What I Wish I’d Known about Faculty Life: Any Regrets?

This is the final post in Kevin Birth’s series, What I Wish I’d Known about Faculty Life. Previously: Departmental Politics, Teaching the Curriculum, The Tenure Track.

Coffee cup

Any regrets?

It was one of those gloomy days when even a cup of coffee had no warming effect. Edward and Gretchen were chatting in one of the college’s cafés. Fitting the melancholy tone of the day, Gretchen was morose about Edward’s impending retirement and move to a warmer climate. He had been a mentor to her – guiding her through the various minefields of being a new faculty member. Now she was tenured and becoming the mentor to a bunch of new faces in the department.

After a long silence, Gretchen asked, “Any regrets?”

Edward took a sip from his cup, looked up, and said, “You know, I’ve had my gripes–we get paid too little, and we are disrespected by the media. Besides, nobody reads what we publish. There are too many students; there are too many committees; there are too many people with MBAs trying to tell faculty what to do. But regrets? No, I have no regrets. I feel blessed that for 35 years I’ve been able to wake up each morning and want to get to work.

Gretchen was a little surprised by this. “Ed, from what you’ve told me, the department was not always a friendly place. You had trouble getting tenure because of factionalism. I feel as though you are ignoring some of the realities of what life has been like here.”

“Ignoring realities? Maybe that is what drove me to become a professor–some pie-in-the-sky image of a life of learning with no distractions. But I’ve come to realize that my students and colleagues are the ‘real’ world. Babies are born; friends die; some administrators are abusive; some are friendly; there’s drama; there’s conflict; there’s even downright scary stuff like threats and violence. Yet, despite all that, I cannot imagine myself doing anything else, much less wanting to do anything else. I guess you could say my childhood hobby became my calling. That’s a blessing, despite everything else that has happened.”

“You have had quite a career,” Gretchen responded.

Edward frowned. “I gave up keeping my c.v. up to date years ago, and gave up counting achievements long before that. It’s not about the accolades, the controversies, the conferences, the grants, or the publications. After each one I realized that pride is a passing sensation, and professional reputations are fleeting and can flip between being admired and being reviled very quickly. It’s about love, not accomplishment. It’s about the love of ideas and the love of sharing those ideas with students and colleagues, and having them share their ideas with me.”

“So how are you going to cope with retirement? I can’t imagine you taking up golf.”

“Oh, there’s a great used bookstore where I’m moving–and maybe the local university will take me on as an adjunct.”

Photo credit: Doug Wheller via Flickr

Kevin.Birth@qc.cuny.edu'

Kevin Birth

Having determined in high school that he was a mediocre fiddle-player and tobacco chewer, Kevin Birth left Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to pursue anthropology. In graduate school at the University of California at San Diego, He trained in social and psychological anthropology, and conducted ethnographic field research in rural Trinidad. In 1993, he earned his Ph.D., left California in an old Mazda with his pregnant wife, and sought his fortune in a tenure-track position in the Department of Anthropology at Queens College, where he had been hired on the basis of wearing purple pants during the interview. Since then, he has published two books based on his research in Trinidad: Any Time is Trinidad Time (1999, University Press of Florida), and Bacchanalian Sentiments (2008, Duke University Press). He has also published numerous articles, most of them on the topic of cultural conceptions and cognition of time. He is now a full professor, and the purple pants no longer fit.

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4 Comments

  • Katelin108@gmail.com'
    Katelin commented on September 27, 2011 Reply

    Ahhhhh. Thank you for this reprieve.

  • hannaheag@comcast.net'
    Hannah commented on September 27, 2011 Reply

    Thank you very much for this series. I’ve found it very interesting!

  • geezeronthequad@gmail.com'
    Dave commented on September 30, 2011 Reply

    I linked to this series in my faculty tribute at geezeronthequad.com. A great series and great blog. Read and enjoy.

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on October 1, 2011 Reply

      Thank you, Dave! I look forward to following your blog.

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