Saturday, September 22, 2012

Discernment Begins

At work, we've had two years of bad news:  student enrollment in decline, lay-offs every 6 months, reorganizations, and the ever-more-precarious state of post-high-school education.  I work at a for-profit college, and the for-profit higher ed industry has been facing stresses that other kinds of schools don't have, like needing to have an ever-greater profit margin for share holders even as we've been enduring the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. 

At various points, people have asked me what I think will happen.  Will the school close?  Will there be more lay-offs?  Will we reverse our enrollment numbers?

I have always said, "We can't know.  All we know is that as long as the lights are on and our keys unlock the doors and the paychecks clear the bank, we have a job to do."

Yesterday, on the last day of the quarter, I got to work, and the doors were locked, and the lights were off.  For one minute, I said, "The school has closed for good."  Then I saw clusters of humans, and I thought, it's a bomb threat or a fire.  But the lights were off, which made me think, maybe something dreadful has already happened, and we're not allowed back in the building--something done by a disgruntled student or soon-to-be-ex-employee?

Nope--just a massive power failure.  And I'm trying not to read too much into it.  I'm an English major, after all, always able to see signs and symbols.  I remind myself that sometimes a power failure is just a blown transformer.

Eventually I went back home, where I had power and Internet access and a computer.  And then, in the afternoon when the power was restored, I went back to the office.

Last night, my department gathered for a happy hour event that was bittersweet.  We're losing 5 department members because of our Reduction in Force.  Some will be back as adjuncts, but some won't.  And regardless, our department is changing, soon broken into two units.

We drank our happy hour specials.  We ate wonderful happy hour food specials.  Some people stood in line for the roast pig.  I did not; the presence of a head with eyeless sockets kind of freaked me out.  I decided to continue eating $4 piles of fried calamari.

We started at the outside bar that tries to make you believe you're on a Caribbean island, when, true to the tropics, a huge storm blew through.  We were fairly sheltered, but given the instability of the weather, we decided to move inside when the rain let up.  The inside is light and airy too, and air conditioned which was good, since it was hot and muggy outside.

We toasted each other and shared memories and started to face the future. 

In terms of my personal finances, I feel like I've been granted a temporary reprieve.  A temporary reprieve is better than no reprieve, but I feel like there are many signs that it's time to plan for what I would do if my job no longer existed.  The obvious answer:  save more money. 

But I must do more than that.  I plan to enter a time of dreaming which I'm hoping will lead to concrete planning.  I want a time of discernment.  I figure that I'm at the halfway point of my working life.  What would I like the next 25-30 years to look like?

I'll write about some of that process here and at my theology blog, in case it proves useful to people.  It won't be the only thing I write about, of course.  But it will be a subject to which I return periodically.

A month ago today, I got the call from my dean, which I wrote about here, the call which told me of the restructuring that I have survived.  In the next few days, I'll write about some of my discernment that I've done in the past month and some of the things I've already learned.  I need to write some of it down, while I'm still remembering. 

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