Professor finds solitude, plenty of parking on campus as classes go online

Jay Black alone in his office

Mercer professors all have ways of carrying on the good fight in this time of crisis. By the time you read this, we have already triaged our classrooms into virtual online realities and sustained academic responsibilities with the least amount of complaints from students.

Most Mercer professors are hunkered down in their virus-free homes, working in their converted bedroom offices on laptops where they can keep six feet away from their loved ones. I’ve seen their desks with their perfectly placed books, well-placed trinkets from their travels and coffee cups filled with pens they no longer use. These home office spaces allow them to be productive in grading and scholarship.

I don’t have one of those desks at home. I realized when I was working on my Ph.D. that I could never get anything done there. My wife always has a chore for me to do.

I decided to self-quarantine in my office at Center for Collaborative Journalism.

Mercer is beautiful in the spring, especially when there aren’t any students around to mess things up. The azaleas are blooming. A cool wind whispers through the trees uninterrupted by the constant clatter of students running to class or yelling to a friend across Cruz Plaza.

I’ve been arriving on campus every morning before 9 o’clock. No trouble these days finding a parking place. I just drive right on campus, and I get to choose from a grand selection of tar covered emptiness. Some days I center my 2008 Honda Civic directly on a parking spot dividing line just because I can.

There is no need to exchange small talk with my fellow professors when I arrive. Nobody’s here. I simply brew a pot of coffee and proceed to my office, my happy place. I am free to think academic and scholarly thoughts in the quiet of my totally unorganized man cave utopia. It is here in my office where I feverishly grade papers, email my students and conduct my classes online. God bless Canvas. My classes are at my fingertips, and I have Clorox wipes.

I am quite busy all day. I am catching up on the books I have put aside for the past 10 years. I have found the joy of taking my office chair for a spin around the building. The empty halls are especially nice for gaining speed. Sometimes I do handstands on the speed bumps in Mercer Village.

Still, occasionally, I hear voices outside my window. Out of habit, I stop what I am doing to look out to see if it is one of my students coming to see me. Last week, a group of students came back to town to bring me a pie with birthday candles. They even brought ice cream. That has been my favorite moment so far since the students left.

As easy as it is to entertain myself, I do, however, really miss my students. This place just ain’t right without them.


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