Like many academics, I moved far from my previous “home” town to a new town for a tenure track position. It was a town I had never heard of in a state I had never visited. But I was young, carefree, and adventurous, ready to move far, far away from the live in lover who was not quite working out–and yes, I had an offer of a tenure track job. I figured if I hated it, I’d keep looking.
As soon as I arrived in this unknown town in this unfamiliar state, I subscribed to the local newspaper. I didn’t even think before I did this: As I do whenever I move to a new place, I signed up for mail delivery, garbage collection, phone service (this was before cell phones, dear youngsters), the cheapest cable package available (the only way to get more than 1 fuzzy channel), electricity, water, and yes, the local newspaper.
I’m not saying it’s the best newspaper I ever read (I lived in Brooklyn before this town, and had a lovely grad-student-priced subscription to the New York Times, so the contrast was, let’s say, brutal), but it’s the only paper in town that reports local events, news, gossip, etc. I also get statewide news, and news from the Big City (now I know how upstate New Yorkers must have felt reading the Times). Everyone arrested for DUI is listed in the next day’s paper (!) along with missing cats and dogs. News about the College is reported (usually inaccurately, but still). Historical tidbits are compiled each week (the local lawyer who plays Santa in the “Holiday” parade has been doing so for 20 years!).
After a few years, a weekly alternative paper began publication, and I get that, too (heck, it’s free), so now I know even more about this formerly unknown town in this formerly unfamiliar state.
So everytime something happens in town and I begin to discuss it with colleagues from the College, and they have NO IDEA what I’m talking about because they do not 1. read the local newspaper or 2. watch the local news, I am truly, painfully appalled by and embarrassed for them. And yet, they don’t seem embarrassed. Not in the least. Some of these colleagues have lived in this little town for as many as 8 years, yet were totally surprised that yesterday was the big Holiday Parade downtown or that a local politician did some of the naughty or that there was a big article about the College on news that the president hadn’t exactly shared with us yet.
Not even mildly ashamed for not knowing any of that.
I just can’t imagine living in a town, knowing you will probably spend a big part of your working life in that town, and not giving a damn about what is happening in town.
This isn’t true of all of my colleagues, of course, but more than enough of them have absolutely no curiosity of anything happening in the town to which they contribute a serious chunk of taxes each year; a town that contributes to the fiscal viability of the College; a town where many of our students were born and reared.
Am I missing something?