The level sands stretch far away

Nothing makes you feel your age like meeting the new people.  That's especially true this year when nearly 20 percent of the faculty at my institution will be new hires either replacing retirees or in a few cases "poached" former colleagues.  Each fall I look around at the opening faculty meeting and count the number of faces who were here when I began.  That number is now five.

For the past several years, too, I've volunteered to serve as a faculty mentor.  I like doing it and I usually like the new people.  Even so, meeting them each year is always a disquieting reminder of how quickly you will someday disappear.  A few years after retirement and you may as well never have existed. After four years, the students will have changed over completely and after a half dozen your name will become a few vaguely familiar syllables: "Professor Who?”  The critic E.P. Thompson once referred to this as “the enormous condescension of posterity."

Last spring I happened across two retired profs who had come back to attend some event.  They told me they had walked across campus and hadn't recognized (or been recognized by) anyone until they met me.  One of them had taught here for 35 years and helped to build a department from nothing into a high-quality, award-winning program.

So there you go.  Sic transit pedagogia.


Anti-Dada said…
20 percent? That seems high. Is this an unusual year for turnover at your institution? More importantly, I think about mortality, posterity, and history a lot. It does leave me despondent at times, but then I remember all of the humiliating ways I've screwed up and realize that they will be forgotten as well. Helps me breathe a sigh of relief whenever I screw up. *wink*
Steve Snyder said…
It is an unusually high number, but we had a slew of retirements last year and three colleagues got better offers from other institutions and--quite rightly--took them. As for kicking the mortality blues, I like to quote a line from Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. "They say my best years are behind me, but I wouldn't want 'em back. Now with the fire in me now."
Anti-Dada said…
I see. So an unusual confluence of events, some fortuitous for a few colleagues--which is great. Nice quote, by the way. I like that.
Tim Brown said…
Students remember their teachers forever, and still gossip about them 40 years later. After that they can't remember anything.

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