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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2008

Time to quit

It is with disbelief and certainly no admiration that I read what measures Michael Somerton took to continue teaching, “With Help after Stroke, I Taught as Well as Ever” (Bulletin, February 2008).

This gentle-looking 65-year-old lecturer in sociology, at 64, suffered a massive and most debilitating stroke and other major illnesses. With the help of an army of physicians, therapists and nurses, however, he managed to reacquire sufficient skills to resume his teaching, although considerably diminished in so many ways, in a wheelchair and with the help of a “support worker.”

His assistant is there to open the door for him, to summarize his exposition on the whiteboard during his lectures, to accompany him to the toilet and to be available for any other necessities.

With the help of his union and the argument that “withholding . . . the contract was arguably discriminatory,” he let the university know it owed him “reasonable adjustments,” and all this because he just “couldn’t give up,” a rather selfish reason.

Here we have a lecturer with a pension who has taught for 43 years and cannot imagine any other activity because apparently he has no other passion, interest or skill — a truly one-dimensional man. I wonder how interesting his lectures may be, and he thinks that his department could hardly continue without him and that the young are not looking for appointments!

Before I retired four years ago, I taught with as much enthusiasm as I did 30 years earlier. I simply loved my profession and like to think I exercised it well. The last four years, however, have been so rich with fascinating projects that I have not missed my students for a second and my colleagues even less. It looks as if I need two lifetimes to do what for 30 years I was obliged to postpone.

How fair and ethical is it, after we have had our chance, to impose ourselves on students and institutions to cover up our self-serving reasons? I would be more sympathetic if I read that Somerton pays his assistant out of his own pocket.

Heinz Klatt
Emeritus Professor of Psychology
King’s University College
University of Western Ontario

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