On friday, I walked into my office at Western State College as I had done for nearly 8 months. It’s a strange place – the elaborate lines and smells of new architecture only barely masks the sense of loss and fear within the administration. Modern lines, lime green chairs and false brick and stone.
I open my files. Scatter various levels and shades of paperwork across the desk and begin the slow task of creating spreadsheets, word documents, brochures. There is a coffee mug in the corner, a single picture on the desk turned towards the window behind me. The window looks out into the addition – a building built onto an existing building. I can see the fan and its spinning.
Enrollments are down. Cuts are being made. Students, instructors, staff – the negativity is stifling, debilitating. The reasons for low enrollments? Political shuffling, lack of regard for the needs of students, tuition increases, inability to accept or promote new ideas. A prime example: the school’s recent decision to change their name from ‘college’ to ‘university’ to compete more effectively with the various universities in the state. The cost of this change would amount to nearly half a million dollars. I could imagine far better things to do with that amount of money – changes and reforms that would immediately and positively impact the lives and education of our students. Better pay for professors. More professional development programs. Scholarships for future and current students. The list goes on and on.
There is nothing that can be done – from an administrative stand point – as many of the reforms needed require the administration to take action. If you’ve worked in any facet of higher education, you realize the impossibility of this. 30 committees later, the school and its students have already moved on, moved beyond. And we are still whispering in the corners of our computer screens ideas for change but lack the ability to manifest those necessary changes. Money is the only thing that speaks in higher education – something which reformers, dreamers, adjunct professors, and students have very little of.
I suppose change can happen suddenly – on a small scale. I was dismissed from my position (terminated being the technical term) at 2pm and asked to leave the office immediately. The reason cited – my director was not impressed with my work.
I had run the program for nearly 3 months when my director broke her hip. Overtime for months on end. Constant shuffling, striving, devising new ways (my own ways) to enter and interpret data, all while entertaining new possibilities within the program and its tensions.
The wrongful termination suit forthcoming…
I began my work in higher education administration to understand the politics that my students faced on a daily basis – perhaps if I could understand how an institute of education operates, I could learn work within more effectively; I could learn to remove or dance above those barriers and realize a more effective and efficient way to teach and therefore, learn within the classroom. I am realizing now, and only now, the complexity of the systems we have created to support a very simple vision. And how those very systems we have created have slowly begun to twist and choke the life from that vision, leaving it an empty shell, a beautiful shell, but a shell with little meaning beyond its routines.
Now, I am unemployed. But thrilled to move and see beyond the caustic shell of an 8-5 life. The drive home and the sudden realization of freedom, of time, of words.
The opportunity to create, to dream, to inspire. To truly learn, to realize the purpose of education and promote its possibilities.
I am unemployed. I live in a valley at the end road, where two mountain ranges fold into the sky and break against the horizon. There are no stop lights in town, a single main road. Houses are cut into the hill in varying angles. A man with skis on his back rides his bike to the bus stop. The snow gathers and creates mirrors looking up and back against the blues and deepening purples of dusk.
I meet two men on the ski lift rising towards the mountain. One, though much younger, is overjoyed to see me on a Wednesday afternoon and celebrates my unemployment with a high five and a PBR tucked inside his jacket. The other, much older, is less enthusiastic.
“I had worked for the state for twenty years. I hated it. Every minute of it. But I stuck with it and retired at 49. Best thing that could have happened to me.”
Perhaps its the youth in me, the poet who refuses to see his reason. All I can imagine is the despair at losing twenty years of my life, of wasting it in the futile hopes of an early retirement and to then live in near desperation, striving to regain those lost moments.
I will wait tables, peddle words on the streets. I will imagine that I am 21 again and I will dance into the night, compose new friendships, sudden adventures.
And I am writing a novel – to inspire, transform, re-imagine. There is wine and there is a window looking out towards the mountain and its ranges. There are moments becoming words that will be fashioned into stories, into essays, and poems.
I am writing a novel. The words create their own space They pour from me, pour and scatter. Overflow.