A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from June 05, 2012
“Working with academics is like herding cats” (education adage)

"Working with academics is like herding cats” is a T-shirt slogan that is popular in the education field, although “herding cats” has a longer history. According to the 2003 Google Answers, at the 1981 Mensa Annual Gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, there were T-shirts that read, “Leading Mensans Is Like Herding Cats ...All You Need Is Food.” A 1983 science fiction novel mentioned “herding cats” and the 1985 Washington (DC) Post mentioned “herding cats” in regard to computer programmers. “Herding cats” can be defined as a very difficult or impossible management task.

“As a dean, I think that trying to control faculty is like trying to herd cats” was cited in print in 1989. “Organizing faculty is like herding cats” was printed in a 1990 newspaper article, “‘Leading a faculty is like herding cats.’ Anon” was printed in a 1992 book and “Managing academics is like herding cats” was printed in a 1994 book.

Warren Bennis’s book, Managing People Is Like Herding Cats (1996), helped popularize the term for many fields of management. In the 1990s, “herding cats” was used to describe the impossibility of controlling the United States Senate.

Wiktionary: herd cats
to herd cats (third-person singular simple present herds cats, present participle herding cats, simple past and past participle herded cats)
1.(idiomatic) To attempt to control the uncontrollable.

Google Books
Orion Shall Rise
By Poul Anderson
New York, NY: Timescape Books: Distributed by Simon and Schuster
Pg. 317:
“The Northwesterners will never be imperialists. They’re too— ornery, is that their word? Trying to make a conquering army out of them would be like herding cats.”

9 June 1985, Washington (DC) Post, Magazine:
At Group L, Stoffel oversees six first-rate programmers, a managerial challenge roughly comparable to herding cats.

Google News Archive
28 January 1989, The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA), “Out of the mouths of Dickens and Will...” by James J. Kilpatrick (Universal Press Syndicate), pg. 17, col. 5:
A science fiction writer wrote of a job that nobody wanted: “It was like trying to herd cats.”

Google Books
Scholarly Publishing
University of Toronto Press
Volumes 21-22
Pg. 117:
As a dean, I think that trying to control faculty is like trying to herd cats.

Google Books
Small Press
R.R. Bowker
Volume 7
Pg. ?:
He likened the direction and supervision of academics to the impossible task of herding cats, so he accepts that there should be no controls.

20 October 1990, The Times (Trenton, NJ) “Trenton State College” by Melinda Fricks, pg. B4, col. 5:
“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Organizing faculty is like herding cats?’” he asked, smiling.

16 December 1990, Aiken (SC) Standard, “Edcuator Plays Many Roles” by Philip Lord, pg. 1D, col. 3:
Prior to joining the USGA faculty in 1987, Dr. Hargrove taught at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga. and managed a plant for Du Pont in Athens, Ga.

“There is a lot of difference in managing a group of employees in a plant and (manageing) faculty members,” she said. Trying to manage faculty members is “like herding cats,” which is nearly impossible.

Google Books
The Management of Library and Information Studies Education
By Herman L. Totten
New York, NY: Haworth Press
Pg. 157:
“Leading a faculty is like herding cats.” Anon.

Google Books
Alma Mater:
A College Homecoming

By P. F. Kluge
Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Pub. Co.
Pg. ?:
“Directing faculty,” someone says, “is like herding cats.”

Google Books
An Invented Life:
Reflections on leadership and change

By Warren G. Bennis
New York, NY: Basic Books
Pg. 30:
Someone once observed that trying to lead faculty is like herding cats.

Google Books
Assessing Learners in Higher Education
By Sally Brown and Peter Knight
Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page
Pg. 142:
‘Managing academics is like herding cats’, it is said.

OCLC WorldCat record
Managing People Is Like Herding Cats.
Author: Warren Bennis
Publisher: Executive Excellence Pub, ©1996.
Edition/Format:  Book : Reissue

OCLC WorldCat record
Man in the News: Chester Trent Lott; A Polished and Pragmatic Ideologue
Published: June 13, 1996
A blend of firebrand conservatism and polished tactical skills helped Trent Lott vault over more-senior members to the No. 2 job in the Senate’s Republican hierarchy in 1994 and to the majority leader’s seat today.
It is a Capitol Hill truism, though, that running the Senate is like herding cats.

OCLC WorldCat record
Managing People Is Like Herding Cats: The point is that cats won’t be herded
Author: W Bennis
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: EXECUTIVE EXCELLENCE, 14, no. 11, (1997): 20
Database: British Library Serials

Google Books
Understanding the Small Business Sector
By D. J. Storey
London: International Thomson Business Press
Pg. XIV:
Frank Wilkinson, from the Cambridge Centre, once said to me that ‘organising academics is a bit like herding cats!’.

OCLC WorldCat record
Managing academics is like herding cats - and a good thing too
Author: H Fullerton
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: NEW ACADEMIC -BIRMINGHAM- 6, no. 3, (1997): 24
Database: British Library Serials

OCLC WorldCat record
Virtually Speaking: Eddie Obeng, the maverick management guru who once famously described project management as like ‘Herding cats’
Author: K Lane
Edition/Format:  Article : English
Publication: PROJECT MANAGER TODAY, 10, no. 11, (1998): 8-11
Database: British Library Serials

Google Answers
Subject: Re: Origin of the term “herding cats”
From: pinkfreud-ga on 18 Feb 2003 10:37 PST
I first encountered this amusing slogan when I attended the 1981 Mensa Annual Gathering in Louisville, Kentucky. Several of the organizers of
the event were wearing custom-made T-shirts that said “Leading Mensans Is Like Herding Cats ...All You Need Is Food.” Anyone who has ever
been to a Mensa AG would know how apt the phrase is.

The shirt was so popular that it was soon mass-produced, and an illustrated version of the T-shirt is still available from the Mensa Boutique:

OCLC WorldCat record
Herding cats : a life in politics
Author: Trent Lott
Publisher: New York : ReganBooks, 2005.
Edition/Format:  Book : Biography : English : 1st ed
Summary: The senior senator from Mississippi recounts his political career, from his efforts to broaden Republican influence to his differences of opinion with the Bush administration and the scandal that preceded his resignation as House majority leader. 

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