It's finals week in what has been an otherwise packed school year. Since last September I've completed my tenure file, a book project, and a sabbatical application, all of which, if not officially deemed successful, certainly look as if they're going to be. By next September, I'll be an Associate Professor with a book contract and a Spring sabbatical to look forward to. The future stretches out before me like a vast plain, arid and empty.
Eh, I overstate. But I am feeling a fair amount of ennui, of the "What's next?" variety, and part of it is that I just had one of those conversations. You know the sort. They begin with colleague of whom you are fond, ducking their head into the frame of your open door. "You have a minute?"
Early on in the conversation, you hear "I wanted to tell you this before anyone else did..." and already you know the direction this is taking: the congratulations, the we'll-miss-you's, the excited questions. And when your colleague-for-not-much-longer leaves the room, you feel, well, I felt left behind.
A couple of things are at work here. One, we have a bit of a departmental exodus in the past 2 years: between retirements, family emergencies, jobs in better locations, jobs at better schools, jobs closer to home, jobs that provide a better opportunity for spousal employment, we will have lost (if all of the present rumors persist) eight TT faculty in under two years. And who knows what other rumors I haven't heard. So part of my malaise about the departmental exodus is that very simply, a lot of my friends are leaving (indeed, some of my closest friends in the department have left or are going), and I am the sort of person who really depends on a large and warm community of friends and colleagues.
Two: While there's not a single reason for this exodus (in a department that had lost faculty only to retirement in the previous 4 years of my time here), it's not doing a very good job of making people want to stay. Certainly, each of these people has had reasons for going, and I'd be lying if I didn't say that I had plenty, too, some of which are quite pressing, actually. But in not one of those cases was the department/college/university sufficiently proactive to retain some of their best folks, or suffieciently willing to compete to keep those folks. We hired three TT folks this year, and already put in to hire three more next year, and who knows how many more after that? Those searches are expensive. Plus, the turnover in faculty creates any number of intangible but very real costs: to faculty morale, to the smooth transition of ongoing programs, to the sense that new things can be accomplished. An exodus like this is bound to have a chilling effect on the healthy life of a department. And I expect to remain living in this chilly department after the exodus is done.
Three: (paging Dr. Freud) I prefer to be the one who is leaving. Even more than most people, I thrive on novelty and change, and here, now, with the department rolls depleted, with those big professional hurdles cleared, I feel, perhaps overly morosely, like I'm looking on into a future of unremarkable sameness, a thinner kind of sameness. Of course that's not actually true, but being left behind certainly creates that sensation.
Lots of question marks for the future around here at BRU. Will new blood bring new life? Will the simmering issues that make retention an issue (including for me) be resolved or even addressed? Who can tell?
In other news, blogging's been sparse around here in part because I don't know if I'm really even a blogger any more. The blogosphere's changed, and I was never a loud voice here anyway. And maybe I've said my things to say.