The Teaching of Cats and Academia


Tonight when we sat I closed the door behind me. As I sat comfortably the bell chimed, my mind quieted, and then there was a cat shrieking outside the door and the bap, bap, bap of his paw on the door asking to be included.  Cats don’t like to be excluded any more than people. Crockett’s (the cat) view was I could never hope to be holy without recognizing the importance of community and family which necessarily requires open doors and open hearts.

I loved being an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service. Teams became families and together we always knew the mission was bigger than any one individual or even group of individuals. We knew that each member was of equal value and together we succeeded or failed. While we had ranks we didn’t treat them as exclusive clubs. We knew that whether we were responding to a disaster, or an epidemic, or working in a prision we depended on each other.

When we staffed national security special events to provide emergency care we knew the risk was small, but the worst case scenario would require us all to have complete faith and trust in the other. There was one deployment where we were asked to do a task that had some significant danger and rather than one or two of us going we all went. Teams stick together. We worked together, we celebrated together, and we grieved together.

I miss that comradery in academia. There is too much us and them. There are those that are paid a small amount to teach a class here and there, those that have annual contracts and are not eligible for tenure, and those that sit at the top in the tenure track. Then there is the staff that makes all other work possible, those with head or dean in their title that keep the ship functioning and are often resented for their efforts, the upper levels with Provost in their title that have to make hard decisions that will impact the future of the university, and the people at the very top who have to keep everyone else happy while playing the necessary political game and are held responsible when anything goes wrong on campus.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. – Peter 4:8-9

When I first retired to move to academia I started at a small Catholic university that believed in the equality of all faculty. Everyone with a terminal degree was eligible for tenure. The faculty cared so much about the staff that they voted to forgo pay raises so the staff would all have a livable wage. They also had a common dining room for students and faculty and everyone socialized there. It was so egalitarian that all faculty were expected to use their first name and know all students by their first name. I see that as an ideal environment for creativity, innovation, and forming young adults.

I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with exclusion which may be why that small, egalitarian university was so comfortable to me. I love faculty social events but am uncomfortable when those in staff positions are excluded. I wish I had the skill to create the collegiality and egalitarian nature of that small university. I wish I had in my soul the vision of Mary Frances Clarke, BVM and that special style of leadership.

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When you look into the abyss the abyss looks back

I often think of the song All Are Welcome and I suspect everyone has a song that lifts their heart and reminds them how important it is to be inclusive. Crockett wants to know what song is in your heart?

One thought on “The Teaching of Cats and Academia

  1. Anonymous

    Well written Roberta – Your message is coming at a time when significant change is in the future and I need to remember to keep my centeredness. All the best – Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

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