On Monday, February 10, I had four texts before my alarm went off. They were all automated ones from the university sharing about a meeting that morning for all staff and faculty, followed an hour later by one for all students. Other messages highlighted that classes were cancelled and that everyone was to do everything they could to be present. These were not good signs.
While I got ready for work, my mind went through a series of brainstorms about what could possibly be happening:
- The university was going through a reduction in force
- A member or members of our community had died
- The undergraduate program was being closed or shifted to only online
- The college was being bought or merged with another school
- Another local institution was closing and we were going to help support the students
I shared some of my theories with coworkers before we headed to the meeting. One friend said that my theories were a little dark. Turns out I hadn’t gone quite far enough to where Vader lived.
After an initial prayer and some nice words (that felt like stalling), the hammer was dropped: the university would close at the end of the spring semester. While I am confident there were words beyond those, and maybe even a few comments or questions from the gathered employees, I have no idea what they were. I think we were in that chapel for 30 minutes; it might have been only 3 or maybe it was days. The words between “I wonder what this is about” and “What do we do now?” are all pretty fuzzy.
Word spread quickly in our group to meet up in the library with the rest of our department for a follow-up by the dean. I had this fragile sliver of hope that our program (the largest one at the institution) was to be saved but that news wasn’t shared in front of everyone. I guess I thought they didn’t want to hurt others feelings or something. There is not a whole lot of logic to that idea; it was a sweet dream to hold onto for about 10 minutes. There were donuts at the follow-up gathering, and tears, but no miracle. We were all in this together.
We were given the afternoon off, and encouraged to go do anything but work. I went for lunch with a friend from another department. She was actually my first friend outside of my working team and someone I am still grateful to connect with about once a week via video. We went for burgers and tater tots at the nearby McMenamins. Next to our booth was a long table filled with students from the university who were venting about the news they heard an hour after us. Since the two of us are not visible faces for most students, we were just other people in the restaurant rather than the perceived causes for their pain.
The rest of the afternoon and evening were at home, updating my resume and streaming a river of YouTube videos to distract from this WTF day.
I spent several days wondering how all of this was possible. When the alarm first rang each morning, my fuzzy brain tried to make it all a dream rather than reality. And all of this was a month before Covid-19 closures began in Oregon. Then the reality went all the way out the window, around the block, and somehow back crashing on our heads.
At our first team meeting after the announcement, our dean (who had been through a closure before), warned that the coming months would be death by a million paper cuts. As students got more stressed and forgot that we were not the enemy, I often wished for the guillotine instead.
February 10 is less than four months ago. And a lifetime ago.
On Friday I turned in my laptop, the institution turned off my email, and I deleted the apps from my phone.
This morning I completed unemployment paperwork; tomorrow I’ll tackle insurance.
I asked a coworker on Friday to take my picture sitting on my desk, an image that matched one I had taken when I chose to leave my previous full-time job. That jump into the unknown led to #NextChapter, and now this shove(?) will lead to #NextNextChapter.
I’m going to need more tater tots…