This is my first post on jimproctor.us: a fitting opportunity to consider my previous and upcoming six months. It’s meant primarily for our students at Lewis & Clark College, as I want to share with them some significant changes that will affect how I teach, and may affect our ENVS Program in time.
I’m now in my 13th year of teaching at Lewis & Clark, having first taught at UC Santa Barbara for 12 years. At twenty five years one would think that I’m pretty much on professor autopilot, but it’s never been this way. After completing graduate degrees in geography and environmental science and engineering, I started by exploring environmental ideas and attitudes, then I wandered into how notions of nature, science, and religion relate, and most recently I’ve published on the environmental curriculum. There’s a continuity in these areas around deepening how we think about environment, “deepening” a never-ending motivation for change and growth—perhaps to a fault, in that it becomes harder and harder to remember where I was when I started, and why what inspires me now is so different. No wonder the word nature is so much more meaningful to my students than to me!: I’ve been on this journey for over a quarter of a century.
The changes I’ve experienced over the last six months, however, have perhaps been more profound than any over the last 25 years. It all started early last summer, when I lost two key staff who help me keep the lights on and make ENVS special—as but one example, we three worked together to maintain ds.lclark.edu, Lewis & Clark’s digital scholarship multisite. I took on their tasks over the summer and eventually found a temporary replacement for one position (hopefully soon to be made permanent), but our ENVS support system basically collapsed in the summer of 2017. These changes were all the more apparent in fall once students returned, and I did what I could to keep our ship on course, but it all took a toll on me.
I have another life as founder of Alder Creek Community Forest, a K-12 educational nonprofit in rural southern Oregon. Last summer and this fall much of my support network for ACCF fell apart as well, just as we were moving into high gear with Our Place on Earth, our geography education curriculum. I have done what I could at a worried distance to meet the needs of our students and teachers, but things have certainly not measured up to our expectations. (The good news, I suppose, is that rural Oregon has grown used to crisis and challenge, having long ridden the natural resource rollercoaster…we’ll figure something out in time.)
Then arose the medical challenges. I’m grateful, perhaps in large part due to activities such as a longstanding Kojosho practice and bike commuter habit, for extremely good health—up to this fall, when my body decided to react against everything. My minor elbow surgery in fall ended up with manifold complications: the anesthesia, the antibiotics, even the adhesive they used to help my incision heal—one by one my body just said no to each. So, as students waited for me to provide feedback on their assignments, sometimes even for me to show up to class, I confronted several months of feeling physically awful and knowing I was letting them down. This didn’t let up until the end of the semester!
And then, toward the end of fall, I received a separate, serious diagnosis, one I will not fully share as I don’t want you to worry about me, but suffice it to say that I now value each moment I get to spend with my students. (As I write this, I am recovering from yet another malady, one that has interfered with my activity and sleep over the last six months: a torn rotator cuff, which thankfully has just been repaired, but there is a long healing process.)
As everything was falling apart around and inside me this fall, a miraculous thing happened: I experienced ENVS perhaps in much the same way our students do. Let’s say “rich but challenging”—or, to be less kind, too darned overwhelming to expect of a human being. I could see, perhaps for the first time, that all the incredible resources, concepts, and skills we have added to the ENVS curriculum over the last twelve years to make it special have resulted in a major that may afford precious little space for well-being—ironic indeed, given our larger motivations.
I realized that chronic anxiety, the preeminent human condition of late modernity, had found its way right into the heart of ENVS, this program I have helped cultivate since arriving at Lewis & Clark as ENVS Director in 2005. It had to find its way right into my own heart for me to understand this!
Yet we are here together in ENVS to deepen our insights into broader well-being for humans and nonhumans alike—to address the anxieties we see around us by pondering, then acting on, the brightest and best scholarly insights we can collectively find. I’m hopeful that I am now more accepting of where you, our students, are at this time in your lives, and that we can continue our journey together in a more humane way.
So, what is to be done…or undone? As I move forward in spring semester 2018, here are some changes I want you to be aware of, as my contribution:
- I will value my own well-being. I will admit that I’m no superman, that I can’t do it all. I may not respond as quickly to your emails. Rest assured that I love and respect our students at Lewis & Clark, and that better self-care will help me serve you better, and hopefully help me serve you for many years to come.
- I will value each opportunity we have together, especially in class. I will try to structure class as a moment to pause, reconnect with each other, and learn together. As Kathleen McTigue once wrote, we will “…resist the headlong tumble into the next moment,” cultivating focus with openness to foster intellectual growth.
- I will value our collective insights toward refashioning the ENVS major in ways that reflect the above. Liz, Jessica, and I have started discussing possible changes to the major that make it clearer and more humane to students, staff, and faculty, while retaining many of the quality features that have made it distinctive relative to most environmental undergraduate programs in the U.S. These changes would happen effective 2019-20. Stay tuned for your opportunity to provide input.
Thank you for listening, and if you wish to talk about any of this with me in greater detail, please do! See you in class, and let’s look forward to new adventures together in 2018.
—Featured image: Kojosho International Headquarters, Apple Valley Ranch, Tijeras New Mexico. One abiding practice through all the changes in my life.