Saturday, November 22, 2008

Workload and EPS Retirement Event

Entry for 21 November 2008:

I’ve been essentially working three jobs for the past couple of months, covering for Tracey, our former course director, who left in July, and for Lorna, one of our lecturers and our finance person, who has been off on extended medical leave since September. Fortunately, I’ve had some help from various people, for which I’m very grateful, but it’s actually been fairly stressful. I haven’t done as well as I would have liked at these various duties, most of which I didn’t really understand when I took them over. It’s been an education, and I must say that I now understand the system much better than I did previously.

However, all the extra teaching and admin has finally taken its toll, and I came down with a very bad cold about 2 weeks ago. I’m now left with a lingering cough and am still feeling somewhat run down. Holing up at home for the past two weekends has helped, as has getting extra rest, but meanwhile the email has continued to mount ever upwards and important tasks have not always been done in a timely manner.

One of the people who has really helped me get through this difficult time has been Mike Hough, whose department retirement function was yesterday. Mike and another Educational and Professional Studies colleague, David Cornwell, were treated to a thoughtful and well-attended retirement party, complete with 1960’s music and a wide variety of snacks.

These leaving functions have become a regular feature of life on the Jordanhill campus of the University of Strathclyde. In addition to the general aging of the faculty and staff, the frequency of these events also reflects the fact that life in the Education Faculty has become more difficult for most people, including faculty, staff and sometimes students as well. Between strong pressure to increase research productivity and a serious budget shortfall for the Education Faculty (=college of education in American terms), there is more pressure being brought to bear on everyone here, much of it the result of criticism and directives from the upper administration. Staff who leave or go on medical leave aren’t replaced, budgets have been cut, and those of us who remain are asked to do more and more. Some of this trickles down to the student level, as Terry and I learned this week when we spoke to a group of angry overseas students from the fulltime diploma course, who complained that they are not receiving adequate support and are therefore being short-changed.

I had been asked to say a few words at Mike’s retirement event, but was not prepared for what turned out to be a more formal, involved process than I had expected. Mike and his colleague have each been at Jordanhill for more than 30 years, and about 60 people showed up to see them off and hear the speeches. I’d jotted down a few notes, but hastily added to them once saw what was expected. Mike has been a good colleague to me, caring, wise and passionate (as I said in my remarks), and has really provided a bridge for me to connect me to the rest of the EPS department. As a result I have met new colleagues whom I respect and to whom I enjoy speaking. As I gave my little speech, I looked out over the assemblage of people gathered to say goodbye to two well-loved colleagues. A powerful sense of community came over me. This is a group of people who care about one another, who have history with this place and each other. Afterwards quite a few people, including Mike, thanked me for my brief but heart-felt words. As a result, I myself now feel more connected to and part of this community.

It is a crazy time for all of us, but it’s clear that most of us care deeply about our students and the work, and that this commitment unites us in the face of the difficulties. I’m pleased to be part of it. And I’m very much looking forward to the arrival of the new course director, Lucia Berdondini, next week, and the return of Lorna in January.

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