Monday, February 16, 2015

When Everyone is Contingent, Then What?

winter windowI find myself in the strangest situations.  Recently, I was hired through a national search for a grant funded full-time position.  "Hurray!" say the readers of the blog.  Well, that's what I said, too, even though I knew that I would have to reapply for my position every year.  This situation was not unlike another full time temporary gig I held for many years.  Reapplying is nothing more than an another added annoyance to many adjuncts.  We do it so much that we're really good at it.  I'm not going to say that I never worry that I won't get rehired because that would be lying, but I'm reasonably assured that I do a great job and will likely be back.  At least, that was the case at my old, really well-paying gig before I became The Unarmed Education Mercenary and complained about what they did to us.

After signing and mailing my contract back, I found a place for my family to live, began forwarding mail and changing addresses on important things like car registrations and my driver's license, I got A Very Disturbing Email from my new boss.  This person was letting me know that the Dean-who-is-not-my-Dean (not the Dean who interviewed me and offered me this job) only wanted to allot 50% for my position in the new iteration of the grant.

Well then.

What did I want to do? Cancel the move.  Throw a giant, apocalyptic fit.  Burn things.

My friends said not to go.  Some of them were more colorful in their choices of words to reject the position they had just got done congratulating me for getting. On the whole, it was Not A Good Day.  My eldest child, whose life I just upended by announcing this move to another county said, "Well, we might as well go because I am NOT unpacking those boxes unless we take them to another house.  There's too much tape on them.  Besides, everyone already feels sorry for me for moving and it would be kind of weird if I didn't go."  Then there's the matter of my employment.  If we stayed I would have only one class at the lower paying school furthest away.  That wasn't enough to live on.  We could, I suppose, have gone on all the assistance programs because I'm sure we would've qualified.  At least at the new place, the income would be good for a semester.  Son the Eldest was correct:  it was time to jump.

So jump we did and in the middle of a winter storm.  It has snowed at least three times a week since then.  I work in a department with some of the best people who care deeply about the students they serve and guess what?  None of us are permanent.  Each one of us has to reapply for our jobs.  We are still expected to do service and scholarly work, and we do.  What we do not have is any kind of security in our lives.  Will our grants be refunded? Will we be the ones rehired? Can I find 50% more work to do on this campus now that I've dragged everyone here?  I would be lying if I said this is good for my morale.  I love it here.  I would gladly spend my career here serving the students of this school.  I can do good things here, and yet, every single day I worry about next fall.  And next spring.  And the semester after that.  This is what it is like when everyone is contingent and everyone is worried:  it is a major distraction.  Will we say or do something that will keep us from being renewed? Will someone more qualified than us apply and take away our jobs?

Is this any way to run an education system?

No.  No it isn't.  If anyone out there making decisions about education would first please ask the question "Is this best for the students and the students' learning conditions?" I wonder how that would change things.  What are we here to do in higher education? Do we even know anymore?

As for me, I'm here to serve the students and thereby make a living to provide for my family.

What about you?


  1. Me? I'm going insane. Getting suicidal. I'm a complete failure. Too bad, as I am good teacher.

    1. Dear PJ,

      Please hang in there are do what you need to do to survive. I know our lives have been decimated by contingency, but we are building a strong community to fight back together. Join us and keep hope alive, even if you have to function minute-by-minute. Sometimes that's all we can do. Please also know that you are not a failure. You are making the most out of a terrible situation that is not your fault, and somehow you will get through this.

      In Solidarity -

  2. Me? I'm going insane. Getting suicidal. I'm a complete failure. Too bad, as I am good teacher.

  3. PJ,
    It is the system that has failed, not you. It has failed me, you, all the others, our students, and our communities. Please do not give up on yourself. 1-800-273-TALK can help if you're feeling really badly.
    Hang in there. I know what this life makes you feel like

  4. I second Gracie G's notion. I felt a pretty profound despair before getting involved with the Adjunct Faculty Association.
    You are not alone. You are never alone.

    1. Matthew,
      Evidently the blog or hosting mechanism is having trouble. I keep trying to leave you a note that I deleted a doubled version of your post since no one had commented on that, making two threads like in PJ's above.