I Quit!

pattee

Fascist style architecture at Penn State’s Pattee-Paterno Library

No, not me. I love my work.

But a fellow WordPresser at Penn State has, and that resonates because it is where I had my first job as a prof. He has written a revealing and insightful blog post about his reasons for leaving that particular ivory tower, retiring at age 62.

Some of his reasons apply to academics generally. There is an inverse relationship between age and energy, of course, but that factor has always applied to such decisions. More recent changes involve technological developments that make it possible to have computing power and information resources in your home office that were once only available on campus. Another key one has been the increasing drag of administrative bureaucracy on the core intellectual mission of universities, meaning profs need to put in a lot of work getting through red tape before they can even begin doing their real work of teaching and research. At the same time, decreases in staff support due to budget cutting means profs need to do a lot of basic tasks others on campus once did. Improved returns on retirement investments since the 2008 crash, recovery of home equity in many markets, and better accessibility to health care through the ACA are additional factors that profs are considering in making the decision whether to leave their jobs or not.

Other reasons he gives for retiring at 62 apply uniquely to being a prof at Penn State. He puts it like this, and all I have to say is that it fits my experience there in the late 1990s, that campus culture seems to have incredible inertia, and that Penn State contrasts markedly with LSU (and I don’t mean just the architecture).

[Penn State as an] institution as a whole is phenomenally weird, following a North Korean governance model…. In discussing my decision to leave with a colleague who is an ardent supporter of the system, I referred to PSU as “an authoritarian hellhole,” which elicited the reply “Well, it is that….” Suffice it to say that the serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky found a welcoming and protective environment at Penn State not out of luck, but rather as an all-but-inevitable consequence of the institutional culture…. Since the scandal broke, rarely a week goes by without at least one front page story in the local papers on the topic.  Ever since the imposition of the NCAA sanctions, an exceedingly vocal subset of the university community has viewed itself, not the children molested by Sandusky, as the victims, and the supporters of Paterno have clearly adopted that Vietnam-era slogan “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” The departure of administrators has become so endemic that one person has noted “We’ve long passed the point of rats leaving a sinking ship: this is ships leaving a sinking rat.”

Out of empathy for friends still at Penn State, I can’t bear to repeat more, but there is more, a lot more, at Going Feral! Or “So long, and thanks for all the fish…”* | asecondmouse.

* The title of his post, by the way, refers to what the dolphins have to say when they leave Earth just before its demolition to make way for a hyperspace thoroughfare project in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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