Let’s stop trying to herd faculty

Some months ago a senior faculty member here at Stanford told me she thought the phrase “like herding cats” to describe dealing with faculty was pretty insulting. Today’s Chronicle article on How Are Professors Like Cats? tackles this issue by suggesting that:

In fact, the real question isn’t whether or not faculty members are like cats. The real question is, “What’s wrong with that?” Perhaps, instead of constantly trying to rein in faculty members, we should be cultivating their catlike qualities.

My Stanford faculty member reminded me that the qualities that can so frustrate administrators (and librarians) about faculty members are the very qualities that the university sought in hiring them — independent thinking, singular devotion to research, specialization, and a healthy skepticism that demands data.

In my mind, the best attitude towards faculty is one based on respect and understanding of their position within the institution and of their interests. Using “it’s like herding cats” as an excuse for any difficulties we have with faculty-focused projects is not only insulting to faculty, but probably not particularly productive either.

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