An inflection point

It seems like life has been in a weird sort of stasis for the past several months as the pandemic has reshaped so many things in our collective lives. A benefit of that stasis is time to reflect and to see things in a new light. It occurs to me that we as a society are at a major inflection point, and I feel similarly about myself and my family.

A major component of this inflection point is my job. I was already unhappy with many aspects of it — that isn’t new or different. But I’ve realized anew just how deep that unhappiness goes, and how significant are the sources of discouragement and disappointment. For example, my institution continues to push ahead with an in-person Fall semester even as reasons for more caution and concerns about health and safety continue to grow. A few days ago, the local high school, as well as most other schools in our geographic area as well as public schools in hot spots around the country, publicly reversed course to say they do not see a safe way to hold any kind of in-person education for Fall. Yet my institution plows ahead, making the contrast even more obvious.

So then, I am very much at odds with where my employer stands on this whole situation, and it really bothers me. I am completely aware of the downsides, especially financial, to conducting teaching online in the Fall. Doing so will likely accelerate the need for the institution to make more painful and significant cuts including furloughs and job losses. But the health and safety of everyone is at stake, and it seems increasingly obvious that large groups of people clustered together dramatically increases the potential for virus transmission, and also that there is no viably safe way to do in-person teaching and learning without so deeply impairing the learning process as to make it useless. Public statements continue to refer to “an embodied liberal arts education” as the core of what we do, and I think to myself, yes, but only under normal, safe circumstances. We are not in normal, safe circumstances and will not be for some time to come. But the powers-that-be don’t seem to want to acknowledge that.

Their pandemic response isn’t the only major issue on which I find myself at odds with my employer, either. There are so many endemic problems that continue to fester because they are ignored, justified, or over spiritualized. Chief among them, for me at least, is the longstanding tolerance for poor management in the library, and for the ongoing pattern of bad behavior of key people in the library organization. It is a shame because there are many wonderful people whose work is excellent but continually involves having to tiptoe around others who are insecure, narrow-minded, and overly controlling. Whatever progress we make is in spite of a poorly designed organizational structure, as well as leadership that has allowed bad behavior to continue. The emotional and political will it takes to get things done is exhausting.

Each day, I give thanks for the physical distance the pandemic has forced on us. Months of working remotely have only strengthened the perspective of dysfunction and disorder I’ve had to work in for years, and the conviction that this is not the way things ought to be. I ask myself, then, should I stay or should I go? Is there any hope for positive change? It’s a precarious time to consider a job change, and in spite of many negatives, there are also quite a few positives about my job. I still don’t have a definitive answer, but continue to pray about it just about every day.

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