Letters to the Editor

On “Retirement as a Stage in the Academic Life Cycle”

Ann-Louise Shapiro | Dec 1, 2014

To the Editor:

I read with great interest Jan Goldstein’s essay on retirement in the October 2014 issue of Perspectives on History. I recognized immediately a rare discussion of the subject that dare not speak its name, and was pleased to go back and read Caroline Bynum’s earlier foray into the topic (Perspectives on History, December 2012). In fact, I have been thinking about these issues for a few years—pretty much in isolation from like-minded colleagues—and welcomed the thoughtful invitation to a broader conversation.

This fall, I began a plan of half-time teaching for three years in order to create some space and time in which to look toward the future. I was intrigued by Goldstein’s descriptions of some of the experiments emerging around the country to engage emeritus faculty. But, as I proceeded, I found myself feeling less, rather than more, enthusiastic about such possibilities. Reading the essay, in fact, clarified some of my tentative thinking about the next decade. In the end, I have decided to go in a somewhat different direction. Of course, these decisions are entirely personal and individual, but I’m a bit skeptical of the “keeping faculty in the family model.” Even in enviable circumstances, among valued colleagues, I have found departments to constitute a second dysfunctional family—one to be appreciated, but managed—and I don’t look forward to yet another. Instead, I have decided to volunteer with an interesting small organization that brings documentary films on contemporary issues and supporting curricula to high school and middle school classrooms, teaching visual literacy and encouraging social activism. While this work connects to my intellectual interests, it involves a different kind of engagement and a new constituency—younger colleagues and a more diverse group of young people. I am really looking forward to seeing if, as I have more time to give to it, this affiliation will be stimulating and satisfying for me and useful to the organization.

Perhaps, then, I would add to Goldstein’s model some version of encouraging academics to take their skills and interests a bit beyond the more “familiar” parameters. This may be easier in a large city, but I think there are more possibilities than most people imagine. And without a general discussion, each of us is left to work it out on her own. I am grateful to Goldstein’s prod to expand this conversation.

Ann-Louise Shapiro
The New School

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