One of my administrative duties this year involves sitting on the committee that reviews the annual faculty reports submitted by each member of my department. Service on this committee rotates through the department to prevent one clique from having all the power, and of course the Chair can override the decisions of the committee, since he's the one who actually assigns all the merit rankings. Our current Dean doesn't set firm quotas for these rankings, although there is a tacit understanding that there shouldn't be too many people in the top category, and not too many in the lowest. In fact, since an extremely low score triggers a college-level review process, it's pretty unlikely that anyone would receive it -- so a five-point ranking scale becomes a de facto four-point scale. It's not unlike the grades given out for graduate courses, in which a B really means you're substandard, and A, A- and B+ are the only actual grades one can assign.

But unlike course grades, which are usually determined (however subjectively) by a person who is thought to have more knowledge, education, or credentials than the people who are being evaluated, these scores are determined by peers. It's more democratic than if the Chair alone judged us, but there's something inherently repellent about the process too. There are of course pre-existing affinities and disagreements among the faculty, cliques and feuds, and those often color the judgements that are made. There are some set criteria for how many publications are expected, how much certain kinds of publications should be weighted, and so forth. But things like teaching load and service load are much more nebulous, and can be used either for or against a particular individual.

I think the process is as democratic and as fair as it could possibly be -- and perhaps it is the very collegiality of my department which makes service on this committee an onerous task that few people want to undertake. The meetings in which we decide the scores for our colleagues are incredibly draining. Not because making judgments is necessarily that difficult. But because doing this, commiting to numbers on paper, reminds us that we are always judging each other and being judged. This committee takes its work seriously, and what happens in those meetings is confidential. But gossip and snarky remarks are an unfortunate part of academic life. Who hasn't heard, said, or thought something dismissive about a colleague?

I'm as guilty as the next guy. I really try not to gossip about colleagues (except maybe to my GF who's not an academic). But I don't always cut someone else off from saying things to me, which is the next worst thing. I've certainly thought critical thoughts about some of my colleagues. Plus, I hate feeling that I'm being judged. I know that I could always do more, do better -- I'm a pretty strong critic of myself. I hardly need to feel that people down the hallway are whispering about what I did or did not publish last year.

Buddhist psychology reminds me that the person or thing who irritates me is the person or thing who can best teach me a lesson. So I have many questions to think about as I sit in these meetings. How might we learn to accept one another a little more? How can I learn to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of others? What kinds of judgments are helpful and which are harmful? How might I best judge my own efforts -- through the year and in this judging committee?