I hope readers will indulge some personal nostalgia today….

Last Saturday, I posted grades for the students of my final class as a college professor. The semester was surreal –for the first time, I taught remotely, and to be honest, I hated it. In normal times, when I teach, I walk around the class asking questions, looking for puzzled faces that tell me I need to back up and explain something more clearly…I meet with students outside of class to answer questions/concerns. I get to know them.

None of that happens virtually.

That said, I was really pleased with my graduate students’ performance. My midterm is something of a killer, and several did poorly on it. But their research papers and especially their final exams were almost uniformly excellent. The midterm is intended to determine whether they understand constitutional provisions and–more importantly–can apply them correctly to “real world” fact situations.

The final is intended to determine whether they understand what government is for. Below  is this year’s  version.


There are three essay questions in this take-home final examination. Choose one of them to answer. Your answer should not exceed three (3) typed, double-spaced pages.

I.   Earth has been destroyed in World War III. You and a few thousand others—representing a cross-section of Earth’s races, cultures and religions—are the only survivors. You have escaped to an earthlike planet, and are preparing to establish a new society. You want to avoid the errors of the Earth governments that preceded you. What institutional choices do you make and why? You should consider:
A.   The type/structure of government you would create;
B.    The powers it will have;
C.    The limits on its powers, and how those limits will be enforced;
D.   How government officials will be chosen and policies enacted;
E.    The social and political values you intend to privilege.

II.   It is 2020 in an alternate universe, and you have been elected President of the United States. You are following an administration that has made significant—even monumental—changes to American public policies and democratic norms. Which of those changes would you accept and follow, if any? Which would you change?  (I am not looking for exhaustive lists; choose one or two areas to discuss, and justify your decision to accept or reject the current administration’s approach.) For each policy you would retain or reverse, explain why it is or is not supportive of the common good and/or consistent with American Constitutional values.

III.   During every American election season, there will be a number of candidates from the business sector running for public office who have neither studied public administration nor previously served in a governmental agency or government position of any kind. They usually argue—and many Americans will agree—that success in a private business venture is a qualification for public office, that the skills that are necessary to success in the private sector are transferable—that they are the same skills that will enable them to be successful public servants. Do you agree or disagree with this assertion? Why?

You may make use of any materials you wish in composing your answers. Organization, grammar and spelling, and clarity will count, as will the originality and persuasiveness of your essay.


The essays I received were unusually perceptive. Almost all of them explicitly addressed the responsibility of government to provide for the general welfare/common good, and the  similarities and differences between public and private sector values. The new world governments they created, their critiques of policies of the “preceding” (Trump) Administration (students who chose #2 were uniformly–and highly–critical), and their ability to distinguish between private sector skills that would or would not qualify someone for public service were all excellent.

It was a reassuring response to exit on.

So–I have now retired after spending the last 22 years at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. (It was my 5th and last “career”). Aside from continuing this blog, I’m really not sure how I will spend my time. There are things I won’t miss–many of the bureaucratic elements of academic life–but I will really miss interacting with students.

As I learned from leaving my prior work lives, such departures are bittersweet…..

They are also inevitable. Happy Holidays.

56 thoughts on “Endings…

  1. Thank you for all that you do and will continue to do. My life has been enriched by reading your words and my mind opened to new concepts and angles of thought.

    Enjoy all that you put your hand to.

  2. I know you will continue to do meaningful work in some way. You can’t help it! And I’m glad you are continuing the blog.

  3. So glad you are continuing to continue the blog.

    Your insight is always stimulating.

    All the best in your new endeavors.

  4. Thank you for your commitment to your students and to us! We are blessed by your presence in our lives. I’m a native Hoosier now living in Fairport NY. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  5. You have long modeled leadership, civic duty, energy and purpose. Thank you. May you enjoy the next phase of your life in whatever form it takes.

  6. I wish I could have taken your class. That others have and are grappling with the questions you posed in the final exam makes me hopeful.

    Thank you for your informative daily columns. I look forward to continuing to read them with my morning coffee.

  7. Professor-I think I may have been in your first class, ever, in Room 301 at Arlington High School, September, 1964 in Freshman English. You were a very tough teacher then, too, but you were respected. Thank you!

  8. Sheila,

    Your question #1 was parallel to a class exercise I did with my AP Biology students. It tasked them with terraforming Mars to transfer life on Earth to that place. Given today’s “burn the house down” behavior of the orange menace, this question doesn’t seem to far off of reality.

    Congratulations on a great career, one you’ve allowed us to peek into now and then. This retired educator feels the same as you recounted here today. I couldn’t possibly have enjoyed virtual learning. Somehow the labs just wouldn’t have the same meaning.

    I hope your holidays are grand. Stay safe.

  9. If I could say I’d accomplished a tenth of what you have, I’d be quite content. Your impact is considerable, and I am also so glad you’re continuing the blog. Thank you, Sheila. Thank you!

  10. Sheila, you are our hero. Thank you for contributions to our thinking and our well being beyond measure. I hope your students will carry us forward in a way current leadership has not. You should be so proud of that legacy, as we are of you.

  11. I am a former student, circa 2004 MPA. I recall your mid term and final exams. Yet, I don’t recall any particular angst because I believed you prepared the class very well to effectively tackle the questions. Thank you!

    I wish you the very best in your retirement.

  12. Congratulations on a retirement well earned, and thank you for this daily education via the blog.

  13. “The essays I received were unusually perceptive. Almost all of them explicitly addressed the responsibility of government to provide for the general welfare/common good, and the similarities and differences between public and private sector values.”

    The quote above spoke to the issue of complaints that $600 is not enough to solve any person’s or family’s current economic problems. I TOTALLY AGREE; but one Facebook post which I commented on that this government is not required to fully support all Americans even at the time of disaster such as the Pandemic bringing about near total economic collapse. Specifically I told one particularly ugly commenter to return the $600 and another that $600 was better than nothing; no one seems to understand that this government has limitations and that they should look at the total SECOND Stimulus Bill finally approved by Congress for the help it DOES provide rather than what it does not do. Responses piled up and many were ugly so I finally blocked incoming comments. I doubt they would have understood what your students recognized regarding what SHOULD BE the differences between public and private sector values which does not exist today. Someone warned early on in Trump’s administration that we need to beware this country becoming a one-corporate entity which is what we are faced with today.

    Does anyone out there still ask the rhetorical question, “What can Trump possibly come up with next that is worse than this?” He now has the entire GOP against Nancy Pelosi for agreeing with his demand for $2,000 per person rather than $600 and vetoed the Defense Bill. He jetted away from the White House to his hideaway in Mar-A-Lago for his own safety before releasing the list of his most recent pardons. He has finally turned everyone against everyone else in this government and the nation and people are questioning if he will even return to the White House for the ending of his term in office. I for one do not believe this is the ending of his treasonous presidency but I do understand that, as some of Sheila’s students saw in our future, that the responsibility of government should be to provide for the general welfare and common good of it’s citizens. This does NOT mean handing out money as the solution but fixing the current government to prevent ever again becoming the total disaster it is today. Sheila’s teaching ability evidently reached her students who understood the source of problems; will they the ones in the future to find solutions?

    Happy Retirement, Sheila, and Happy Holidays to all on the blog and please stay safe!

  14. Congratulations on your retirement from teaching. This is a milestone worth acknowledging.
    I’m sure you will use you knowledge and talents as you move on to your next adventure. Happy holidays and have a safe and happy new year❣️??

  15. Congratulations on your retirement Sheila! I have no doubt that you will find meaningful actions soon, but for the present please take your time to enjoy your life and your loved ones as you figure it out. One tradition I know of regarding retirement is to take a photograph of the first sunrise of the first day of your official retirement. I hope you do that because it serves to punctuate the end of one thing and the beginning of another.
    The final exam questions are great food for thought for all of us. I will enjoy the challenge of thinking and writing my own response to them.

  16. Congratulations on your transition and happiest of holidays to you and your family in these strangest of times. May you see light in 2021.

    ps: I would have picked question #3 and I would have nailed it.

  17. Thank you, Sheila, for being a great professor, and continuing to teach us even after we finished those classes!

  18. Welcome to retirement. I suspect that, like many of us, you will wonder how you ever had time to get things done while you worked. There will come a day when it strikes you that you no longer have to rush for anything. Enjoy it.

    Your questions were intriguing, especially number I. I think I may have answered that question easily in my twenties, but these days it seems more likely that I would have to backspace and delete way more than normal. Thanks for making me think, not just today, but for a lot of the last 40 years.

  19. Dear Sheila,
    Retirement is a welcomed respite from and “administrivia” of educational structures, but the need for contact with youthful minds and hearts will continue. I retired 9 years ago and my need for interaction with young people is never sufficiently quenched. When my hope sags I reach out to spend time with young people to renew my optimism and sense of humor. You will too. While the context will change, you will never stop finding ways to interact and replenish yourself with them. You have so much to offer young people and to inspire them to enter public service that I hope you will be overwhelmed with requests.

    Thank you for being a rigorous advocate for public service, youth, justice and knowledge. Now that work is simply on your own timeframe, but never needed more.

  20. Why retire? Why not continue to do what you love (teaching and challenging students with critical thinking exercises) and jettison the aspects you don’t (e.g., the bureaucracy)? I would be shocked to find you couldn’t conduct seminars, guest appearances, etc… and not draw a crowd. It would allow for all the things you like without the aspects you don’t. And that is MY definition of retirement! Good luck and congratulations!

  21. I’m so glad I found you and have learned a great deal about government, life, history and how it fits today. Thank you, thank you! All the Best!

  22. Welcome to Life 2.0 (or perhaps, for you, Life 6.0). Your wisdom in the classroom will be sorely missed.

    I would be intrigued to see excerpts from some of those finals in the coming days….

    Let us all continue believing, despite the contrary evidence spouting each day, than our country can live up to its imaginary values.

  23. I empathize with your mixed feelings about retirement. As a thirty-year (now retired) high school teacher, I miss—and will always miss—working with my students. I am delighted that so many of them continue to stay in touch. Retirement, though, does give a person the opportunity to reinvent himself/herself, and that has been fun for me.
    I wish you many more productive years, and I’m ready for another margarita anytime you are—and COVID permits. Keep blogging, please. ?

  24. Greetings Sheila. Happy holidays to you. Your column brightens and enlightens my day. My last college class was over 40 years ago so you would overwhelm me today. ): 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  25. Sheila: Continue to be a sounding board for intelligent thinking and perception in public matters as you retire. There will always be a place for enlightened ideas that desperately need to be expressed in a world full of problems.

  26. Thank you Sheila,

    I have enjoyed your blog (and most of the commenters) for years even though I rarely comment myself anymore. Enjoy your retirement wherever it takes you. Blessings!

  27. Your students were exposed simultaneously to both content and critical thinking – lucky students! You are one of a kind and are only “retiring” from a job, as your continuation of your blog suggests. Congratulations on your well-earned retirement!

  28. It is too bad the pandemic took away what you enjoy most about teaching, but remember, retirement gives the opportunity for volunteering, so you don’t ever have to give up what you love and it can be as little or as much as you want it to be. Congratulations on your retirement!

  29. I would think most people would have thought our policies and government flawed to one degree or another. The Trumpet has proved just how fragile it all is. All the words in the constitution, the laws, rules and regulations the Trumpet has sabotaged and attacked relentlessly since day one of his regime could not have happened without the cooperation of the GOP from the high command on down.

    I heard some political pundit bemoaning the fact the GOP did not set boundaries for The Trumpet from day one of his regime. Even with all his abrasive character flaws The Trumpet could deliver what the 1% wanted, like the big tax cut, and trying via executive orders to turn back rules and regulations.

    The Pastor Pence wing of the party had President -Tele-Evangelist to play on their fears and the Trumpet was the High Priest.

    Probably no system of government, pie in the sky could anticipate The Trumpet-Pastor Pence Team and their excesses. I suppose in theory the GOP as a Party might have provided a check. Bottom line the Party of Fear (The GOP) was frightened of the wrath of the Trumpet to bring them down.

    If your goal is to acquire and maintain power at all costs and there are enough enablers who will ride that train – Can you design a system to stop the power grab???

  30. Enjoy the freedoms that retirement offers, even in this time of pandemic. Colleagues and students will find you as life presents them with questions and problems to solve. They know that you have the perspective, experience and knowledge to offer when it is sorely needed.

    I count myself among your students as I often felt like I was auditing your classes. With no formal instruction or background in the law, I was a blank slate. Your daily challenges to me to think deeply and critically, to access forgotten resources and explore new ones have enriched my life in ways you will never know.

    Thank you from myself and all those whom you have touched so profoundly during your several careers. Congratulations on a work life well lived. Mazel tov!

  31. Retirement is a time when we can rethink our image…who will we be in these years ahead? I’m sure that whatever you do will see you in some form of education. I wish you joy and satisfaction in your ”new” life. (I also hope you continue sharing your thoughts with us!)

    Thanks for all you’ve done and….best wishes!

  32. Sheila, we have known each other since the early 1990s, and I am so pleased for you to at last be able to step away from a day job. I am especially glad that you have spent the last 22 years teaching principles of good government/good constitutional policy to future leaders and regular ol’ citizens. I too learned a lot from you, and I am grateful that won’t stop.

    Thanks for all you have done, and please keep writing—call it your sixth career!

  33. Sheila, I know that you are anxious to move on to the next chapter and that you deserve the best of it but hopefully you will continue to help your slow class, everyone here and the millions that aren’t here but should be and would benefit from what you can teach.

    In the meantime though I wish everyone the very best during whichever holiday season you choose to celebrate.

    We all have the finish line of 2020 in sight and the rebirth of democracy to celebrate soon.

  34. How great to retire while still at the top of your game. Even without a psycho in the Oval Office, the need for your intellect and observations will not lessen. All of your bloggers’ lives have been enriched and stimulated and often challenged by your thoughtful, in-depth way of presenting and analyzing issues. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to reflect and reply, and for not chiding us when we strayed from the topic under discussion.

    Even with the problems you have laid out in detail, Indiana is a better place for having you as a mentor and critic. Thanks for the early morning, disciplined effort you have put forth these many years and for sharing your insights in a way that keeps our neurons firing.

  35. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see those final exam questions offered to the general public and forums conducted afterward to get more folks involved in critical thought and engaged in challenging discussion? How eye-opening and insightful that would be!

  36. Congratulations Sheila! Hope you enjoy your retirement; I am sure that you have impacted so many students lives. Hope they are sent out into the world to change it for the better.

    Look me up if you are in Columbus again (post COVID of course). We can do dinner again!

  37. We are from the same generation so this could never have happened, but I so wish I could have been one of your students. I hope that among your former students there will be, at least, a few who will continue teaching ethics, the Constitution, and civic responsibility. Our country desperately needs that. Good luck in your retirement. I look forward to your blog entries yet to come. Stay safe. ?

  38. Transitions are good. Let this grand transition bring you to another adventure. Your view and insight are needed and I will whine and have a temper tantrum if this changes this blog and leads us away from your gifts.
    I loved teaching and miss it. I do not miss the endless grading.

  39. Congratulations!
    I expect that you have shown innumerable students what Democracy is supposed to e about, and thank you for that.
    I have found my thus far brief time visiting your blog a pleasure, and a stimulant to thinking; am glad you will continue it.

  40. Your daily blog is a delicious, educational appetizer, and I’ve always wanted to enjoy your ‘main course’ in the classroom. Your students and the university will miss you, but fortunately all of them and the rest of us get to continue learning in this daily ‘class’.

    Your final test assignment sounds so intriguing and like you. I really hope you will share some of the answers here from each question. You’ve teased us with the prospect, so let your students pass along some of your lessons to educate us further. We love being your students. In fact, you’re my favorite teacher.

    Have a wonderful holiday, and a happy, healthy, and (starting Jan. 20), a Trump-free new year.

  41. Congratulations! — Enjoy your retirement?.
    Although if you think you will have more time for stuff, you won’t. I’ve been retired for 6 years and I stay very busy (until COVID hit that is). I am sorry I never got to take a class with you, but as I mentioned before, I think you could teach one to those of us who follow you online.
    One piece of advice — take care of your health religiously — makes being retired much better. I was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer 4 months after I retired (a routine mamogram caught it). This summer will mark 4 years I have been cancer free!
    Have a wonderful Christmas and stay safe.?

  42. Sheila, I’m so pleased it is your intention to continue in “retirement” sharing an insightful expansive “jaundiced look at the world we live in.” I read numerous blogs, but none more frequently or with more anticipation than yours. The combination of your stimulating wordsmith skill combined with a humane wholesome world & life view, is a blessing for so many of your regular bog readers. We are likely your largest “classroom” scattered wide & far. An octogenarian “student” in the City of Roses aka Portland, OR. still learning from the good professor Ms. Kennedy. Congrats on your so-called retirement!

  43. Congratulations on your retirement from teaching in the classroom. But as long as you keep writing this blog, we will continue to learn from you. I would love to see you become one of the experts that NPR and MSNBC turn to for wisdom and principled opinion. Best of everything to you and your family in 2021 and always.

  44. Had similar feelings as I retired 6 years ago after 43 years of teaching history at Rider University. Fortunately, it was not during a pandemic. I would hate to be teaching now as I see my former colleagues struggling with on- line instruction. Like you I moved about the classroom and the interaction that followed was priceless. Have a wonderful retirement and keep on blogging.

  45. Your students were very fortunate to have you as their professor. Enjoy your retirement. I look forward to continuung to enjoy your always insightful blog. Thank you!

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