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Faculty parties

Topics: Miscellaneous, Grinnell, Faculty

This evening, I attended a faculty party to celebrate the promotion and tenure of a group of really awesome people [1], the promotion to full of another awesome group of people, and the conversion to tenure-track of another awesome person [2]. But I hadn’t been sure whether I would attend and, as I was debating whether or not to attend, I planned to use about why I don’t always attend parties. I decided to attend and attending led my muse to suggest a different set of ideas. So I guess you’re getting two musings in one [3].

I like attending parties with faculty and staff. I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of really awesome and really talented people. I relish the chance to talk informally with them. So attending parties when I’m invited should be an easy choice.

However, things sometimes get in the way. This party had a theme, and we were expected to wear costumes. There are certainly people out there who like making costumes. I’m not one of them. There’s a reason that I’ve worn the same Tigger costume on every halloween for the past twenty years [4]. I had planned to go without a costume. But then someone posted a question on Facebook: Is it okay if we attend without costumes? The answer was No [6]. I started to question whether I wanted to attend. Then I saw Bring your dancing shoes, or something similar. My knees are bad and I don’t dance much.

I started to think about other reasons not to attend. I always get anxious about attending parties. Why? A variety of reasons. I’m never sure what to bring and whether it will be okay [7]. I’m generally sure that I’ll say something incredibly stupid at some point [8]. I seem to have an increasingly narrow range of interests that I share with other people; I always wonder what I’ll talk about if I don’t talk about my job or my kids. These days, with the changes in hearing that accompany old age, I am more and more reluctant to be in a room with a lot of people [9,10]. Finally, I’m an introvert and a lot of conversations tend to sap energy from me. Even when I host my own parties, I tend to hang in the kitchen and serve rather than talk to people for more than a quick Hello.

But these are colleagues I value and, particularly since the party had morphed into a tenure celebration, I decided I would go. The party had a space theme [11]. I knew I had a lab coat in my office. I thought I had a Github sticker with an Octocat in a space suit. I thought I’d put the Octocat sticker on my lab coat and go as a very strange rocket scientist. I detoured by my office. I found the lab coat. I found some Github stickers, but not the right one. I realized that I have a name tag that lacks a title, and added Rocket Scientist. And I found a small rocket ship [12], which I put in the chest pocket [14]. Not the best of costumes, but at least it was a costume.

I thought it was okay. Then about 2/3 of the way through the party, someone said, You know, that really looks like a dildo in your jacket pocket. Remember what I said about saying something stupid and embarrassing? It appears that I can do really embarrassing things, too.

In spite of the embarrassments, I’m glad I went. As I’ve already noted, I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of awesome people and I appreciate the opportunity to talk with them. It’s nice to celebrate the tenure of the three newly-tenured faculty members who were there, the promotion of the two newly-promoted faculty members who were there, and the switch to tenure-track status of the person making that transition.

But I was also reminded of things that I really value about Grinnell. The party had a wide range of faculty, from people in their second or third year, to the newly tenured, to people who’ve been at the College for decades. I’m in my twenty-first year at Grinnell, and I wasn’t even the most senior person at the party. It feels really nice to be reminded that our faculty and staff socialize across ages and across disciplines.

Then there were the kids. I’ll admit that I’m old enough that I did not know most of them [15]. But it’s fun to see faculty parties that involve kids and the ways in which the kids of different ages get along. It also reminds me of a strength of Grinnell; I have some friends at other institutions who were told something like Don’t have kids before you get tenure; people will take that as a sign that you are not serious about the job. It appears that Grinnell sends a healthier message: You can have a family and be a successful faculty member [16,17].

As is often the case, spending time with my colleagues makes me glad for my job. As I said at the beginning, I am fortunate to work with a wide variety of great people. I’m glad to see this group of great people who now know that they can stay at Grinnell as long as they choose. I’m also glad the party reminded me of other things about Grinnell’s culture that I appreciate.

Postscript: What about those concerns I raised about attending? Portions of the party were outside, so there was room and not a lot of noise. I didn’t need to worry about that. If there was dancing, it wasn’t where I was, so I didn’t need to worry about that. I accept that I’ll do and say stupid things, so I’m not too embarrassed by either [18]. I even found a few things to talk to people about, including some that were neither academic nor What are you doing this summer?. But it’s also nice to be sitting alone in a room, typing.

[1] Well, it was hosted by one awesome person who planned it before they knew they were getting tenure; I think the day was the motivating factor more than the question of tenure.

[2] I’m pretty sure we only had one person whose position was converted to tenure-track. I’m bad at reading the subtly worded messages from the Dean’s office.

[3] At least one is on the short side. So perhaps you’re only getting one-and-a-half musings in one.

[4] Okay, there are multiple reasons. I appreciate not having to design a new costume [5], but I also find that people appreciate this particular costume and I now have a whole series of jokes associated with it.

[5] There were a few years when I added things to it. One year, I wore a black stocking mask that obscured my face. That led to the existential question of whether I was Tigger dressed up as something like a Dementor, or whether I was something like a Dementor dressed up as Tigger to lure children. Another year, I wore my robes and was Professor Tigger.

[6] It turns out that wasn’t a serious No. Many people attended without wearing costumes.

[7] I brought a bottle of pre-made margaritas. It was fine. I should remember that people appreciate having guests, no matter what they bring.

[8] I did. The stupidest thing I said was on the way out. And no, I won’t tell you what it was.

[9] I discovered at the last prospective student fair that I could not hear anything some parents said or asked. I’ve decided I will not attend one of those again.

[10] The volume in the restaurant at breakfast this morning was such that it made me anxious. I could hear perhaps one of three words Michelle said.

[11] It is, after all, the 57th anniversary of Alan Shepard becoming the first American in space.

[12] At some point, I ended up with a 6" tall Marvin the Martian ship. It lives on the shelves in my office along with a host of other miscellany.

[14] I had to look up what that pocket was called. I wanted to call it a vest pocket.

[15] I did know all of the faculty at the party. However, I had at least one old faculty member experience when I could not remember the name of a young faculty member. And I know there’s at least one newly tenured person I’ve rarely, if ever, talked to.

[16] Not everyone needs to or wants to have children. But I’m glad that we send the message to those whose inclinations are toward children.

[17] There is, of course, more that we can do. For example, the daycare situation in town still needs to be addressed. And, while I found a great benefit to having my kids start out surrounded by children from a wide variety of backgrounds, I can see reasons for the College to create its own daycare as a mechanism for attracting and retaining faculty.

[18] Perhaps I should be more embarrassed.

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-05.