Yesterday was our end-of-semester conference day for composition students. The four comp faculty gather to chat with each young composer, individually. While these sessions are brief (15′ for most, 30′ for grad students), it’s a chance for students to talk about the term’s highlights, how things went relative to their expectations; and for faculty to try to prod them in new directions. Mostly, it’s a chance for faculty who’re not familiar with a particular student to gain some acquaintance, and for students to meet and engage all of us.
The conferences went ok, about the same as usual, though done virtually, of course. This 4 hour slice of the day is by far the most time I’ve spent with my colleagues this term. In the absence of off-the-cuff meetings that typically happen all through the semester, people stopping in for coffee, just to chat, etc., this was really the only time for us as a comp faculty. In all honesty, it was the only moment during the entire semester that i realized how much i really missed the more typically semester-long engagement.
I’d thought that this semester was really ok, as I didn’t experience regular interruptions by colleagues who stopped in. Over the past years I’ve actually established a schedule that has no holes in it, at all, so that such meetings can only happen by appt., or when a student cancels their lesson. But, in truth, I realize that I do miss my colleagues. We’ve all got our crap, and I’m generally so intolerant that I’m sure many don’t want to deal with me (though they do keep stopping in…), but my colleagues are truly (almost) as important as our students.
It’s the students I miss terribly. The challenge of the first eight-week term online at least let me look forward to seeing them three times each week. Meeting comp students and e-comp students over the remainder of the semester (theirs a 15-wk term) was good, but not having them in my office/studio is just so odd. The absence of “this is our bubble for an hour,” our space to go anywhere together, perhaps prompted by something on my desk, perhaps by a score lying on a music stand, or a file open on my computer; I really miss that.
The teaching/learning just isn’t at all the same experience for any of us, at any level of education, at any school.
Next semester? I really want to teach in person. But I just don’t think circumstances are going to allow it. It’s possible I may be able to get a vaccine a bit earlier than the students, due to my likely status as ‘high risk’, but I don’t think it’ll be available before the term begins January 19.
ECU, like so very many other universities, colleges, and community colleges, is looking ahead to some horrid budget cuts. We’ve heard the latest numbers, which make unmistakably clear that the cuts are far beyond our operating budget and will force significant personnel cuts. This will create a very difficult situation for those whose positions are cut, and of course their families, and also for the faculty who remain but will need to somehow cover extra courses and/or larger classes. The staff throughout the university, those who haven’t ever been fairly compensated, will be cut or furloughed; and they’re not likely to have any fat/savings in their personal budgets. In short, so many more will be added to the unemployment rolls, to the casualties of this pandemic and its shameful mishandling by both the current administration, and the congressional reticence to act and provide relief.
As part of dealing with the enormous budget cuts, the UNC governing body has asked the state legislature for permission to pursue means to encourage retirements, etc. There are many rumors about what that might mean, if anything does actually happen, so no one’s making any plans at this point.
But Pattie and I did have a meeting last week with our TIAA-CREF retirement advisor. It was a typical ‘annual check-up’, which usually begins with an important question: “any idea of your retirement time-line?” I usually respond to this with estimating age 65. And while that’s a pretty likely age for me (~5 years), I proposed we run a hypothetical of my retiring at the end of this year, spring 2021–just as a thought-experiment, so to speak. The result is that such an action would allow us to maintain our lifestyle for 25+ years (longer than I expect to live, to be honest).
I don’t expect to retire at the conclusion of this year, unless an incentive arises which is just too good to turn down. But the ideas of a phased retirement (3-years at half-time), or just 3-year timeline (age 63) sure do seem enticing.
So I’ve brought up our “what would we do if I retired this spring” question with Pattie. More thought-experimenting. Move? Where to? So much depends on what happens with Joe/Cristin and their pursuit to come south. We know they want to come this way, also have incentive in her sis’s family planning to move to Richmond next fall. And with Pattie’s folks here, Christine/Stephen in VA, Tim/Tara here (for now), Pattie’s two sisters in Raleigh, her bro at the coast, there’s lots of gravitational pull to this area if Joe/Cristin are able to get here. My sibs are too geographically dispersed to help in any decision about moving; Indiana, Boston, NY, Florida…we know we don’t want to move to the cold, and we really haven’t found any place in FL that appeals to us. Discussions continue, but perhaps with the awareness that looking at things in the Raleigh area might provide occasional distraction.
Monday brought another session with the h.s. musicians in Fayetteville, and I’ll have another next Monday. This time with them always reminds me of what gives me a good jolt–young minds, curious and open, exploring the potential of their own ideas, hungry to do so more, to build, to try things. These particular students are really wonderful; their teacher clearly loves them, and they her. There’s so very much support and encouragement during these sessions, and it’s such a gift to be a small part of their curriculum. I do hope that interactions like this, wherever I am after retirement, will continue both in person and virtually. Perhaps the silver lining from all of these past months is the awareness of what is possible via remote-connecting.
Looking forward, it seems. And hope to keep eyes on these matters, rather than the discouraging headlines, in the days to come.