Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Not to worry, I'm not leaving anywhere. The goodbyes I've been thinking about lately are from the vantage point of those of us left behind.

Our department here at BRU has experienced, for no single reason, a bit of a mini-exodus, with three junior faculty leaving, and the announcement of a couple of other retirements and career-enhancing departures on the horizon in the next year. we're a pretty big department, but still, (at least) five full-time faculty from a state flagship English department is a lot, I think.

It's all the more a shock because things had been quite stable for several years, which suggests that the exodus was not rats-from-a-sinking-ship, but rather simply bad timing.

But the goodbyes themselves have been in some ways kind of devastating. Some of our very closest friends have suddenly up-and-gone, and others are going. The transience here is hard to swallow, because for me, my sense of place largely depends not on where I am, but with whom I am. Of course Willow is here, and the kids, and we already (like most academics) left behind our dearest friends when we left from grad school city. And if, someday, we decide to go elsewhere, we'll be leaving behind empty spots, spots in other people's daily lives.

When I was in undergrad, I worked summers at a restaurant. the friendships among the college age waitstaff there were fast and intense, and all dissolved at the end of the summer. The bartender there, Doug, was probably ten years older than we were, and was totally disinterested in these ephemeral connections. He regarded us all with a sort of grumpy disdain. And he wasn't shy about why: "why should I invest my time and energy in making friends with people who are only going to be here for three months?" He'd seen so many people come and go, that the real prospects of connecting with his co-workers was completely undermined.

Of course, it's not the same, at least in terms of degrees, but I am still heart-broken about some of these departures, and the prospect of others. Community in an academic context depends largely on the ability of a department or group or whatever to come to trust one another, and as little as I blame any single person for decisions that made perfect sense, I still mourn the little hits that our sense of community takes: both for their losses and for the small scars they leave behind.


undine said...

TDid they just announce it now, Horace?

Rosemary said...

Beautiful post, Horace. And of course, the sad reality of academic life is that when people get new jobs, they don't just go to a different workplace in the same town...they usually move far, far away. So you lose them not only as a part of your day-to-day work life, but as part of your landscape. Sad times indeed.

Horace said...

Undine, these departure were all announced in ample time--this year's departures all announced last spring, and the two coming up are already announced. I think the post was occasioned by the return to the semester only to find just how meaningful those losses are and will be.

Flavia said...

One of your former colleagues left for a job at Cosimo's institution, and I've been wondering since the jobtalk whether it was someone you were close to.

My department has been pretty stable in the time that I've been here, and I've made some great friends--but so many of us are in LD relationships, or are single, or are otherwise unrooted to the area that it's struck me that this could change, dramatically, almost any year.

Tom said...

Wow, Horace! "...with whom I am"! Even I would have written, "...who I am with."