Tuesday, May 03, 2011


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.


Flavia said...

First off, I hope you don't leave the blogosphere--though I have you on Fb, I do like you in the longer form!

This post strikes a chord with me. Though I'm a year (or more) behind you on all these things, and have a great deal of exciting changes happening in the immediate future, it's hard not to look past that immediate future and wonder what's next and what will get or keep me excited into perpetuity.

This is partly to say that, although BRU surely has conditions/problems specific to it, I'm not sure it's so different elsewhere: departments seem either to be losing people (sometimes without being able to replace them, which happily doesn't sound like it's the case at BRU?), or they grow old and fusty. Those aren't the only two options, but sometimes it seems that way, maybe particularly when we're not the ones doing visibly new things with our lives.

So, I don't know. I'm not saying there aren't (or might not be) real problems at your institution or in your department, and I'm definitely not dismissing the real sorrow of losing good colleague-friends. I live in fear of losing some of mine. But I'm wondering whether the malaise you're describing isn't more a function of our academic life stage, or of the academic life more generally.

And if so, what we can do about it.

Horace said...

That last bit is totally true, F... This is post-tenure malaise on top of the normal couple of weeks of doldrums I get at the end of every school year.

As for the blogging, we'll see. I want to see what happens if I re-commit to it as a kind of writing practice, but if I still can't sustain it, it may just be time to retire this space.

Tenured Radical said...

Hang in on the blog: I like it. You'll get your mojo back, blog-wise and otherwise.

Dr. Crazy said...

The thing about tenure, and about wrapping up the first book project, is that it means you get to reinvent yourself if you want. You get to take on different kinds of projects, play different roles, change it up, if that's what you choose to do.

I'm a weirdo in that I didn't feel a big post-tenure let-down. But I think that's because I gave myself permission to enjoy having tenure and to do what I wanted with that achievement.

You can either view life after earning tenure as a prison or you can view it as uncharted territory, you know?

(And I want you to keep blogging, but maybe the issue is that you need to figure out how you want to blog now, and maybe that's different from how you blogged pre-tenure?)

Bardiac said...

I hope you'll keep blogging.

The one thing is, post-tenure, you have the chance, if you'll push it, to try to make things better in your department. If the tenuring process is horrid, you can now work to change it, for example. You can't change everything (or even most things), but you'll see a different side, and maybe can make things a bit more humane.

You're also likely to have a lot more responsibility for mentoring colleagues, which is both awkward sometimes and rewarding.

ps. Congratulations :)

natalie said...

I definitely hear you on how it feels to be the one standing still when others are moving away. DC is and always will be a place where people come for a few years and then move on. Some stay longer than others, and some are true natives, but we have watched many close friends (y'all included of course!) move on to exciting new places and opportunities. We of course make new friends, too, but it can feel exhausting to always be meeting new people and working to form new friendships. I'm definitely most at ease with long-time friends that we don't have to work hard to be friends with.

Of course the wonderful thing about DC is the opportunities and interesting people. And the fact that it seems like ALL of our friends, no matter where they live, will come through at some point!

Hope to see y'all this summer at some point!

Sisyphus said...

Chiming in, late as ever, to say don't go! Though I could see that you might want to put your efforts into saying things in public in other venues, but you could still keep this place open for the one-offs and side comments.