Philosophy Professor dies at age 61, destitute, from an untreated thyroid condition.
First my condolences to all whose lives were touched by the late Dave Heller.
After reading the story of his untimely death, I could not sleep. Now, there have been many articles, including one featuring me, about low pay for faculty, professors living in dire conditions and even a couple about professors dying in dire conditions. This one bothered me more than all the rest.
What bothered me about the article was the talk of love.
How Dave Heller loved his work. Between the lines was the implication — he HAD to love his work, or he would not do it. After all there are lots of other jobs that pay better….
I don’t doubt he did love his work. I love my work. I love my students. Love my field. But look, its work, like other things people love — parenting, playing the violin in an orchestra, being a stage actor, caring for the elderly, farming.
I talked about love when I was interviewed as well. But last night I realized there is another aspect to how this all works — how the academic powers-that-be get away with impoverishing their faculty, endangering their lives, killing them with neglect, that is beyond love.
Those of us who spent many years in school feel an obligation to teach. A responsibility. As long as education is a privilege, not available to all, we feel a need to share what we learned.
Responsibility. Obligation. Need. These are different from love. Love may, or may not attend them.
Higher Ed also has a responsibility, an obligation, a need, to provide living wages and benefits to its employees. They don’t have to love us. It would be nice, but it’s not necessary. They just need to be fair.
Rest in peace Dave Heller. Thank you for fulfilling your obligation to your students and society to share what you had. In your honor I’m going to take a mini-vacation– get on my bicycle on a Monday and ride out of town. Then, in addition to grading my papers, planning my classes and meeting with students, I will recommit to getting our bosses to fulfill their responsibilities.