Yesterday afternoon we had a faculty meeting. Much as I utterly despise meetings, this one was very useful, for it was a briefing on certain things that need to be done. We face some challenges, it's true, but they're problems that can be solved and we have very good people who are on it.
The reason I lose no sleep over the challenges we face is because when I was in my first semester here, we faced challenges that were far, far greater. We were in seriously deep financial trouble, and our accrediting agency was giving us very intense scrutiny. One sneeze, one false move, and the college would be history. I remember sitting in faculty meetings back then and wondering if I'd have a job that time next year. (Not until long after it was all resolved did I learn how close to the edge we really were.) But we survived, we prevailed, and we thrived. Even with its problems, ours is now a strong institution. We'll weather the current situation, and we'll move forward stronger for the experience.
It was with those memories of a decade ago that I heard some relatively new faculty members voicing their own concerns during the open floor portion of yesterday's meeting. One said some things that were eerily like what passed through my mind a decade ago. I finally raised my hand and spoke up. Somehow I got out that I'd been here through far worse, and we got through it then, so we'll be fine now, especially with the fine leadership our faculty enjoys. I also said something about how we need to keep our focus on serving the students, and that the best way for us to stave off worry was to stay busy. I love Bill Buckley's line about "industry is the enemy of melancholy," and I shared it. My comments weren't much, nor were they terribly eloquent, but I felt a little better for having said it.
After the meeting adjourned, a colleague flagged me down in the parking lot. She thanked me for what I said, adding that she'd spent the meeting hoping "a senior faculty member" would speak up as I had. As much as I appreciated her comments, my head spun a bit when I heard the words "senior faculty member" being applied to me. While intellectually I know I'm one of the old hands around here, in my mind part of me still feels like that kid I was a decade ago. To me "senior faculty member" means the venerable lions of the faculty. Folks like the long-serving history professor, his body slowed by age but his mind sharp as ever, who was our longtime parliamentarian. Or the biology professor I still can't screw up the courage to address on a first-name basis -- even though I know I could, but it's too much of a respect thing -- who's been teaching at our college since I was in junior high school. Folks like that. Compared to them, I still feel like a kid.
But I'm not that kid any longer, hard as it is to realize. I know part of my job now is to be an example and a role model, and part of what I consciously do when I can is provide the subtle mentoring and the little bits of encouragement I didn't get back then. After all, I don't want anybody to have to go through some things I did. I don't want them to feel terrified when they're going through a third-year review or intimidated about compiling a tenure portfolio or any of that. The job is challenging enough as it is, and if I can soothe some nerves and ease a few jitters when I can, I'm happy to. I've been through it, the hard way, and now there's not an awful lot that truly scares me. I want them to have what I didn't have back then, when I spent my first years at this job in fear of screwing up and losing a job I felt I'd just barely earned as it was.
That said, as much as I know I am now, being called "senior faculty" is going to take some getting used to -- especially since, some days, it still feels like I just started working there yesterday.