I’ve mentioned before that life at a small, teaching college like Mondoville isn’t what most of us are taught to want as we make our way through our M.A. and Ph.D. programs. Our models are typically the heavy-duty research scholars, the gunslingers at the research factories, and the implication is that this is what we should want to be, what we should strive to become.
My Ph.D. program was a little different, not least because Ball State’s origins were as a Normal School/Teacher’s College, but a look at the Chronicle will reveal that many see life outside the Research I (or a very few Selective Liberal Arts Colleges [SLACS]) as being somewhere East of Eden, where the flaming sword of heavy teaching loads will bar the gates of plum jobs forever. (Of course, given that only about 5% of Ph.D.s end up in tenure lines at the level of their doctoral institutions, that makes for a lot of disappointment, even bitterness.)
But as I’ve also noted, I have the kind of job I wanted to have, at a small college in a small town. I get to know the kids, have lunch with them, and on the good days, I occasionally help them see that these long-dead authors are important to what we all do as we muddle through our lives, and that the poems and stories are things that can excite and inspire us. Because I am who I am, that’s probably about the best I could hope for — I was 37 when I got my Ph.D., with a wife and a kid, from a program that’s seen as fair-to-middling, certainly nothing elite. Add my distrust of a lot of trendy avenues of scholarship to all that, and you’ve written yourself a ticket to Mondoville.
But while I’m not destined to be a superstar in the world of higher ed, or even in my little section of it, there are still compensations, and still things for which to strive. And that brings me to a link I found at University Diaries, which tells of Charlie Bassett, an American Lit professor at Colby College. Bassett was dying of cancer, and his former students sent him e-mails of reminiscences, humor, and love that they drew from the classes they had spent with him.
Admittedly, Mondoville isn’t Colby — if we’re even playing in the same league, they’re the Cardinals and we’re the Pirates. But I know that when my time comes, I’d draw much more satisfaction from the love the late Professor Bassett received than I would from any number of monographs. It’s something to aim for, even East of Eden.