Those who have kept in touch with me already know the obvious: I am not continuing with Union University this term. Which was not how I planned things would go.
When I got the offer to come to Union on June 6, more than a year ago, it was a dream come true. I dropped thousands of dollars into my 101-year-old Maryland home to bring it up to a point where it could quickly sell, as Union was three months late in securing a journalism prof. So I had to make tracks. And the house did sell – in two weeks – thanks to my real estate agent and the realistic price at which I set it. The 800-mile move to Tennessee happened in late July and I was the last of the new faculty members to arrive. Camping out for five weeks in campus housing while getting Veeka into a new school, starting up three new courses that I’d never taught before while also getting the campus newspaper off the ground was off-the-charts stressful but I made it happen. The former adviser had my computer – which I got back about a month into the term – which added to the craziness of my life. One thing I set in motion right away was the design of a new web site for the campus newspaper. That was something the administration told me they wanted done and I am glad to say the revived site premiered this past April.The campus newspaper, which was in some disarray when I arrived, pulled in several awards this past spring. By the time final grades were turned in, I’d filled all the newspaper staff positions for the coming year, thanks my having secured some hefty raises for the editors several months before.
But last September, we’d barely moved into our new home when crises kept on arising at Veeka’s school. Those weeks were a living hell as the folks at her former school had an unpleasant habit of calling me at work – sometimes in the middle of class – and demanding I show up pronto to pick Veeka up. Happily, a second school has worked out much better but things didn’t even begin to settle down until December. My parents visited Jackson over Christmas and my brother Stephen came in February and at that point I figured things were pretty much under control and that I could take it easy. Thus, we visited DisneyWorld over spring break. On April 1 when I got back, I was faced with multiple crises to the point where I spent much of that month searching for and conferring with lawyers. What I thought would be a happy decade or more in west Tennessee has turned into a briefer visit. My one-year contract with Union ends this month.
Thus, I’ve been trying to figure out where to go next. At many universities, anyone who teaches journalism has to have 18 graduate credit hours in the subject. Since my masters is in religion, I never had that; however, not only have I *taught* journalism in places like the University of Maryland, I have more than 25 years experience in newsrooms around the country. I’ve put in the equivalent of three doctorates in terms of work time and books written, something that Union took into account when they hired me. But in this era of zillions of journalists getting laid off, work experience doesn’t count for so much any more. Two of my long-time friends on the religion beat in Pittsburgh and Nashville announced this month they’re leaving newspapers for better-paying and more stable jobs. They don’t want to wait until someone lays them off. Other folks I talk with who are still in the field tell me how salaries are shrinking more and more; how positions that once paid in the 60s are now paying in the 40s. And so I decided to enroll at the University of Memphis for a second master’s degree – this time in journalism – with classes that started this week. Some of them are online during the evening, which allow me to be at home with Veeka.
Sooo….from professor to grad student. Must say the folks at the University of Memphis have been quite kind to me, as I’m taking an overload to get all my course work done in a year. I’m having to do all these student things: Getting passes for commuter parking, ordering $200 worth of textbooks (!), setting up a student account and visiting the campus to talk with my adviser. I alternate between mourning my losses – 95 percent of my colleagues walked away from me once it was announced that I was leaving – and the realization that this change could be a blessing in some way. Already I’ve had an academic paper accepted at a conference and I’ll be traveling to Colorado in a few months to present it. UM has a fund for graduate students to attend such conferences, so I’ve already picked up an application form for financial help. I go to Memphis twice a week (a 160-mile round trip) for my two on-campus classes as well as my fix of newspapers (they have stacks of free USA Todays, New York Times and Memphis Commercial Appeals. I’m already planning my first presentation in ethics class and learning Photo Shop and Dreamweaver in a Web I class. So far, so good.