First, they took the president.
After 18 years as president of Swarthmore College, Al Bloom retired. Nothing unusual there. But instead of the cushy life of books in his Manhattan apartment that we all envisioned, broken up occasionally with luxury world travel, he took a job as Vice Chancellor of NYU- Abu Dhabi, a new comprehensive liberal arts research university slated to open there in 2010. This satellite campus of NYU is said to be the first such institution in the Middle East.
Then, they took our dean.
Popular, talented and wise, Jim Larimore had come to us from Dartmouth just three years earlier. With a wife, two young sons and a dog, he settled into a beautiful campus home, renovated just for them. How lucky we were to have them, but then… Gone. Gone to be Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Life and Dean of Students at NYU – Abu Dhabi. Back here on campus, we wondered how his boys would make the transition, how his wife would navigate a Middle Eastern culture, how his big, furry dog would tolerate the 120-degree summer heat.
And then it got really weird.
Last week, we learned that two other staffers in the dean’s office were uprooting their lives and families, putting their dissertations on hold, and moving to NYU- Abu Dhabi for associate deanships. It is starting to feel a little like Roswell, with neighbors being snatched mysteriously in the night for intergalactic destinations unknown.
It’s interesting to hear the water cooler chatter about all this. There’s wild speculation about just how much these folks are being paid; I think the latest figure I heard was a million dollars. There’s anger that Swarthmore’s staff is being “cherry-picked,” as if these weren’t all adults perfectly capable of making rational career decisions. There’s a lot of joking about who’s next, and maybe even a little bit of hurt feelings about being left behind.
Actually, this is typically how one builds a career in student affairs work, moving from institution to institution every five years or so. It’s pretty unusual to move up the ladder within one institution. So while the location and timing are a little surprising, the pattern is not.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a Quaker-influenced college located in the middle of the desert, I’ve got just the place for you.