Friday, June 30, 2017

Last Day at the Factory

When I was in junior high school, for some reason that I cannot explain, we kids were shown a movie called, The Last Day at the Factory.  It was a film about a man's last day at his place of work which was a factory. In it he shook hands with various colleagues, meandered around the factory--which did not look like a swell place to work--and nostalgically said good bye.

It is difficult to understand why we were asked to watch the film. If I had to guess, we were probably giving a teacher an hour off.  There was no positive message in it that I could see. Where I went to school they were not encouraging us to spend our working years toiling in a factory. Don't mean to sound snobby, just that was not the emphasis in our school.

In fact, another film was akin to the general message.  We saw a movie called, When I'm Old Enough, Goodbye. It was about a kid who could not wait until he was sixteen when he could quit school. Then the cool guy got a bunch of dead end jobs and was miserable.  It became clear that what might seem like liberation, would be more like incarceration if you were stuck washing pots the rest of your life (as was one of this character's stops before he went back to school).

The title of the first film has been sticking in my head the last few weeks. After seven years as an administrator I am returning to the faculty with more than a little bit of excitement about returning.  It was, on balance, a terrific experience seeing how the university worked from a higher perch in the decision making ladder.  But I missed the opportunity to write and the freedom that comes when you are a professor. It was precisely this autonomy at a thinking place that attracted me to academia in the first place. So, for seven years I did not have it.  Monday will be the first day in a while (except for a six month sabbatical) when I will not have to go to work like everyone else.  Believe me, I will not miss the traffic on the Mass Pike, nor the restrictions (that I know that most everyone bears) on my time.

Still when I boxed up my stuff and removed the various items on my desk, I felt like the guy in the first movie.  I shook hands with some colleagues, hugged others,--and walked around the joint.  The last months on the job had its tense moments and I will not miss some capricious and, in my opinion, wrong headed behaviors.  One of the things I liked about the job was that, in my area, for most of the time I was there, I was able to make decisions that otherwise others would make.  Now, others will be making them.

But that is very okay.  I will get to know the umpteen colleagues who have joined my department while I was attending meetings.  My academic field is communication in organizations, and more recently sports and communication.  Academics are often cited as out of touch with what is called "the real world." In the administrative job, I was in the real world, and the experiences in terms of organizational communication were edifying in a way that I would not have expected.  Sure, some meetings are mind bogglingly long and time wasters.  But many of them were intelligently structured and followed the prescriptions we teach about in our classes.

I am fortunate to work at an excellent institution and look forward to a new step.

Onward and upward.

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