Dec 16 2009

Faculty Pain Assessment Tool: Reprise

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:30 am

This is a repost from about nine months ago.  However, having recently mid-wifed the birth of a new academic policy at my university (the gestation period was MUCH longer than nine months), this seemed a good time to repost it.

The original post:


While I generally try to avoid making too many “inside references,” I recently witnessed a health professional trying to get a feel for how much pain someone was in, and they brought out the Universal Pain Assessment Tool. It didn’t take long to realize the universal applicability of such an assessment instrument, and so, herewith:


The particular meeting that inspired me to repost this chart, and at which the new (and, honestly, better) policy was approved, took THREE HOURS!!! It was on a day I don’t normally have to come to campus.  There were numerous references to the parliamentarian to make judgments about how we should proceed.   And it included curriculum, assessment, accreditation AND diversity, which means that, as meetings go, the pain scale was way, way off the chart…. maybe about a 25.  It made miss my uncle, a past master of faculty meeting survival strategies.

Uncle Fred was just enough of a politician to survive in the world of academia. (Remember Henry Kissinger’s comment: “University politics make me long for the simplicity of the Middle East.”) …..

He was pretty interesting to watch in faculty meetings. He’d sit and listen for a time, while the various perspectives on the trivial issues of the day were aired.  Then he’d clear his throat, an utterly characteristic gesture, a sort of announcement of pronouncements to come, and as the room fell silent (they knew what was coming), in a very few incisive sentences he’d explain what was wrong with all previous statements, all the while appearing to compliment the wisdom of those who’d made them.  Besides singing, this rhetorical tactic was the other thing he failed to teach me.  Not for lack of trying.   But for me, it was like a person with a club foot watching a ballerina on a high wire.   If I was fast, sometimes I could knock him off the wire, but I could never do the dance.  I saw him literally end a few faculty meetings, working without a net, with no one having anything much left to say.

(I’ve ended a few faculty meetings in my time, too, but somehow it isn’t the same when the paramedics have to come and save people who’ve slit their wrists.)

My Uncle Fred was a man of words, who seemed often to be searching for the exactly right phrasing to say what he meant.  He clearly believed that how a thing was said was important.  (He once referred to me as “a man of words,” but I think he had something else in mind.)  He loved clarity, and concision.

At least all the pain of the recent meeting led to a good outcome.   Would that it were always so.

The ancient Chines curse should be rewritten: “May you attend really, really interesting faculty meetings.”