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Thursday, December 1, 2016

The term "whipsawed" comes to mind

Man, what a day.

I read the final promotion folder before the meeting today--and realized I'd read it before but lost my notes. God knows what I noticed last time around; this time, I didn't notice much...

Then the strategic planning committee meeting. It was very heated and confusing--a lot of talking at cross-purposes, unclear language, frustration--and I tried to play my usual role of clarifying what was going on, including trying to point out that we really were in agreement about much of what people thought were points of contention. As the newcomer to the committee, I don't feel the same level of "Jesus Fucking Christ can we stop talking about this and do something" as most members of the committee feel--but ultimately we did need to do something definitive right that minute, before the end of the meeting, so direct progress can be made on the concerns of our accreditation review. Specifically, many areas of the strategic plan need to be brought into alignment so there are clear systems and structures by which decisions are made about what we do, how we do it, and why we allocate our funds as we do.

Ultimately, I ended up proposing a resolution (or something: I don't speak good parliamentese) that essentially said that we support the work of the new president in creating the new institutional committee he wants to create and we agree that members of the existing committee will serve on that new institutional committee. I didn't come up with the language; that was created by the colleague, Pat, who was in Active Learning with me. I think she didn't want to propose the language herself because it would be heard better coming from a new voice. In any event, I proposed the resolution and it passed--but the chair of the academic senate, Evelyn, whom I respect and admire and want to support without hesitation or categorization, abstained. Note she didn't vote against, but she abstained--because, as she cogently pointed out, there is still the possibility that existing structures for governance will be undermined if not completely eradicated in this plan to go forward. When I proposed the motion, I said that we should bear in mind that the wording makes zero mention of what would happen to the already existing committee--and there had originally been talk about possibly putting the committee on hiatus for a while, or even disbanding it (which, Evelyn pointed out, we do not have the authority to do: that would have to be done by a resolution of the Senate). But the language our president used to frame the purview of the new committee is extremely problematic, as it suggests that the Senate has no role but to "comment." That I cannot agree to--but forming the committee in order to break the deadlock seemed the only available compromise. But when the meeting ended, hearing Evelyn restate her reasons for abstention, I started to feel I'd sold my own integrity for the sake of expediency--and that I've now had a hand in undermining the senate and specifically the heroic battle that Paul and Evelyn are involved in. I started to cry. Evelyn assured me that she abstained because of her role as chair of the senate. Pat tried to comfort me. Kim tried to comfort me. They were very concerned that I was so upset--and I couldn't quite articulate why I was. But now it's clear: I feel I leaped before looking and betrayed my ideals and people I care about. It may have needed to be done, but I wish I hadn't been the one to do it.

I ended up talking in the hall for a good while with Pat, and we were joined by a former officer of the senate executive committee; he also was consoling. But it took a while for me to calm down enough to go to class.

And class was great. Class was great. We're at the point now where I feel we're all just having a conversation. I may hold forth for a while, because I have a wider frame of reference than the students, but I wasn't making connections back to things we'd talked about earlier out of a deliberate, pedagogic decision: "Repetition is good: let me repeat this." It just was what happened in the conversation. In one particularly lovely moment, a student brought up the ways in which the story parallels the Adam and Eve story. Precisely, I said--but note that the title has a plural: Paradises Lost. Milton's Paradise Lost is about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden and the fall of Satan. So, if Eden is the first paradise lost, what's the second? One student said, "The ship"--and almost at the same moment, the student who had brought up the Adam and Eve idea said, "Earth." Ah! Good! Debatable! (Of course, it now occurs to me that perhaps the first paradise lost isn't Eden: perhaps the two paradises are Earth and the Ship... Hmmm. I'll have to remember to bring that up.) Most of the faces had an "oooh, cool! maybe I can use that" expression. Beautiful.

I left class thinking, "I really do love this job. I do." But then Paul and I started talking about the bigger picture, not just on our campus but what might occur under a Trump presidency, and I found myself clinging rather desperately to the thought patterns I have had to construct to keep myself from sliding into depression: reminding myself that we do not know what could occur in the future--and there is no benefit to thinking only about the negative things that could occur. And there are always reasons for gratitude.

Paul and I both acknowledged that there is enormous richness in our lives that arises from the fact that we are fully engaged, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually, in our careers--but that the price we pay for that rich engagement is that we feel deeply when things go wrong. We can't just shrug it off when the integrity of our institution is threatened, when our society devalues what we have built our lives around, when our students can't or won't reach for the goals we know will be most beneficial to them. In today's meeting, I had the tiniest taste of what Paul has been dealing with for a year and a half now, and no wonder he seems shell-shocked. But I also know that my tears today were only partly a response to what happened in the meeting. This is a difficult time of year for me, personally, and my personal vulnerability seeps into my professional life as well. After all, I am a person, not "just" a professor.

So I didn't get any work done between and around my meetings with students from the SF class about their revisions--but I don't mind. The meetings with the students were good, and the conversation with Paul was necessary for both of us. True, I do not know how I will get everything marked this weekend that I need to have marked--but I'll just have to work that out, whatever it takes. But the emotional highs and lows of today--and the rapid switches from one to the other--have taken enough of a toll on me that I'm going to consider retreat as the better part of valor. I'll be brave tomorrow, when I face the enormous stacks of 102 assignments to wade through. Tonight, I can creep home and hide under the sofa. And maybe Scarlett is right: tomorrow, one is stronger. God willing.

1 comment:

  1. We cry because, as you say, we are persons rather than just professors -- but as professors we internalize that which we profess. The pain of exposure, like that of grief, is a barometer of our compassion and loyalty, which are -- contrary to some pedagogic ideologies -- in turn the evidence of things not seen: our support for our brave and hard working colleagues. The bell that tolls for them, for thee, for me, now tolls for all, unless by our sweat and tears we grab hold of the rope ! B

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