By Tamera Theodore
The moment I learned of Professor David Waterman’s plan to retire effective July 1, I heard a muffled yet distinct “thud.” It was the sound of my own despair. My mind raced to all the things I’d miss: David’s kindheartedness and thoughtfulness, his warm smile and humor (sometimes in charmingly self-deprecating ways), his very audible battles with the photocopier (complete with door slamming and expletives), and more than anything, the care with which he treats others and cultivates relationships with colleagues, students and staff.
But this momentous event wasn’t about me, it was about David. So in hopes of soothing my sadness by finding a way to embrace David’s decision to retire, I asked him if he’d entertain a few questions. Here are his thoughts in his own words.
David’s Beard (2002)
How is the David Waterman who joined Telecommunications in 1993 different from the David Waterman who is heading into retirement? How has your work impacted that change?
My hair has gone from blonde to gray-blonde (Sharon says only I can still see the blonde), and I shaved off my beard about 10 years ago. More seriously, I still have the same intense interests in the economics of media and information that I began with in graduate school. The media world has changed incredibly, of course. I have admittedly changed more slowly, but I hope I have made up for that with some wisdom. I wrote 2 books in the 21 years I have been at IU that contain a lot of what I have ever learned. But they both contributed greatly to the graying of my hair.
What was a defining moment of your career as a scholar?
I would say the turning point was when I got a research assistance job in graduate school to work for a professor proposing to study the economics of the media, a topic barely heard of at the time.
You’ll teach a graduate course in the Fall and continue to serve on grad student committees. What other work will you continue with into retirement?
For the near future at least, my research agenda about the online video industry and its regulation occupies me. Ryland Sherman, Yongwoog Jeon, and I are writing a paper on this topic for an FCC conference at the end of May. It’s a fascinating, though dauntingly technical and complex subject to me, but at least in the past, my fascination has kept my head above water.
Do you have any words for those who will carry the torch into the Media School era?
I don’t think our faculty needs any advice. I have a great ambivalence about not participating in this myself. But I concluded that I would not be able to fully participate far enough into the transition to really have a meaningful influence on it. I am very optimistic that this is going to work out well for our department and students. I think that the research, production, teaching, and people skills in our department will carry the day.
What does retirement mean to you?
Well, I never liked the word, because I don’t want to sit on a bench in a park, and don’t have any grandchildren to play with yet. To me it will be a slow transition from my academic life to one of physical labor and strengthening my bonds with the land, plants, and animals. To me that’s an alluring and powerful force in my life. I’m still able to do that and I’m not going to let that time pass.
What are you most excited about for your retirement? What do you most look forward to?
Digging, farming, getting bees, chickens and a dog, and connecting more with my Quaker group. As for the academic part, I look forward to a delicious balance. Working hard on my research, but not too hard, and not worrying so much of the time about how I can possibly get it all done in time, still finish my absurdly elaborate class preparations, be evaluated by a committee, and all that.
Do you have any specific plans for how you’ll spend your time? Any special projects or adventures planned?
For one, I’m going to renovate our house, which would take even someone who knows what they are doing a year of work. I’m also going to expand my garden, hopefully back into my neighbor’s property, and make friends with my bees and chickens. And not least, I plan to do some socially helpful things, helping people in real need.
What will you miss most? What will be the hardest thing to let go of?
That’s easy. I will miss being an integral part of our faculty and graduate student group. It is truly amazing to me that I could be in a place with people that I like so much and who all seem to put up with me with tolerance and good humor. At heart, I’m a real nerd, subject to hysteria and unsuited to corporate culture. I’m also really going to dislike moving out of my office. I’m hoping to make a deal with Walt, but it doesn’t look promising.
On your impending retirement, you were overheard saying that “it’s like turning in your musical instruments.” Can you say more about what this means to you?
I think I said that on a day that I was trying to talk myself out of the whole thing. That is the toughest way for me to envision my transition, since I want to play on. I think I’ve learned to play a few really good songs. I won’t be able to do that forever, but I’m not turning in my fiddle yet.