August 17, 2017
I've now gone over 7 weeks without any significant connection to higher education. I check my work email almost everyday, but mostly because some friends and acquaintances only know that email as a way to contact me. Almost everything work related I skim, unless it is clear that someone is asking me something directly. Since I am on FMLA, I really shouldn't be working even from home by answering a couple of emails. Besides, as I told my deans, I don't need to know the details of decisions they are having to make in my absence. My potential second guessing helps nothing, and I really do trust good people to make good decisions.
This 7-week hiatus from higher education is the longest "withdrawal," if I can use that word, since I was 18 years old, the summer between high school and starting at West Virginia University. 37 freaking years spent in some capacity directly in the higher education realm!
It's only been in the last 24 hours that I have even returned to scanning Inside Higher Ed and Chronicle of Higher Ed to see the prevailing news from higher education. I don't feel like I have missed much. The events of Charlottesville have heightened the conversation, again, about the role of colleges and free speech. Meanwhile, student debt, admission policies, and Title IX issues dominate the headlines, much like they did prior to July 1.
Our academic scandals continue to blemish our reputation, also. According to IHE headlines, I have missed a minimum of 12 rather high profile departures from universities or colleges, whether it be a president (Briar Cliff University) quitting suddenly, a professor (Wichita State University) resigning amidst claims of sexual dalliances with students, a football coach (Mississippi) fired for having contact with prostitutes, or a professor (Northwestern) unbelievably fired because of murder charges (to be accurate, he was fired for fleeing the police, but I like to think the potential murder charge is the more prevailing concern).
The last one reminds me how life so often imitates art, as just this week I read the novel Two Days Gone by Randall Silvis, which is about a detective investigating a college professor who appears to have suddenly murdered his entire family. I picked up the mystery because of where it took place (western Pennsylvania) moreso than the college setting; however, it didn't take me long to see that the detective, and therefore probably the author, foster a bleak view about college, especially professors and students in the liberal arts field.
No wonder, perhaps, given one of the featured pieces in IHE today: with Republicans, especially, casting aspersions about higher education these days, the writer proposes that perhaps the term "liberal arts" needs to be changed. And instead of having an opinion, I want to sigh, shut down my iPad, and go back to staring at the waves breaking on the beach outside my window.
Here's the thing: having this much time off does not sit well with me. I get bored too easily and since my hospitalization, I worry that my concentration is weaker than ever. I am the guy, after all, who, two days after waking up from his medically induced coma of 10 days, was texting work colleagues saying I would be back in a few days. My work defines me.
However, my tolerance for the flotsam, the jetsam, the debris, the dreck that washes ashore during the high tide of academia doesn't feel balanced, let alone diminished, by the beauty that is teaching, learning, and accomplishment-- the things at the heart of what colleges and universities do.
At the moment, I am unable to enter the ocean outside my window because of a G-tube still in my stomach. I know at some point in the near future, I will be able to immerse myself fully again, and will enjoy the experience despite the disgusting things that will brush past my ankles.
I just keep reminding myself that the same will probably be true for work.