While Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and gratitude, we often take the good:
- Rest, relaxation and sleeping in,
- Good food, such as Grandma’s corn bread stuffing and pecan pie,
- Family members who are also your best friends,
- Catching up on grading and
- Preparing for the holidays by decorating a Christmas tree.
with the bad:
- Crowded airports and sitting next to someone who takes off their shoes and has gag-producing foot odor,
- A mother-in-law’s vomiterious liver nips (Please note: They are not delicious and their smell and color are reminiscent of rat fur, death and rotting meat),
- Family drama—“Liar! You did steal my add-a-bead necklace in 1981!” or “I wanted cha-cha heels for Christmas—black ones. I never got them!”,
- Discussing the value of a college education with a relative whose sole source of information is Fox News and who lives year-round in Florida and
- Black Friday.
Higher education is much the same—so much to love, so much to hate. It seems in our collective DNA to have discourse and debate about everything, including the sector itself. So, here’s a list of gratitudes and exceptions for the contrarian in all of us serving in higher education.
- Students. They’re the reason we’re here! It’s gratifying to see them excel and achieve. Exception: When a student asks for an excused absence because they were in jail for disorderly conduct after being “overserved.”
- Fire marshals and building inspectors. Making sure fire codes and OSHA guidelines are followed keeps us safe. Exception: When it’s as cold as a witch’s brass bra and you want to use a space heater because you’re wearing gloves and a coat in your office, but they aren’t permitted.
- Leadership. The new academic building for the humanities was just what we needed! It was amazing to have the administration secure funds from the state government. Exception: Paranoid, power-hungry, full-length puffy coat–wearing presidents who only pay lip service to DEI by rebranding a room with outdated, tacky, worn-out furniture as a “safe space.”
- Beautiful campuses. There’s nothing like flowers and a well-maintained landscape where we can sit, read, have lunch and enjoy the outdoors. Exception: When the lawn mowers/leaf blowers are used outside your classroom while you’re lecturing or administering an exam.
- Campus police. They’re vital in emergencies: large—like a campus shooting—or small, like when you’ve forgotten the keys to your office. Exception: When they give you a ticket for double parking. Then they interrogate you about the case of cheap vodka for “costume water” and the jumbo box of condoms for mic battery packs you just loaded on a flatbed cart for the theater department.
- Information technology. What would we do without their help? Exception: When they come to “fix” your computer, it is as simple as restarting it and you get the look, as if to say, “you’re an idiot.”
- Housekeeping. It’s nice to have colleagues who aim to make spaces cleaner, healthier and more conducive to working, living and learning. Exception: To be told by your child, a first-year student, that his and his housemates’ expensive electronic equipment left on the floor of the common room was accidentally thrown out by housekeeping. After they complained about it, they all curiously received a fine for leaving food out in the common area kitchen.
- The fantastic performances, lectures, activities and exhibitions offered on college campuses. We are lucky to work in an environment where cultural events abound and enhance our quality of life. Exception: Why is everything that’s genuinely worthwhile scheduled for the same weekend? How does one choose between a Neil deGrasse Tyson lecture and reception, a Patti Smith performance and book signing, a Frisbee golf tournament, and the opening of a Yayoi Kusama exhibition? Well, maybe not all those things at once (one can dream), but sometimes it can be tough to choose from among all the opportunities.
- The transformative power of experiencing a residential campus. Exception: The rising cost of such an education. When will we fix the financial model and make education truly accessible?
- The power of place and a shared sense of purpose. Exception: The lack of support by the government to finance such an important endeavor and the public’s lack of appreciation for higher education’s positive impact on the economy and society at large. Also, dear marketing and communications departments, please, no more “Power of Place”–themed alumni magazines.
- Colleagues. Some are like family members supporting us in good times and in bad, others energize and inspire us and still, others are those with whom it is a joy to collaborate and achieve. Exception: The crazy colleagues trying to destroy us by making our lives a living hell.
Exception: Those who contend that commemorating an event that never existed whitewashes a litany of offenses by the European settlers, including but not limited to oppression, discrimination and genocide and who therefore believe Thanksgiving is a shameful historical construct of the dubious and fabricated cooperation between colonists and Indigenous peoples, please disregard that final message.