Two nights in a row I've awakened in a cold sweat from nightmares of thwarted communication: I'm writing a book offering advice to first-year students and the manuscript is due at the printers but I haven't finished the first chapter, or I'm struggling to produce a newsletter for a scholarly organization that suffers from a severe dearth of news. These dreams suggest, I think, continued angst over campus events too sensitive to be fully bloggable.
The good news is that several endangered programs seem to have escaped the chopping block--for now. The bad news is that a group of junior faculty members serving in threatened departments have seen the writing on the wall and announced that they will be leaving at the end of the semester, all for perfectly understandable reasons: to take a better job, to be closer to family, to live in a less--er, more culturally vibrant location. Nevertheless, these departures represent a real blow to the College, a blow that will echo far into the future.
Why? Because my departing colleagues are all champions of the liberal arts and really terrific teachers, mostly on tenure lines, who contribute to campus in a variety of essential ways inside and outside the classroom. Not all of them will be replaced immediately, raising questions about whether those tenure lines will be lost and how that will affect the future viability of certain programs. Departments permitted to fill these suddenly empty spaces will be searching for one-year replacements; since contingent faculty are not expected to serve on committees, this will reduce the number of faculty available to staff the committees that will work very hard to help the college emerge from its current difficulties. And in the long term, these departures create a serious age and experience gap and decimate faculty diversity. Even after we emerge from the current budget crisis as a stronger and healthier institution (as I sincerely hope we will do), I don't know how we will fill those gaps or regain those losses.
Last semester a committee I chaired sent a letter to top administrators pointing out the outstanding level of teaching skills on campus but warning that we would have difficulty holding on to these terrific teachers if conditions continued to deteriorate, and while the administrators agreed that our concerns were valid, it was probably already too late to prevent the current exodus of talented colleagues. I love my job and I believe in the future of the institution, but before I can roll up my sleeves to start working toward recovery, I'm taking a little time to mourn our losses.