Life

Senior professor's mass e-mail leads to introspection

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An open letter to his colleagues, decrying dysfunction at his university, is now prompting reflection (and praise) from academics elsewhere.

Associate professors less satisfied than those at other ranks, survey finds

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Preliminary results of national survey find their job satisfaction in many areas lags those at assistant and full ranks.

Community colleges pop up on TV, in film and in new novels

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Satirical fiction is targeting community colleges, which may be sign of the sector's deepening societal relevance.

Humanities scholars consider the role of peer review

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At the MLA, scholars consider how radically to change the traditional models for deciding what gets published.

Essay on frustrations of associate professors

Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist consider job (dis)satisfaction among associate professors.

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Essay on mixed feelings at a commencement

Generally speaking, it is safe to say that most college commencements are the same. The students file past their camera-wielding relatives offering smiles and small, inconspicuous waves. A speaker invokes Robert Frost or Dr. Seuss or Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society to encourage the graduates to live lives of purpose and distinction. Degrees are conferred. A representative from the alumni organization urges these new alums to donate money to their school. The alma mater is sung. The young adults file back out.

And after, on the quad or the lawn or whatever the campus’s green space is called, the professors unzip their robes, remove sweat-soaked tams and complain about the heat. They shake hands with parents, pose for photos with their now former students. They pronounce positive judgment on the graduates’ plans for the immediate future. “Excellent.” “Oh, that sounds great.” “Hey, it’s a foot in the door.”

I graduated 16 years ago, from the very university where I have been teaching for the past three years. This is my final commencement, as my visiting assistant professorship is at an end. My second graduation, in a sense. I’m a middle-aged man now, but it doesn’t seem that long ago that my classmates and I stood on this lawn, sipping lemonade and talking with our relatives and mentors about what was to come. It was an exciting time -- the future was pure potential. We don’t realize, as students at commencement, that some doors are closing, or are already closed, that childhood is now finally at an end. The graduate will never take meals with a group of her best friends again. A mistake made at 20 may unexpectedly stay with a person for the rest of his life.

One may find oneself, at 39, grinning next to a 22-year-old as her mother snaps a picture, thinking, She doesn’t know, yet, that life is going to be just a little bit harder from here on.

Of course, I wouldn’t say such a thing out loud. There is no need to spoil this recognition of the graduates’ accomplishments. I remind myself to be happy for these lives that are really just beginning. I remember to be grateful for my own blessings and opportunities. Besides, I wouldn’t really want to experience my adolescence or young adulthood -- dating, career anxiety, acne -- again. The grown-up world may be hard and scary, but honestly, in many ways it’s still better. Or at least, it is for me.

What’s more, I think I know how to handle this world in a way that I didn’t quite know how to handle the world I lived in as a youth. So I sip my lemonade as the alma mater plays in my mind and the wacky kid coasts by on his skateboard, cap still perched on his head but gown unzipped to reveal his cargo shorts and fraternity T-shirt. And for God’s sake, I tell myself, it’s a celebration. Smile.

William Bradley is the author of a collection of personal essays titled Fractals, forthcoming from Lavender Ink. He's also looking for work, so if you need an essayist…

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Essay on how to navigate rules when you are on the tenure track

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Sometimes an academic has to ignore a few rules to get things done, writes Nate Kreuter.

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Why one professor teaches summer school (essay)

Ulf Kirchdorfer explains why he -- like most of the world, but unlike many other professors -- works during the summer.

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The challenges of teaching with a mental health condition (essay)

Gleb Tsipursky describes how he struggles to teach with a mental health condition, and how instructors -- and their colleagues -- can deal effectively with such disorders.

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Essay on how faculty members can keep focused amid so much disturbing news

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Kerry Ann Rockquemore offers advice for faculty members feeling exhausted by racial battle fatigue.

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