"I have never worked in any community where deadlines are as routinely disregarded as they appear to be in the academy," writes Nate Kreuter in "Deadlines Matter," published last week in Inside Higher Ed. He describes scenarios familiar to anyone who has spent more than five minutes in higher education: work postponed or forgotten, reports unwritten or submitted late and in the wrong form, the last-minute frantic rush to complete a task assigned months in advance--and we're not even talking about the students!
Kreuter makes a good case for promptness, asserting that "when the routine, sometimes mundane business of the university is neglected or even just delayed, complications and stress cascade through the ranks, amplifying the problems that fellow faculty, staff, and even students must then deal with and solve." I don't know about you, but I've been on the downstream side of that cascade and it left me splashing around gasping and groping for a life-buoy.
Kreuter suggests that we take deadlines seriously, always good advice, but he fails to consider several common complications:
1. The Top-Secret Deadline
You know there's a deadline for submitting that grant request, but the web site lists last year's deadline so you contact the committee chair, who promises to get back with you but never does.
2. The Imaginary Deadline
You finally find out the deadline and then scramble to get your request in on time, only to find out that people who submitted similar requests days or even weeks late were given equal consideration.
3. The Drop-Dead Deadline
There's often a significant difference between the speed limit posted on the sign and the real speed limit--the top speed you can drive without danger of getting a ticket--and likewise, no matter what that committee chair says about the deadline, savvy faculty members know that a little wheedling will often reveal the real deadline.
4. The "Drop Dead, Sucker" Line
The deadline is Friday at 4 p.m. but the committee chair wants to get out of town early and picks up the submissions at 3:30. You get your request in on time, but the chair later informs you that your request won't be considered because the deadline was changed retroactively.
I wish these examples were invented but I've seen examples of all of them--some more than once. I tend to be obnoxiously obsessive about meeting deadlines, but I don't know how even an obsessive deadline-meeter to meet deadlines like these. So while I agree with Nate Kreuter that failing to meet deadlines starts a cascade that drenches everyone down the line, failing to set clear deadlines, communicate them clearly, and stick to them drowns everyone in a whirlpool of wasted work.
Can someone hand me a towel?