Best Practices: Faculty Offboarding

Jun 13, 2020

As we know, preparing to retire is a huge identity transition for faculty. In AY 20-21, we will be collaborating with HRIC and the Symposium group MOARS to improve programming and asynchronous resources for faculty in the last decade of their career — focusing on the various ways retired academics navigate life after retirement. In that spirit, we highlight an existing organic practice in CAHSS as explained below by Eleanor McNees, a MOARS member and full professor.

Memories of the “Loose Canon” 

The “Loose Canon,” a group of DU faculty women from the old division of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (now CAHSS), began meeting informally in 1985. As Abbey Kapelovitz, former associate dean of AHSS and DU graduate alumna, recalls, “I made up the name in an almost playful spirit.  The Committee for Women on Campus (I think I have the title right) was more dedicated to political action. We have stayed interested in each other and supportive of each other over all these many years, even as many of us have retired.” For 35 years through many vicissitudes—career hurdles, personal tragedies, sickness, deaths (most recently, the death of one of our longtime members, Sarah Nelson)—the twelve or so of us from six departments and schools have continued to rendezvous at each other’s homes for dinner and invariably supportive conversations. We weren’t conscious of reviving the old Salon model that lingered through our perusal of 18th and 19th century art and literature, but our gatherings accrued some trappings of these in the wide-ranging conversations from academic dilemmas to the dire state of contemporary politics to trips we’d taken and hoped to take. While our collective bent was undoubtedly feminist and while we all had our stories about the particular challenges of achieving recognition within a male-dominated institution, we rarely allowed our talk to wallow in complaints. Rather, we found a new energy in banding together over either home cooked meals (especially in the case of Sieglinde Lug’s pies, M.E. Warlick’s soups and Susan Stakel’s dinners) or take-out delivery. As some began to retire, we still continued to meet, if less frequently. Now, suddenly, finding ourselves hemmed in at home by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve become more reliant than ever on staying in frequent touch. To that end, Susan Stakel (emerita faculty from Languages and Literatures) initiated a weekly Zoom hour which many of us, scattered from the Denver/Boulder area to North Carolina, try not to miss. As our old friend and colleague Sarah Nelson’s life drew to a close, we celebrated her at a sort of informal virtual wake as we had celebrated the lives years before of two other group members—Mary Ann Stott (Art & Art History) and Paula Sperry (Theatre). As DU moves toward building a mentoring model for faculty across the university, the Loose Canon continues to nourish those of us who have had our worlds (as Sarah Nelson said a few days before she passed) enlarged by each other beyond any expectations.

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