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Saying goodbye

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous, academia, maudlin [1], rambly [2]

When you think about the regular work life of a faculty member, the first things that probably come to mind probably relate to teaching and research. People know that our days are filled with class prep and teaching [3]. They also know that we spend time on research, whatever that is [5]. And, if they dig deep [6] enough, they might realize that we do a lot of paperwork and participate in committee meetings (a.k.a. service).

There is, of course, much more that faculty members do. For example, many faculty members spend time mentoring students, particularly at places like Grinnell. And there are things that fall under teaching, research, and service that don’t necessarily immediately come to mind. For example, I was recently talking to a Grinnell alum who was reflecting with joy on their ability to wander into faculty offices and talk with their faculty about topics of interest.

I expect most of those things when I became a faculty member. But there was something I didn’t think about as part of my regular experience and it’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: how frequently I have to say goodbye.

Some goodbyes are a natural part of the academic life. I guess I knew that. Students graduate in four years [7] and very few stick around campus [8]. So I get to say goodbye to people who mean a lot to me every spring [9]. Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew that was part of the job. And, while it’s sad to say goodbye, it’s also an opportunity to see them go off to do new things.

What I hadn’t expected was how often I’d have to say goodbye to valued colleagues. In some ways, I’ve been lucky; CS has been relatively stable. I’ve been here twenty-one years. One faculty member in CS left because they decided to pursue financial engineering. Another got lured away by a really nice academic position. A third is stepping back from teaching after a long career but is still here for three more years. Beyond that, we’ve been stable.

But recently I feel like I’ve been saying goodbye to more and more people I value as they move on to other things [10]. We’ve lost a valued colleague in student affairs [11], a close collaborator who is responsible for me running code camps, one of the folks who started pointing me toward digital humanities [12], a Chief Financial Officer committed to openness [14], a Vice President for Communications who shared many of my musical interests [15], an awesome associate Dean who was just getting started in the position [16], and oh so many more, more than I can hope to list.

The departures keep on coming. At the end of this school year, we learned at the start of the summer that Dean Latham [17] will be departing at the end of the 2018-10 academic year. Today, I learned that one of the Custodial staff responsible for Noyce 3rd is moving on to better things. We chat daily, if only for a few minutes. And two days ago I learned that one of my favorite people in communications [18] is leaving at the end of this month.

It’s hard to say goodbye to all these people who I know make (or made) Grinnell better and with whom I enjoy work. I’m glad for their new opportunities or new directions in life. Nonetheless, each time I hear of someone leaving, my first inclination is sadness. And, as much as things go on and with the knowledge that we often bring in equally awesome people to replace them [19], it’s always hard to envision a Grinnell without them.

[1] Can I really feel maudlin without drinking? I assume so. If not, I may have to start drinking more.

[2] This piece started as a short musing. It’s grown to a normal-length musing. But it’s not focused. So, rambly, it is. I’d be tempted to edit it, but I’ve been told that some of my best musings or rambly, or that some of my rambly musings are among my best, or something like that.

[3] Or they think our days should be filled with class prep and teaching [4].

[4] Come to think of it, I don’t believe most folks understand just how much work goes into class prep. Certainly, I regularly hear from my students who go on to teach that I never knew that there was so much preparation involved. They say this even after having served as teaching assistants and watching us prepare.

[5] I think people have some understanding of what it means to do research in the lab scientists; at least they can envision a scientist in a white lab coat in the lab. And they have a vision of mathematicians at the chalk board. But it is less likely they understand what social scientists or humanists spend their time on. Unfortunately, because they don’t understand, many people dismiss that research as useless. It’s not.

[6] I had written, dig deeply enough. Grammarly told me to use dig deep. It appears that that’s more common, but dig deeply sounds better to my ears. Who am I to challenge common usage?

[7] At least most do.

[8] We hope very few stick around campus. We want them to go off and explore more broadly.

[9] Have I mused about my theory that my students may mean as much to me as I mean to them?

[10] There are also valued colleagues who pass away. Those goodbyes are especially hard.

[11] Okay, we’ve lost lots of folks in student affairs. Losing Andrea is just particularly hard.

[12] As I was checking the links, I realized that I never finished the profile of the Empress of the Forum Basement. I wonder if it’s time to write that now. Or will it just remain an unfinished musing?

[14] I never did manage a profile of Kate.

[15] Yeah, we argued a lot, too. But there was mutual respect.

[16] Nope, I never managed to profile Shanna either.

[17] Would Dean Latham let me profile him? I’m not sure.

[18] Given some of the things I’ve written about Communications, you may be surprised to hear (a) that anyone in Communications talks to me and (b) that there are people in Communications that I value deeply. But I do value a lot of the work they do; many of them are spectacular at their work. And, hey, some of them put up with me.

[19] The replacements are usually differently awesome.

Version 1.0 of 2018-07-12.