Saturday, April 28, 2012

I've Been Canned

Canned, fired, terminated, laid-off.

It's taken me a while to gather up enough strength to write about this, and I didn't really want to release the info. widely before my students' big graduation day - which was today.

The reason for my being laid-off is the dismally poor attendance the school is forecasting for the upcoming academic year. A school whose student body may drop by as much as 25% is faced with a serious situation indeed. Imagine any school losing that percentage of its student body.

No one quite knows why the attendance is to drop like this - it might be the huge tuition rebates that the McGuinty Ontario Government is planning - but cannot itself afford. It might not be that. It might be the end of an era where a private Catholic school was deemed important enough by at least a small segment of people to make it viable. It might be that the school has been inadequate in its recruitment of students. It might be - paradoxically - that with the growth of the school to around 90 students what had made the school attractive in the first place - a homey, friendly environment - has been destroyed. Maybe it was that in our desperation to keep the school going we let in the wrong types of students - poor students, poor Catholics who ruined the atmosphere that had made the school such a special place. It might have been the increase in tuition a few years ago up to the normal tuition rates in Ontario. It might be a combination of all of these factors, or some that I have failed to consider.

I had been warned of the possibility that my position might be terminated in light of these dismal projections. It was not the first time I had been told this. It had practically become a Rite of Spring for me these last few years. When people hear that of the twenty or so employees at my school I am the expendable one they kind of scratch their heads in confusion. I do too. I am one of only two full-time teachers there with a PhD. You know how much my degree cost me? $100,000. That is why I am one of only two full-time PhDs at the school. Who else could afford it? I could not. I have lived on a lot more than my OLSWA salary these five years now.

But to put a bit of context here: of the four departments at the school, only one of them - mine - the theology department - has three professors. Unfortunately for me, the other two members, though not having doctoral degrees, have been there much longer than I have. Unfortunate for me. The philosophy department has one prof., the history department too, and the literature. Makes sense in this light, then.

Now I could make a extensive and, I think, valid and persuasive argument that of the 20 or so employees of the school I am not the one who should be gotten rid of, but the fact is, I am not really interested in any of that.

Actually, I think it is time I left.

Why would I say such a thing?

I have a few reasons. I'll try and rank them.

1) What my career really needs is published writing. I can spend this year on severance and unemployment insurance writing and researching. I have five years of teaching experience, and that is invaluable, but it is so hard to write when you are teaching. I will only get hired by other schools if I have a record of publishing good academic writing.

2) I don't feel vitalized by the school any longer. What I mean is that - for whatever reason - I do not feel like I am doing as much for the Kingdom as I could be. There are other ways of stating this, but I want to contribute to Catholic education, not detract from it, so I am going to say all of this in the most productive manner I can. Simply, I don't think my gifts are being properly used there.

3) In general, comfort is not beneficial. This has a lot to do with reason number (2), but a little to do with (1) as well. This is the longest I have ever held a job. Academically, these five years have not exposed me to many new ideas. Or, perhaps I should say, over these five years I have gained everything good that I can from this environment. I have grown so much as a result of being here - spiritually: especially from the students. So many of them have edified me so much. How my marriage has improved is proof of this. I have grown intellectually as a result of the courses I have been made to teach, in some cases courses that I would have never myself chosen to teach if the choice had been mine. I have grown intellectually simply by the passage of time and the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of books I have had the opportunity to read over these five years.

4) All the bad stuff that I don't regret leaving behind.

How do I feel?

That's the million dollar question, isn't it.

I feel sad. Right now, I feel sad.

Of course, I feel sad ever year around graduation. Now I have an additional, piquant reason.

I have also felt a bit excited by the prospect of (1) above especially.

Final Words

Those first few people I have told this to, some have reacted very negatively. I have been touched by their affection. To one who thought about doing drastic things as a result I said this:

"I never tell anyone what to do. Do whatever and say whatever you like, but I think that if I were to be offered this same job back under the same conditions, I would opt for being laid-off. So keep that in mind."

To those of my readers who have supported my school over these years all I can say is that I live my professional life to promote Catholic education. I will continue to do so. If you want to honour me, promote Catholic education in the way you think best.

I have heard before that a woman most wants love, a man most wants respect. As a husband, father and teacher I always think about appreciation when I think of respect. In general, academics are an insecure lot: professionally, they survive by their reputation. Thus, they seem especially sensitive to the opinions of others. Yes, I am feeling a little under appreciated. Who wouldn't in my position?

Today, this morning, someone, a lovely young lady, a former student of mine, came up to me and tearfully said, "Thank-you. Just, thank-you."  I wish she realized how much I needed to hear that at that very moment.

I don't live my life to please others. My students know that, certainly. But to know that you have benefited someone else's life in some small way is nice.

Otherwise, where have we gone and what have we done?

Thanks for reading.


  1. So sad that you lost your job. I hope your family can manage. This very could be a golden opportunity.

  2. I'm oscillating between being happy for you and being sad. You have benefitted our lives, not only for the laughter you've brought to it, but also for the fellowship....and the bag head. Can't forget about him.

  3. I've been largely under to un employed since I quit my job as a Protestant minister to enter the Catholic Church. August 26 2005. Just saying, "I get it." God bless you and your family as you go forward into new territory.

    Good St. Joseph of Mt. Royal, pray for us as you would for yourself if you were in our place on this earth, with a family to care for and financial need and help us to reflect your servant heart.

  4. Thanks all of you. Just keep us in your prayers. I can say with St. Paul that I know what it is to have much and to have little. Becuase of that I now know that all that really matters in life is doing the will of God. Nothing can make up for that if that is absent. I be okay to live in a ditch as long as I knew that God and my family were proud of me. Your prayers will sustain me in this season of uncertainty. On the plus side, we know what it is to be in want. This is old hat. ;-)

  5. Their loss! You're in my prayers --Amy

  6. You know that living in a ditch is not necessary. We are not joking when we say that we are here for you with both prayers and more material help. I am glad that it is finally public. We were ready with our 'Support Colin Kerr' placards yesterday morning but didn't want to embarrass our kids singing in the choir.

  7. I know that you are, Elena. That is why my sadness knows limits.

    I'm not a victim. I've been blessed in so many ways. I am a little disappointed in myself that my talents are not sufficient, or perhaps sufficiently obvious, to make a decision like this appear obviously like the wrong one. My task is to make myself seem like a more valuable commodity than I appear at present. That is my failure and thus my responsibility to work on this year. Freedom means knowing that you are in control of some aspect of your life. I refuse to conceive of myself as a victim to forces outside of me. My limitations made it this way and I will pray for the strength to remake.

    "John 3:16" is a much better placard, or perhaps "Free Mary Wagner."

  8. Hi, Colin, I echo others' assurances of prayer for you and your family. Setting out into the deep is never easy . . . may your faith and trust in the Lord carry you as you write so that others may see your gifts.

  9. Kinds words, Claire. Thanks so much!

  10. How disappointing that this potential bastion of orthodox Catholicism in the post-secondary world, of which that world is largely infected with watered-down and even heretical theology programs worldwide, is kicking you out.

    However, I will add one point as a young male revert. If I am going to look for a traditional university/college with a strong Catholic faith (including a Latin Mass parish nearby), the first thing I want to know before I pack my bags and fork over the cash is: Are there full B.A honours being offered by the school? The problem with OLSWA from reading their site, is that they do NOT offer four year bachelor degrees, only three year programs of which credit can be used for select American universities (and maybe possible 3rd or 4th year transfers to poorer-quality theology programs at universities that will have to "finish the job" so to speak. That isn't good, considering any masters or professional post-grad program, be it theololgy or medicine, WANTS to see the B.Sc or B.A on your record. No bachelor's, no admittance. Sorry but that's the tough nut of your soon-to-be former school that hasn't changed, and a society so sick with credential dependency of which each level of education is decreasing in value.

    Also Colin, when you have officially cut your ties to the school 100%, would you be able to disclose what those poor Catholics have done to muddy the waters so to speak? I never thought it would happen to OLSWA according to what I've seen on their site, though I suppose the Devil is even angrier than usual as of late.

    1. I just noticed that you believe I was implying that there are bad Catholics at OLSWA and that is the reason I no longer work there. That is not what I want to imply. I was talking about retention numbers and just wondering aloud. In fact, I never knew all the students - I never taught freshmen. But I did thinking that the feel of the students was a little off this year, but that might be just me...

    2. Alas the troubles with internet blogs and texting in general. You can't tell a person's ideas and tones in a post without giving non-subtle indications. However, as I've reverted and been on the bloggersphere, I've come to have my eyes wide opened at how liberal heterodoxy is poisioning the Church and I'm not so "innocent" anymore when it comes to blindly following the teachings of priests, bishops, or lay theologians and teachers. Not all teaching and sermons are equal in their catechesis and value.

      Now for a different spin on that crop of students: Maybe more "novus ordo" regular joe Catholic high school students are finally getting wind of OWLSA and well they bring the spiritual and emotional baggage from their years in a separate school system with them? Hopefully OWLSA can shape their lives and souls. Maybe this is a silver lining in all this?

      Anyways, what did you think of my suggestion on the degree problem?

    3. Sorry I just noticed you replied to my query, but it doesn't help when it is not in the same reply stream as your previous texts. hahahah! Believe me if OWLSA ever did grant BAs, I would gladly send my future kids there for post secondary, if they were not inclined towards the sciences of any sort, business, or trades (well maybe they could do it after college).

  11. As Chesteron said, the problem with the world is me, or something to that effect. It's a great school made up, unfortunately, of people. Likely, I'll keep most of the dirty laundry to myself. I have many dear friends who continue to do good work there. And I continue to believe in its mission.

    Life is a popularity contest, and today I am the loser. That's all.

    As for your correct observations re. BAs etc., I think I will post more fully about that in days ahead. The school is in a financial crisis, and it's effort to gain the ability to give out BAs is being seriously frustrated because of money, really, more that anything else. Without money you can't hire the PhDs that are required for government accreditation - which mean the right to grant degrees. OLSWA doesn't have the right to grant degrees; it has worked for many years to get in the position where it can. The loss of this PhD (me) is a another blow to the dream.

  12. We just heard the news tonight when we were driving Alannah W. home from Mass. We are all gobsmacked by the news of your being let go, especially given the Academy's need of professors with PhDs. Bethany told us that you are an "awesome teacher" and learned so much from you. Be assured of our prayers as you and your family enter this new phase of your life. Enjoy the time with your family, and the opportunity to read and write. God bless you!

  13. Thanks, Sue - and thanks Bethany! I don't know if I am an awesome teacher, but I try to be... Thanks for the prayers!

  14. First of all, Colin, I am deeply sorry that you are leaving us. (For others: I teach in the literature department at OLSWA). We will miss you tremendously. I've enjoyed our comradery and the ongoing exchange of ideas we've had over the years. You are a very gifted teacher and your departure is an immeasurable loss to our students.

    For others: It's too bad people seem to be assuming this decision has anything to do with orthodoxy, one way or another. I know this school inside out, and I can say that it doesn't. It's a financial matter. The members of the Board of Directors agonized over the decision, didn't want to make it, but came to the conclusion that it needed to happen for the school's survival.

    Yes, there have been some problems in the theology department. The three members have very different perspectives. Colin is an Augustinian in a department of Thomists. But in the end, that's not why this decision was made. As Colin correctly points out, the theology department was the only one in which someone could be let go. The fact that Colin was selected within that department comes down to the fact that the two other members were founders of the institution and are basically permanent fixtures.

    Colin, I'm really sorry it has come to this. I hope and pray that you will be able to find another position soon.

    1. Christine, what then, could your school do to promote it better and attract more students? If increases in tuition scare them off, maybe quantity is better and a slick advertizing campaign highlighting a better faith experience than other universities there? Say like it's a "whole soceity 24-7" thing over universities with just chapliancys and degree programs not necessarily connected to their chaplaincy programs?

    2. Young Canadian, I wish I knew the answers to your questions. We are doing our best to ramp up our advertising efforts. Pray that they succeed! Of course, not being able to offer the degree is our biggest handicap, as you rightly suggest. It's a Catch-22: without the degree, many people don't want to invest in us, which means we don't have the money to get the things we need to obtain the degree... You can see the problem. Anyway, God's will be done. I've seen amazing things happen over the nine years I've been here, and I'm sure I'll see many more. All in God's time.

  15. Dr. Kerr,

    (I really wanted to take Christology next year!) It's been an absolute privilege to have been in two of your classes this year. I learned a lot and I really enjoyed your teaching style. You're a really great teacher - funny, knows his stuff, and a fair marker. You'll be missed by all of us going in to third year; the first years really don't know what they will be missing. Thank you again for all that you have sacrificed and done for us. God bless you and your family!


  16. Of course your are right Christine! I don't know why minds always head there.

    Thanks so much, Bethany. I shall miss all of you!

  17. So sorry to hear of this news, Colin. Be assured of my prayers for you and your family at this time. It certainly can’t be easy, but I admire your faith and trust. I’m sure that there will be another door opened for you. Thanks for all you have done and are doing. It is much appreciated.

  18. Your prayers are highly valued, Father. Thank you so much!

  19. Dr. Kerr,

    I only heard the news yesterday, and I must say I was shocked. Thank you so much for all your dedicated work, in my last two years of Olswa I have truly enjoyed your classes (especially Apologetics and Thomistic) and I have learned so much! But I have not only learned through your classes, but also through your example: being sincerely dedicated to your faith, a very strong family man, and great discussions in class and after. Thank you again for everything you have done. God Bless you! You and your family will be in my prayers.

    Emily Stuyt