Sunday, February 6, 2011

taking personal stock

Hal Pepinsky,,
February 6, 2011
I retired two years ago after 39 years professing criminal justice full time. I have no arrests and have been granted national security clearance twice. In my working life and in retirement thus far, I have been fired four times: from my first intro to crim class where I told my 250 students they all had A’s because I didn’t (and still don’t) believe in grades, to last week where near the end of volunteer training for child advocacy I was told not to show up to be sworn in and to consider my keycard deactivated. I was pushed out of two jobs before I kept a third for 33 years. Shortly before my retirement, a for-profit online university fired me from its human services faculty for insubordination. In both later cases, I have felt a measure of shame when my partner bemoans the fact that if I had just kept my mouth shut, I would have had something worthwhile professional to do. I expect I’ve about used up volunteer opportunities in my retirement hometown area. I’m a manifest professional screw-up. I’m also one of the few academics I know who have survived professionally and retired securely. I still want to offer something in community life. It is in my karma to live with what a long academic rap sheet. For the moment, I have nothing more useful to do than to take stock of I have contributed to such a persistent record. Here, briefly, I offer my take on how I keep getting into professional trouble. I focus on my latest firing.
I received a professional lifetime achievement award for “critical criminology” last November. It was videoed. As I went through child advocacy training, I was mindful of what a student and colleague had said at the award ceremony, that I have “an aura.” That’s a reputation I feel bound to honor. I believe that my “aura” is one of being authentic. From earliest memories, I have resented and learned to game people, from parents on, who attempted to hold power over me. I was the third generation of successful professorship on both sides of my family of birth. When I told that first class of mine that students all had A’s, I had enough social capital left to get a more prestigious job, and then to get through promotion and tenure at the third early on enough to get away with an attitude. By some incredible stroke of luck, I have gotten away with working WITH people rather than FOR people throughout my professional life.
I can’t blame the child advocacy folks for considering me a potential loose cannon. I am independent, and yet as I look back, my problems have consistently been with passing judgment generally and on what is in children’s “best interest” in particular. In my own peculiar case, I never had to compromise and hypocritize to take away my livelihood. To me, this is not an achievement; it’s a trust. When in training we had an hour or more on “treatment court” with whom we would be much involved, I listened to the dialogue in class and thought back to how hypocritical it would be for me to become a drug enforcer. I recall waiting for animated discussion to die down, feeling shaky when I declared that there was so much control otherwise that I for one wanted to play another role as child advocate. Now I recall that somewhere in the group response there was talk of a need for me to be a team member. I respect the commitment and effort of surviving volunteers. They have their own moral integrity, which I threaten. I thank them for relieving me of the fantasy that I could go with the flow on what I perceived as a law enforcement culture.
Another memory. Once upon a time I was politically active in my faculty council and got a seat on the budgetary affairs committee chaired by the chief campus administrator who chaired the council. He asked us all to respect confidentiality as he shared campus financial plans with us. I declined to accept, on grounds that I was elected by faculty to account to them on public business, not to serve him.
I have an attitude. I have a record. I feel privileged to have gotten away with it, and now in retirement, to have the latitude to suffer re-firement. I and surviving volunteers all have different roles to play. For my part, I want to continue minimizing my power over others. It’s my karma to resist adverse judgments against my own professionalism without resort to judging others. It’s a continuing challenge. Looking back, I’m lucky I was relieved of being sworn in last week. Thanks to those who recognized that I am unfit for the job and made a hard decision firmly and early.
It keeps coming back to me: From that third job I took in 1976 till now when I live back on my home town, good things have happened to me rather than my making good things happen. Taking stock, that’s what works in my own life. Love and peace--hal

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