The academic season begins again-- time to bore you all once again with my tidal wave and beach grass metaphor...
The Fall 2022 semester’s tidal wave of students and faculty is now crashing over the Outer Banks, and powering its way inland over Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham causing the tide to rise at UNC Greensboro and will impact with full force this weekend.
The power of the wave started the process of waking the campus out of its metaphorical torpor, at least for the provost since she implied in her pre-summer message that all faculty would be relaxing with their feet up. Of course, the vast majority donate our time in the summer to get non-grant related things (which in my case my grants pay .25 FTE during the summer) getting papers out (i have one coming in September on equity vs. equality in teaching), research data collected, new preps for courses, and, in my, case learning the bureaucracy of being director of graduate studies for my department.
There were two relaxing parts of the summer: 1) almost no meetings!; 2) I could park on the first floor of the parking garage since most residence halls were empty- except when it was blocked for band camp for two weeks, even though I never heard the band playing or marching around the parking deck- though I have to admit I didn't expect them to. And, the provost's Fall message inspired me, and probably others, to join the Hemlock society since as a 61 year old faculty member with strong opinions about what is important in higher ed,, but is not ready to retire, I can't help weighing the cycle of life vs. going back to kindergarten.
In any case, by Monday the campus will be awash in the swirling waters of a powerful academic sea. The energy from the wave's power will seep into every corner and crevice of the campus, resulting in metaphorical vernal pool ecosystems that spring up into existence in our residence halls, classrooms, sidewalks, gathering places, libraries, spilling over into the Greensboro community. These vernal pool ecosystems instantaneously team with academic energy. It's one of society's most spectacular annual rituals.
As the 2022-2023 tidal wave approaches, I am asking myself, "what the f*ck" was I thinking, when I decided to teach a third course as a new prep while taking on the role of director of graduate studies, trying to stay in touch with all of the 220 students I had last academic year, some who still value my support. Oh, and like a small volcano, my anger about higher education consistently needs venting, so I created a safe place to vent by starting this blog that nobody reads; I write twitter posts that I think all of my followers have blocked; and I fill up up members of our Faculty Senate's email with all of the brilliant ideas I have that apparently are uninteresting to anyone but me. The latter is a often the fate of one's ideas in academic research and the academy as a whole. I am used to it.
I have a new passion this semester: I am starting an imaginary activist group aimed at ending the practice of unnecessary meetings, and another one focused on fighting society's oppression of the value of time- I think that time is really sick of not being valued--and I worry what will what will happen if time goes on strike. I am hoping at one point that university's will sign a new infinitely long contract with time, providing equity in its compensation with space and money.
My imaginary group has a catchy slogan. "It's time for Time".
Besides fighting for equity for time relative to space and money, we will fight to stamp out hurtful phrases such as "killing time", "wasting time" ,"crunch time", "do hard time", "got no time", "in less than no time", "it's payback time", "living on borrowed time:, "lose track of time", "the last time" "the race against time", "out of time", etc.
Oh..sorry for diverting you to some different place in time--back to the academic rhythm...
As the tsunami approaches, I feel like I always do – sort of like a beach grass rooted in a sand dune, hoping that my tenuous foundation will not be washed out to sea by the crashing wave. So, this year I am teaching plant physiological ecology so students and I can figure out why beach grasses are so resilient and use that genetic knowledge gained over billions of year to help us be more stable..
But, as the first smaller waves laps the surface of the campus, I was reminded once again, as I have been for the last 32 years of my career as a faculty member, that the annual Fall Semester tidal wave is not a destructive force, but rather one of the most positive reinvigorating forces in society. There is a great sense of optimism for the future at the start of every academic year (everyone - students, faculty, staff and administrators- hopes to get a 4.0); excitement about new ideas that will emerge; anticipation of new discoveries that will be transformative; and an inspirational expectation that many students will discover or rediscover a passion that launches them on paths toward profoundly meaningful lives and careers, and, in many cases, paths that they may not have even previously imagined. And, I hope be able to facilitate many students overcoming challenges with mental wellness and launching them on to a path to their future.
It is an oddly special Fall for me. It is my second time since Fall since 1996, where the tidal wave jarred me from my research lab and into the classroom. I inherited three grants trying understanding toxic mercury production and cycling as a result of different silvicultural practices that are being used to rid many Southern forests of loblloly pine and restoring them back to the truly awesome longleaf pine savannah, Now that jarring has smashed my head, I am excited about learning every student's name and truly being curious and empathetic with everyone. To me, being curious, empathetic and caring should be strategy number 1 in having a campus or a classroom be inclusive.
This year I can for the second year in a row focus all of the energy brought to me by the tidal wave on the caring and passion I have for the success of the students in my classes and how my research can change the world for the better (assuming my activist anti-meeting group has any success), This helps me celebrate how the Fall tidal wave reminds me how glad I am to dance to the academic rhythm. But, I still have to manage all this with a fiery anger about how unjustly and malevolently I was treated by my institution.
Even after 32 years, I still gawk in awe as I feel the academic rhythm this time of year- a rhythm I think you just gotta love it both for its music and for its power.
Unrelatedly, but then maybe related to needing to sing something, the absolutely beautiful last few evenings on Lake Jeanette, where nature's skypainter artist was showing its virtuosity with texture ,light and color in the most spectacular immersive cloud painting exhibit ever, I have been reminded by the indigenous story of Turtle Island-- and that had me thinking about the Grateful Dead's Terrapin Station..
So, as I kayaked again being immersed in nature's greatest art show, under the watchful eyes of six cormorants and among a hundred or so ducks, and I loudly sang..
Inspiration, move me brightly
light the song with sense and color
Hold away despair
more than this I will not ask
Faced with mysteries dark and vast
statements just seem vain at last
to get to terrapin
The ducks quacked. The cormorants just kept watching, except for my injured friend who is my metaphor for resilience who always lifts up a tail feather me as if it is saying hello. The Great Blue Herons made sure the world knew the lake was theirs and posed regally for pictures, and the Ospreys showed their crazy dive bombing skills.
On my turtle Island, the skypainter ensures the sky is always beautiful- a nice contrast to the photons in academe that seem to be slowly growing dark and misguided.
l am not sure if I need to rise, fall or climb to get to Terrapin, but I hope I figure that out soon- Let me know if you would like to adopt my anger and insecurity, so I can lessen the burden on my travels to Turtle Island.
Wish me luck.