz Arendt, professor of economics, expressed a doubt about an applicant for a job because, as far as he knew, he hadn’t made any money. Another came from Derek Freeman, the eccentric professor of anthropology who became the subject of David Williamson’s fine 1996 play The Heretic. When praising the credentials of a candidate for a scholarship in his department, he said that he had been ‘blasted by joy’ at his excellence. The stunned room gave the candidate the nod. Whether he fulfilled Freeman’s expectations I never found out.
Since leaving academia I’ve had almost nothing to do with meetings – a one-on-one with my agent, with perhaps a publisher thrown in, would be the limit – and not often at that. Selfish perhaps, but I like to think of it more as time not wasted.