Before being nudged, not-so-gently, into retirement, Dr. Teller had spent the last ten years of his academic career as a community-college dean. The final position lasted for seven, interminably-long and difficult years at a junior college in California’s Bay Area.
Teller had come to believe that the life of an academic dean was: Just. Plain. Fucking. Nuts. The most frequent question that coursed through his brain was “why am I here?” Surely this wasn’t an existence that any truly healthy person would take on – other than from a sense of desperation.
The fact was, though: Teller had been desperate. The offer that ultimately came his way emerged after three-plus years of interim positions and a lifestyle of never-ending job-search. When he lost his state-level higher-education post in Oregon, he had been forced to seek out something else to do with his life. When the opportunity arose to be a college dean, he thought, “why not?” And after two temporary gigs in his home state, the California job seemed to provide him some sense of direction, resolution and permanency.
But while he was quite experienced with, and even amazingly skillful at, managing the highly-political nature of academia, the navigation of community-college campus-level politics turned out to be somewhat akin to living in the “Twilight Zone.” It was as if Rod Serling had come back to provide the script and narration for Teller’s time on this planet.
Of the 112 community colleges in the California community-college system, Teller ended up working at one of the smaller ones. And as it turned out, it had a quite-specific statewide reputation. Not that he knew anything about that when he moved there, of course.
But the reputation was discoverable and, in the end, indisputable: the place was batshit crazy.
- The collective-bargaining agreement between the faculty and the institution was an absurdly-long and complicated document. It was poorly-written, internally-contradictory, maddeningly-prescriptive, and reflected decades worth of administrative concessions. It served as the college’s Bible. It was, indisputably, batshit crazy.
- The Board of Trustees was a self-absorbed, totally-dysfunctional body, prone to micromanagement, lack of boundaries, role confusion, internal strife, senseless speech-making, and meetings that lasted until midnight. Individually, and collectively, they were the very essence of batshit crazy.
- The collection of department chairs, a gang that convened monthly, consistently and vigorously attacked anyone unlucky enough to have the title of vice president. They truly believed that the world revolved around them. The group was distinguished by its inability to move any agenda along and famous for its failure to acknowledge (what the rest of the world might call) “reality.” Individually, and collectively, an easy call: batshit crazy.
- Overt and covert conflicts between faculty members and administrators were frequent, mean-spirited, and embarrassing for any innocent bystander to witness. The dynamic was full-on batshit crazy.
- The door to the vice president’s office was a revolving one, hosting seven different occupants during Teller’s time there. Some were laughably inept. At least two were verbally and/or emotionally abusive. One was middle-twentieth-century sexist. One was certifiably batshit crazy.
- Stories of bad behavior by faculty members were legendary, provided a mystical aura to the institution, and wove the fabric of the college’s culture. The campus employed several who had been there for decades and had long ago given up pretending to care about students. Teller believed that a certain percentage of them had substance-abuse or mental-health issues, and assessed this faction to be, unquestionably, batshit crazy.
Still, despite all the evidence in support of its reputation, Teller had not planned on leaving the college when he did. His departure, ultimately, came as a big surprise to him. The interim vice president, who had once been among Teller’s most-trusted allies on campus, had apparently drunk the Kool-Aid too many times. Acting as an agent of the president, she was the one who informed Teller that his time on campus was over.
He was devastated by the betrayal.
When all was said and done, Teller probably should have seen it coming. But he didn’t.
The evidence is there to support the notion that Dr. Teller, himself, had gone native.
In other words: batshit crazy.
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
And I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know…
[“Somebody That I Used To Know” – Gotye]
As I make an attempt to revive my activity here at Musings, after an extended hiatus, I reproduce below an edited version of a Facebook post I wrote in July of 2014.
I should officially announce to y’all that I have made a major transition in my life. After nineteen consecutive years as a higher education administrator (the last ten as a community college dean), I have moved on.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this whole retirement gig was not exactly my idea. (What? Me retire?) It was the path I chose to pursue when my position (Dean of Math & Sciences) at the College of Marin was no longer available to me. The official act dealt with the “non-renewal of my annual contract” … an avenue the president went down with three senior administrators this year. So, I signed up for an early-retirement plan, packed up my shit, and blew that pop stand.
As some of you are aware, I found my role as a community college dean a challenging one. When I left the Oregon University System Chancellor’s Office in 2004 (after a totally politically-motivated reorganization that left many of us devastated), I was warned about the hazards of a dean’s job on a community-college campus. As it turns out, the information I had been provided was frighteningly accurate. At three different community colleges, in two states, over ten years, the storyline was a lot the same: petty campus politics; huge amounts of conflict; rampant dysfunction; and an above-average percentage of mean people. These environments had the effect of deflating my spirit and led me to question the decisions I had made along the way to remain an educator. It all seemed so totally contradictory to the life I thought I had signed up for and, over time, I became increastingly jaded.
However, I survived then, and I’m surviving now. The future is looking brighter and brighter every day, even though I’m still viewing the job-loss experience through the lenses of rejection and betrayal.
Have you watched, at all, the Netflix original series, “Orange is the New Black”? In the middle of the second season, one of the female correctional officers (Fisher) is fired. When she discloses this to one of the prisoners (Nichols), the response is, “You’re a decent human being. Getting canned from this soul-sucking pit is the best thing that ever happened to you. Go home, take a hot bath …”
OK. Right now, I’m officially in the “hot bath” stage.
Somewhere, somehow somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you wanna lay there
And revel in your abandon
Listen it don’t make no difference to me baby
Everybody’s had to fight to be free
You see you don’t have to live like a refugee
Now baby you don’t have to live like a refugee
Last Friday (May 10, 2013) I was asked, by our campus president, to “say a few words” at the grand opening of the College of Marin’s new Science-Math-Nursing building. After being introduced by the president, here is what I said:
Thank you very much, President Coon.
Good afternoon, everyone. It is wonderful to see all of you here today on this very special occasion.
You know, I was here back in late 2009 when we broke ground for this new facility, and I’m almost sure I remember one of the speakers observing “what a great day this is for the College of Marin.” Well, I must admit: I think this is an even greater day as we celebrate the official opening of our new science math nursing facility.
The building that stands behind me is an amazing space to sharpen our focus on student learning and student success here at the college.
We do talk a lot about student success these days. And rightfully so. I believe that there are a whole range of factors that contribute to student success, and surely a positive learning environment has to rank near the top.
Among the factors of a positive learning environment, I believe, are instructors who are knowledgeable in their content areas, skilled at communicating with others, facilitating student learning, and able to do it in caring and supportive ways. We have a cadre of highly-skilled full-time and part-time instructors in this building who do all of that very well.
Another very important part of a positive learning environment - and I guess I’m talking a little bit about my philosophy of education here - is the physical space where that learning takes place. With the availability of this new science math nursing building, we now have a first-rate facility comprised of classrooms and labs that are firmly situated in the 21st century. We are very lucky. Our already outstanding programs in the sciences, in math, and in nursing have gotten a very big boost with the creation of this building. I would like to thank the citizens of Marin County for extending their vote of confidence in us and in voting for the resources to make this space a reality.
My most sincere thanks to you all.
[For a collection of my photos taken during the construction phase of the Science-Math-Nursing building, click here.]
Continued from Part 4…
Just after the three-month post-surgical mark, I had another follow-up appointment with my urologist. I had had some significant time to recover since the surgery, of course, and I wasn’t doing too badly. I was mostly-healed internally; thankfully, I had stopped peeing pink liquid. The continuing complaints I had were urgency and frequency with regard to my bladder behavior. I was also unhappy with the persistent tightness in my pelvic area that coincided with those symptoms and resulted in more trips to the restroom than I was really comfortable with. And the number of times I awoke during the night, to get up to urinate, continued to be problematic.
During this particular chat with the urologist, I made the observation that after years, yes decades, of frequent bathroom visits, I believed both my body and mind were still products of their long-term behavioral training. Despite the surgery, it appeared, my system was so accustomed to the bathroom ritual that it continued on, despite the radical intervention.
The doc seemed to agree, and named other cases he had had that were similar to mine. He indicated that he been thinking about a strategy to address this condition: unfortunately, it involved yet another medication. He recommended a small dose of a low-risk, low-side-effect drug to control bladder behavior. (“It’s so mild they can give this to infants,” he said.) Although I wasn’t thrilled to take on yet another long-term medication (I had just recently disposed of my stash of Flomax, which I had been on for years), it seemed like a reasonable thing to try … especially when he indicated that we could view this as a temporary fix until my body could re-train itself. The drug involved is Oxybutynin, and I have been taking the 5-mg pill once a day since March 16, 2012 (just over thirteen months now).
For me, Oxybutynin has been only a partial solution. I had a short-term adjustment period getting used to the side effects (mostly dry mouth), but my body gradually came around to accepting the drug. And, over time, the tightness in my pelvic area became less pronounced and my bladder better behaved. However, given that I’m still taking it, this has obviously become a longer-term “temporary” fix than I’d anticipated.
A few months after I’d started on the Oxybutynin I was still having problems with frequency, so I was referred to a physical therapist specializing in bladder issues. (Yes, really, there are such therapists!) The whole physical-therapy experience will be the topic of my next entry.
OK, I lied. I said I was going to continue on with my description of the prostate-surgery recovery, but, as you can see, I never did follow up. So, just let me try to tie up loose ends very briefly. I did see a physical therapist for a while and she was very helpful. The remedy, which turned out to be quite effective (in addition to the Oxybutynin medication), is a routine called “Kegel exercises” – or “pelvic floor exercises.” As I write this here, in March of 2015, I still do this every day, and control of my bladder remains manageable. For a description of this technique, click here.
There are those periods in any lifetime, comprised of hours, days, weeks, or sometimes longer, that lead you to question much of what’s come before. Have you ever noticed that? … for WHAM!, there you are, minding your own business, and suddenly, unexpectedly, this or that happens. And it’s at that point you come to question: Is this my life? Really?
I have a love-hate relationship with these interludes, for as good as they typically turn out, when I’m in the midst of it all, feelings of loss, ambiguity, confusion and pain are frequent visitors. Happily, a sense of excitement and wonderment can be part of it as well. It can be tragic. As well as magic.
Here’s what’s going on right now.
I met a woman online a short time ago. When she sent me a brief note of introduction, and I went to read her profile, I thought: amazing. We met for coffee the first time, and afterwards I wrote her a follow-up email, using that word; when she wrote back she said, yes, our connection for a first meeting was amazing.
After having lunch together for a second date, she discovered this blog. She apparently read quite a few entries and her emailed comments to me included:
… you have shared your personal history, dreams, joys, challenges, disappointments and vulnerabilities. Your words can so resonate that one moment I find myself laughing out loud, the next deeply moved to tears … [and] this is beginning to create a heart connection that is both surprising and much welcomed. As I tried to convey in my online profile, in addition to intellectual and physical compatibility, I’m looking for deep mutual closeness based on emotional intimacy, conscious communication, psychological awareness and spiritual alignment …
All told, we got together five times in two weeks. During the last date, a hike along a local trail, we, for the first time, held hands. At the conclusion of our time outdoors, we went back to her place for a while, at which point she indicated that our relationship would not be going any further. “I cannot give my heart to a man whose heart is in Oregon,” she stated.
Holy crap, I said to myself. And here I thought things were going so well.
But, during those two weeks we spent together, I had taken a quick trip to Portland for a job interview. I had had phone and Skype interviews before she sent me that first note. When I was up there on campus, I know I performed well and that the selection committee liked me. The president of the college, an old friend of mine, called me after the formal process was over to express her support. It seemed I was on a trajectory for a job offer. Of course, I didn’t keep this a secret, as the possibility of my departure was a very big deal. Still, the relationship seemed to be progressing normally, especially as evidenced by the “heart-connection” email. You know, and the whole hand-holding thing that very morning.
However, even before the outcome of the job process was clear, she called it quits, severing the possibility of any romantic relationship, though leaving open the prospect of “friendship.” I passed on that option.
Then, as anticipated, the very next evening, I did receive the job offer (by email, minus any details such as salary). When, after three more days, the terms were clarified, it seemed apparent this was not the place for me. While they said they wanted me, their budget was apparently not flexible enough to back up that claim. And other issues seem to be forbidden topics of conversation as well (e.g., vacation days). All in all: it was very strange and uncomfortable.
You know, it wasn’t that long ago I believed I’d do anything for a ticket back to Oregon. Interestingly, that has turned out not to be the case. I respectfully declined their offer, with only modest hesitation.
And, the truth is, I feel great with this decision. I live in beautiful, sunny, scenic Marin County, California, just ten miles from the Golden Gate. My interview trip to Portland, while a professional success, entailed surviving 40-degree weather and constant rain. It was dismal.
I am coming to realize that I feel at home in the Bay Area. It now seems likely that while I wasn’t paying attention, I was becoming a Californian.
But I was rejected for being an Oregonian.
Apparently, both the person and the college wanted to be just friends. Without the benefit of actual benefits, however.
Dear Universe: honestly. You really kill me sometimes!
Now he lives in the islands, fishes the pilins
And drinks his green label each day
Writing his memoirs, losin’ his hearin’
But he don’t care what most people say.
Through eighty-six years of perpetual motion
If he likes you he’ll smile and he’ll say
“Jimmy, some of it’s magic, some of it’s tragic
But I had a good life all the way.”