My new classroom

Today marks the start of a new semester, but I’m not standing in front of the classroom…not this one, at least. After nearly a dozen years as a tenured professor at a small liberal arts college, I have resigned my associate professor post to continue my work as a sociologist in other ways.

While PhD-seekers may anticipate a narrow path from graduate school to professorship to retirement, the reality is often far from it. Realizing this has become both opportunity and compulsion (or crisis) for contemporary academics’ livelihood as professionals. We are teachers, researchers, public intellectuals, writers, speakers, and – now more than ever – entrepreneurs. The college campus provides but one of many “classrooms” in which we may construct and communicate knowledge that matters.

Back in 2007, I was one of the “lucky ones” to secure full-time academic employment in a job market increasingly reliant upon contingent labor. I received three tenure-track offers before enthusiastically joining the faculty of a small liberal arts college and moving south. I was 27, newly married, and (then) childless.

Fast forward to the end of 2018 and I’d taught some 67 classes (including 26 sections of introductory sociology), supervised 55 year-long senior theses, and mentored hundreds of advisees. Along the way, I earned tenure, secured hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants, and published two books + two coedited volumes + scores of articles, chapters, reports, and conference papers. I served the college and my discipline, I consulted, coached writing, lectured around the US and world, and became a familiar face on the news. My dream of being a liberal arts teacher-scholar was a labor of love. Life ticked on, too: the arrival of my first child, then my second…and suddenly I’m 39-years-old, discerning dreams and realities for the next phase of my life.

Over this same period, the landscape of higher education changed, too – particularly for small, private, less selective colleges. The financial recession, demographic shifts, and competition from tuition-free and online college alternatives precipitated an underprepared student body, a heightened emphasis on job readiness, and a risk of faculty burnout when rewards don’t match workloads. As sociologist C. Wright Mills would say, these are not mere personal troubles but public issues.

Countless others have shared their own tales of transitions out of academia, gaining the moniker “quit lit.” I’m privileged that mine is a departure of opportunity, not duress. I’m neither running from nor shedding my identity as a PhD teacher-scholar; I am embracing it more fully, differently. My bittersweet leap bridges a career I’ve cultivated through a dozen years on faculty. I’m honored by the support and connections that facilitate my transition into this expanded scholarship arena.

So, today, I stand in front of a new classroom. I’ll write, research, speak, consult, mentor, engage in public scholarship…and teach in new ways.

Let the new term commence.

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