Since today is the two-year anniversary of my retirement from my academic administrative job, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about these past two years and, as word drifts to me of massive changes in my school and my department, it has been difficult to not feel bereft.
I had a full year to actively plan my retirement and spent most of eight months of that time overseeing a renovation of a new-to-me home I bought to retire to. My last year of work was extremely busy as I had to catalog everything I did in my job while doing it all for the last time, and make plans for someone else to take it all over. Having been in my position for 16 years, there was so much living in my head that nobody else had any inkling about. I was one of the few repositories of history, with a great memory for details.
Though I was ready – more than ready – to leave when I chose to, I was also very sad to go. I felt badly to leave my staff behind. I knew that they’d be fine under my successor’s leadership while he was there, though I knew also he would not stay long. But I also believed that the future held massive changes because our new leader seemed on a mission to make her mark early and thunderously. My job was already exhausting, complicated, and often impossible. I could not imagine hanging around for it to be made more impossible by someone else who had no idea the challenges we faced.
And leave I did. I cherish the memories of my farewell party, and have photos on my home office walls that remind me daily of my dearest Fordham friends. Though living 350 miles away, I still feel connected to my colleagues… through FB, email, and visits when I am in Manhattan, I manage to stay abreast of what is happening in my school. It also helps that I continue to teach on the online MSW program.
As predicted, change began to be imposed almost as soon as I closed my office door behind me. My successor spend much of his next and final year there, fighting the fight I didn’t have enough strength for…. much of which involved conducting research to prove there was no research that supported all of the assertions some leaders were fond of insisting existed…. and trying to figure out how to make sure crucial elements of our program were preserved despite efforts to dismantle it all.
Every time I returned to those hallowed halls, invariably, someone would greet me in the hallway, hug me, and comment that my legacy was being destroyed. This assertion always made me pause for a moment and consider whether I was being annihilated by the powers in charge or by some unconscious hostility within the speaker. My legacy? Exactly what was my legacy, and how was it being destroyed?
My legacy is a group legacy. I had the privilege of working with a very special group of professionals. One of them was there a year on my arrival. The others were people I brought on over the years. We were a very tight team. Sure, the buck stopped with me, and some decisions were mine alone, mostly for expediency, but most of the time, we moved and acted as one.
If our legacy is a collection of processes about how we conducted the business of field instruction, then PLEASE go ahead and destroy that. We were constantly having to create work-arounds because the school’s administration failed to provide adequate funds to purchase or develop a computer system we needed to efficiently do our work. That we had to resort to excel spread sheets to track 1200 students in field work year after year is nothing short of ridiculous. That we had no ability to instantly generate emails to massive lists of students and personnel in community agencies when we needed to, is sinful. That I had to pay for a subscription to a survey generating company in order to have an online field application system and to solicit agency placements is ludicrous. This list goes on and on.
But I think legacy is more than a system, it’s a set of values, and it is indestructible. I’ve started shrugging and saying, “Things change, that was then, this is now,” when people lament my lost legacy. They can put us in competition with each other, strip us of titles we’ve earned, change job descriptions, move us out of our offices, change our pay structure. But what cannot be changed or forgotten is what is in the memories of hundreds – thousands – of students, field instructors and faculty advisers in the tri-state region – that the field work department at Fordham University was a dream team…. that we were competent and responsive and creative, that we got an impossible job done – on time (often at great personal cost) and quietly, that we were supportive of and kind to students, and that we were always thinking about how we could do our jobs better despite serious infrastructure challenges.
And that will persist despite changes in curriculum, processes, and staff. Our legacy will survive until we and everyone whose lives we touched are gone. Only then will it not matter. And I am ok with that.