Breaking ties

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.

Graduation day at Union: I'm on the right; to my right is the department head, Web Drake, and professors Ashley and Chris Blair

Graduation day at Union on May 18: I’m on the right; to my right is the department head, Web Drake, and professors Ashley and Chris Blair

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.

I'm on the right, talking with two seniors at Union (who have since graduated).

I’m on the right, talking with two seniors at Union (who have since graduated).

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.

A good-bye party put on by the journalism students for departing professor Jim Veneman (foreground right) at a local restaurant. Veeka and I are to the left near the back.

A good-bye party put on by the journalism students for departing professor Jim Veneman (foreground right) at a local restaurant. Veeka and I are to the left near the back.

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.

The University of Memphis' Wilder Tower

The University of Memphis’ Wilder Tower

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.

3 thoughts on “Breaking ties

  1. Don Warrington

    You’ll do well.

    The 18-hour requirement is pretty much standard SACS. Even though I have an MS in Civil Engineering and my thesis was math gone wild, I still was turned down to teach math at the undergraduate level. (I do teach Civil Engineering, though.)

    Now I’m pursuing my PhD at the other end of the state (UTC). Lord willing, at the end of this semester I’ll have the SACS requirement done and math teaching will be an option.

    Sorry UU didn’t work out; we’ve been there for my wife’s music teacher state meetings, know some of the music faculty. But we’ve done the same thing at UM.

    God bless, enjoyed your posts about the Church of the Redeemer. I lived in Texas during the 1970’s, the immediate glow from that reached far beyond Houston.

  2. Philip Cantrell

    Wow. Small world. Here I am now in Annapolis, but I was born and raised in Memphis. I read your book, Quitting church about three years ago and wanted to visit you when you were living so much closer. I guess I should have done that while I had the chance. Having grown up in Memphis and having two relatives go to Union University, I can see both sides of the fence now.
    For one thing, I would be curious how you find the “church lifestyle” down there compared to this area (Annapolis)? And secondly, I hope you can say that the Lord is still with you and your family.

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