“I thought I was doing a pretty good job,” says Collins. Which was why he was as surprised as everyone else when he was told a few weeks ago that his contract with Rollins would not be renewed.
The move, which also puts the future of the Institute itself on shakier ground, was a budget-cutting measure. It also represents a philosophical sea change: Rollins, like every other liberal arts institution in the country, is reexamining its approach toward education, with an eye toward providing students with marketable job skills. You can see how a poet might not fit into that pragmatic approach.
“There’s a lot of pressure in favor of career-based curriculums,” says Collins. “But the idea of a first-class lecture series that exposes students to so many brilliant minds — these are the kinds of people a liberal arts institution should be cultivating.”
Even if you’re looking at this strictly from a financial point of view, how can you calculate the value of the publicity and the intellectual sheen that comes from having a two-time poet laureate on your campus?
“All I can tell you,” says former Rollins College President Rita Bornstein, “is that when I travel around the country and meet people, they’ll say: ‘Oh, Rollins. You have Billy Collins down there, don’t you?’”
Not any more, we don’t.
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