For 58 years, my year began after Labor Day with the start of the college year. In the early years, Harvard did not begin until late September when the weather was getting cool and the jacket one had to wear to all meals seemed like an appropriate garb. Every September another school year would begin with the excitement of new courses to take and then to teach, with new students and new classes, new books to lecture on. From 1950 to 2008, with the exception of the year I spent wandering around Europe on a fellowship and the fall I spent in the Army, this was my routine. My little date books, courtesy of the Harvard Coop, actually began the year in September, not in January.
I still recall September, 2008 when, the summer over, I anticipated the start of the school year, only to discover that I was actually retired and had no classes to meet, no new students, no course syllabi to make up. I did what I could. For several years I taught in the adult education program at Duke University and that felt a little bit like meeting a class, although not really. One year I volunteered at Bennett College in Greensboro North Carolina and drove the one hour trip three or four times a week. I got a gig teaching a graduate seminar in the UNC department of public policy one year and that was great, but it was a one time thing, replacing the regular instructor who had a fellowship. In desperation, I bought myself a little camcorder and started recording lectures to be posted on YouTube. After the first series – devoted to Ideological Critique – I actually managed to give my YouTube lectures in a UNC classroom to a small group of students and faculty so that it felt almost like teaching a course.
In 2017, thanks to the intervention of my son, Tobias, and his friend at Columbia, I was elected to the Society of Senior Scholars and for two lovely years – 2018 and 2019 – I would get up early every Tuesday in the fall, fly to New York, take a bus to Columbia and co-teach a seminar with Todd Gitlin. I felt as though I had been reborn.
And then the virus struck. Last March I was teaching a course on Marx at UNC and was forced to do the last five class meetings by zoom. But both Columbia and UNC have been turned upside down by the virus and neither is in any position to continue using my services as an adjunct professor.
So here I sit on September 3, Labor Day just four days away, and once again I feel bereft. My only hope is that once the fall semester starts around the country in whatever form it takes, I will be invited to make guest appearances by zoom in courses here or there.
Mind you, I am not complaining. Susie and I are safe, well housed, well fed, well looked after and in this way vastly better off than several hundred million Americans at this moment. But oh, how I wish I were getting ready to fly up to New York yet again.