Edward Alfonsin - Personal Retirement Story
Back in 1996, when there was an early retirement incentive, I thought about the years since I had come to Potsdam back in 1965, thinking I’d be here for two or three years and then move on. Little did I imagine how “Would you be willing to serve for just one year as elected faculty secretary?” would become a professional life with my teaching close to sixty different courses along with parallel governance and union life, both of which continue.
When people ask what I like about retirement, the response is that I enjoy having the opportunity to say “no” and to have a lot more time to think about what I really want to do when I grow up. In recent years, with some cancers and bypasses and other medical issues, I’ve added a third—not to let any of this medical stuff interfere with my life. My primary care physician here tells me that makes me a good patient.
After officially retiring, I was asked to stay on as department chair for English and Communication for the spring 1997 semester during a search for an outside chair. That semester, our campus employment relations program had a member leave on short notice and I was asked to teach a course in collective bargaining—when I said I didn’t have the academic background, that department chair told me that my experience was more than adequate—a nice compliment.
As vice chair of our Senate, I finished out the full academic year as well. With UUP, I continued as chapter president, delegate, and grievance chair. With a large number of new tenure-track hirings then as well as retirements, the need to provide continuity and to mentor new people seemed to be very important.
In later years (most recently around 2005) I’ve taught occasionally on a part-time basis and when a department colleague died suddenly in late September, I took over her four courses so we wouldn’t put students in the situation of cancellation of courses a month into a term. That was one of the roughest teaching assignments I ever had—had to work harder in catching up on material I hadn’t had reason to look at for decades than if I were back in graduate school. Probably would not try to do that again-at least I learned that I was not the polymath I thought I was.
I still do a once-a-semester guest lecture on ‘Sex in the Bible’ in the Human Sexuality course taught by a former student of mine—one of my favorite course areas for over twenty years had been the Bible as literature. I sometimes think that if “religious studies” had been a common academic field in the early 1960s, I might have pursued that officially. Students have said that they really like the objective, non-judgmental presentations. Fun.
On campus these days, I serve as parliamentarian for our campus faculty and Senate, as a UUP delegate and grievance chair, and, since the start of 2010, have been chair of our Emeritus Faculty Council. On the State level, I’m a UUP Delegate Assembly representative as well as affiliate convention delegate. I continue on UUP committees—Elections & Credentials, chair of Legal Defense, and member of Affirmative Action. One area that’s been a disappointment has been an inability to bring our Northern Region UUP retirees together—even visits to Lake Placid and combining luncheon or other invitations with our fellow State retirees in the Public Employees Federation hasn’t worked. My predecessors in the UUP Committee on Active Retired Membership had a similar problem and I hope to encourage new people to try new approaches.
When Joe Hildreth got elected as University Senate President in 2001, he asked me if I would help as parliamentarian for the Senate; he and I had worked together in campus governance. Despite never having served in the UFS or even on a committee, I was suddenly in the middle of University-wide activity with a perspective complementary to my twenty-two years on the UUP Executive Board as officer and member. And Carl Wiezalis and Ken O’Brien have continued to have me serve—a deep honor. I cochaired a Senate Bylaws revision committee, have covered parts of new senator and campus governance leaders’ orientation, including the relationships between governance and collective bargaining. I get notes or calls from around the University with requests for help on bylaws and interpretation. Greatest honor was at the 2009 Spring Plenary when the Senate Executive Committee voted to award me a “Senator Emeritus” award—over my protest, since I had never been a Senator—but they overrode my parliamentary recommendation.
Aside from all my campus, union, and governance activities, I have lots of other community and avocational interests. Since around 1998, I’ve been operating streetcars at the Halton County Radial Railway in Milton, Ontario, just west of Toronto. A few other activities-- locally, I’m secretary of our local model railroad club, serve as a delegate to our local Labor Council, am a member of the Labor Day Solidarity Parade committee, became elected treasurer of the Franklin-St. Lawrence Educators’ Council this year, and am a long-term member of the Lisbon, NY Depot Museum committee. Since 1988, I’ve been an officer of the Seaway Valley Prevention Council, an agency working mostly in local schools on alcohol and substance abuse education and similar issues, problems in rural areas like ours as much as in the cities.
Professionally, I still work as a parliamentarian—the September 2010 New York State Public Employees convention marks the thirty-second time I’ve advised them at their annual meeting—their only convention parliamentarian. And in June of 2010, I served as parliamentarian for the annual meeting of the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ, which I’ve been doing since 1998 except for one year they skipped their convention. (I don’t belong to the UCC but thoroughly enjoy being with them—they’ve sort of adopted me as one of their own.)
People who know me from my thirty-plus years in parliamentarian and other work often call or write about problems—that’s true of friends or acquaintances in campus governance, union politics or special interest groups, a sports officials group on Long Island, local church groups ranging from Buffalo to Smithtown, a town zoning board in a small town in Ontario, or even years back from my sister when she was involved with her condo owners’ association in Florida, for instance. Of course, too, my attendance and membership in model railroad, transit, and toy train shows and groups means there are people worldwide whom I know and enjoy seeing from time to time.
In pre-politically incorrect language days I used to say I was married to the University but the Union was my mistress; I haven’t figured out how to update that. But we are blessed in having been in occupations which confer on us a lifelong affiliation—university people are always emerita/emeritus—something not true of other occupations.