On the Occasion of Retirement
For academics retirement is be fast becoming a thing of the past. The normal pension age is 65 under the UK’s University Superannuation Scheme (USS). However, from 2011 ‘flexible’ forms of retirement have been introduced making it possible for academics to work on almost indefinitely. Flexibility, the buzzword of today’s university, more often than not means doing more with less or giving more for less. It conjures an image of piles of unmarked exam scripts on top of a lapsed faculty member’s coffin, accompanied by an irritated email enquiry as to “why the grades for this course haven’t been returned before the deadline!” Flexible retirement will mean our in-boxes follow us into the grave.
Since retiring from the University of Leeds in 1990 Zygmunt Bauman has had entered into the most prolific period of his life. Publishing one acclaimed book after that have established him as one of the most important thinkers of our time as well as attracting non-academic readers. One of the paradoxes of academic life is that we often have to get away from our jobs to actually do our work. So, retirement can mean being relieved of professional duties and the freedom to think and reflect. Since becoming an Emeritus Zygmunt Bauman has published thirty books in his ‘retirement’. Bauman’s example was very much on my mind in preparing to say a few words at an event to mark the retirement of Professor Vic Seidler from teaching at Goldsmiths in the summer of 2011.
Vic was offered a job at Goldsmiths in 1971. He had just returned from Boston when he received a call from Sue Steadman-Jones offering him a part-time job teaching social philosophy. There was only one condition: he had to start the very next day. I think this title – social philosopher – is a pretty apt way to characterise Vic’s thought. Social involvement equally combined with philosophical engagement. A part-time position was attractive because it enabled Vic to combine academic work and teaching with his varied political involvements in worker’s movements, student politics and anti-sexism. I think that this combination is something that really characterises Vic’s way of being an intellectual. It wasn’t until 1976 that he took up a full-time position at the College because, as he told me recently, “you wouldn’t be taken seriously if you didn’t have a full-time job.” This meant that from the very beginning of his academic career Vic did not see himself as confined to British sociology, rather his sociological imagination was always more international philosophically adventurous. Also, I think it meant that he saw teaching as his key commitment, his first principle.
I first met Vic in 1982. He used to teach a 2nd year course in social theory. It took place in an old tiered lecture theatre. I remember the seating was almost like being confronted with wall of benches staggered at about 60 degrees. Anyhow, my friend and I - Sim Colton - neither of us sociology students, used to get there early and smuggle ourselves in