Can you guess who the most important person at any academic department is? Right you are, it’s the secretary.
Our departmental secretary retired in June and we have worked – or tried to work – without a secretary since then. And I have to tell you, folks, it’s a frakking disaster. The Chair is trying to fulfill secretarial duties in addition to his own, and he makes an enormous effort to keep the department together, poor man. It got to the point where his health has begun to fail even though he continues to struggle valiantly.
Life without a secretary is very harsh. To give just one example, trying to go to a scholarly conference has become extremely time-consuming. Normally, I request funding, get the clearance, and ask the departmental secretary for the department credit card. She gives it to me and I use it to register and book an airplane ticket and a hotel. Easy-peasy.
Without the secretary, however, things become insurmountably complicated. I have to send an email to the Chair specifying the flight and the hotel I need. After that, he sends the information to the Dean’s office. The Dean’s secretary then proceeds to make reservations. And obviously, a huge confusion ensues. At this point, the Dean’s secretary paid the conference reservations twice but the hotel and the flight have not been booked. Now I have to go to the Chair again and tell him to tell the Dean’s secretary. . . After which she will tell him to tell me to tell the Graduate School. . . And so on.
And this is just one tiny thing among the multitude of issues that come up every single day. Whenever I go into the Chair’s office, he gives me a terrified persecuted look of a person who can’t bear the thought of having yet another task added to his agenda. The students in need of basic administrative information arrive in a steady stream. Professors keep asking for a fresh batch of printer paper, supplies, folders, etc. Lab workers are lost and confused.
I come to the Chair’s office and ask him to print out copies of a flyer. He looks at me and says vindictively, “One day you will be sitting in my chair.”
“Oh no,” I respond, “this does not look like an attractive chair, Chair.”
“There is a window here, though,” the Chair says, trying to find a positive spin. “To jump out of in desperation,” I suggest.
“You are reading my mind,” he says.
Cherish your secretaries, people. They do a very important job.
Sorry for the rant, but I’m in pain here.