A few days ago, an article in The Guardian by Alastair Gee, hit the internet. In it, the stories of adjunct faculty in desperate poverty are told, once again. Year after year after year, the situation in American academia – and now in academia around the world – continues to worsen. So, I thought it was time to check in, since I was quoted in this article, to update my own situation.
It has been over five years since I wrote of a devastating experience – one of many devastating experiences – I have had as an adjunct in American Academia. The blog was called “Being a Stupid Slut”, and it discussed, through a story about my own humiliation, the ways in which we who serve as adjunct faculty in American academia are treated with no respect, how we feel devastated and demeaned, and how important it is that we refuse to accept this abuse and find other ways to live out our callings. I meant this when I wrote it five years ago. But it has taken me five long years to finally reach a point where I can “walk the talk”. I have left adjunct academia, convinced that there is no hope and no sense to working on the “inside” for improvement. I plan to continue my work, including finishing the documentary film and the book, from the outside, where I can be as ferocious as need be.
This Fall semester will be the first in over 15 years where I will not be returning to adjunct labor. No, I never returned to the university which had treated me so disrespectfully, and I counted that as a small act of self-care. But I did continue to accept adjunct contracts at another local university where, although my program was run in a way that offered respect and dignity to its faculty as best it could, we were still beholden to the university administration’s disdain.
In recent years, this particular university spent millions of dollars in legal fees fighting one of our many attempts to unionize the adjunct faculty, even going so far as to argue that we should be barred from the “faculty union” we wished to join because “adjuncts weren’t faculty”. They went to great pains to talk about the many ways that we could not be, and were not, considered faculty. This November, it will be two years since that battle was won, and we were included in the faculty union. But over the course of these two years, the administration has steadfastly refused to come to the bargaining table in good faith, blatantly refusing to make any changes to our compensation, our professional support, our job security. The first “negotiated settlement”, reached only weeks ago, offers barely $1500 gross increase yearly salary for a 2/2 course load (the most they are allowed to hire adjuncts to teach without having to pay them respectable wages and benefits). That amount, after a two year delay, saves the university well over $2 million in salary increase, and barely covers the cost of living increases over these same two years. The money saved, I’m sure, has gone to administrative salaries. Oh, and the school is building a new multi-million dollar football stadium. The university’s adjuncts will still, therefore, earn the poverty wages we earned before “winning” the right to unionize. We still have no healthcare. We still have 15 week contracts that can be canceled at the university’s whim. We are still, clearly, not worthy of any respect or professional treatment in the eyes of the university itself. Worse still, the union, which is so often seen as the best hope to undo this labor abuse nationwide, has been exposed as being toothless in its ability to wage any significant fight on our behalf. Too often lately, unions have been reduced to acting as apologists for administration with what I call the “It’s the best we can do for now” argument, meant to placate and anesthetize the exploited. I’ll be writing more about this in blogs to come, since our plight is only worsened by powerless unions, and other choices must be made on a grand scale – a national and international scale – to restore an essential profession, save our students, and resuscitate the academic mission of higher learning beyond the gates of the ruined universities-turned-edu-factories.
So, here we are, five years later. I want to share some details about what I, personally, have been working to build over these years so that I could, finally, not only walk away, but walk toward something much, much better. I intend to thrive now.
That’s a key, I think, to leaving a toxic situation of any kind: the determination to thrive. Knowing that you have to leave doesn’t necessarily mean that you are equipped emotionally or financially to leave. What I’ve found is that it not only takes the determination to liberate yourself; it takes hope. It takes faith in yourself. It takes new opportunities, often ones that you have to create for yourself. But it also takes healing. There is a huge emotional cost to being exploited and abused, as anyone should know. When your spirit has been broken, your self-esteem crushed, your sense of the possible all but obliterated, your finances ruined — where do you find hope, or faith, or opportunities? Another key: it takes baby steps. It takes looking around for guidance from others who have escaped. And those stories are out there – people who have left for “day jobs” which felt less like the calling academia had been for them: office jobs, non-profit jobs, social service jobs. But even with the jobs that felt somehow “lesser” in the beginning, they were offered more job security – you don’t have to beg for the same job every fifteen weeks, for instance – and a more steady paycheck, and that, in turn, offers you something of a more secure identity. There is great healing in a restored sense of dignity.
As I’d mentioned in Slut blog #1, I founded an arts organization over 20 years ago, Hidden River Arts. It began as a valiant little organization, but has grown slowly and steadily; it probably would have grown faster had I been able to focus entirely on my stewardship of the organization and not been limited by the 9 to 10 months each year given over to adjunct penury. But, we have grown, expandeding our arts competitions, our workshops and classes. We’ll be expanding into online classes this year so that we can reach more people. We launched an independent small press in 2010, and are growing steadily, with titles we are very proud to have published. We’ll also be adding new book-length competitions and publishing more works beginning in 2018. We have a thriving internship program. We’re launching an online arts journal beginning in late 2017. We’ll be blogging more, as well as launching podcasting. In short, this is an organization whose mission is service – service to artists, and to the arts community. It’s a wonderful feeling to be directing an organization that offers hope and support to others, whose vision is positive, loving and respectful of the creative life force.
I’m going to work, finally, with my co-producer to finish our film about corporatized academia. I’m going to write the companion book. For more information about the film and the other projects, see our ‘Junct Rebellion website, and our site at 2255 Films.
A very significant sign of restored health, for me, is that my own creative outflow is increasing significantly. Over this past summer, I finished one novel, have rough drafts of a few more, and have been working on two new collections of short stories. I’ve returned to singing professionally, and have formed a singing partnership called Cabaret Divas; we’ve written two shows, performed one, are rehearsing the second, to be performed in early 2018.
So, my message to fellow adjunct scholars: There’s life out here that has been waiting for me, and it is waiting for all of us. I’ve got a lot of emotional healing to do, as will you. I know I’m really lucky because I do have other dreams to go to, and will know the joy of new adventures and successes. But I also know that those possibilities are out there for all of us, each of us with our own individual callings and passions. As a class of people, we are some of the best educated people in the United States. Never forget that the intellectuals of a society are essential. The scholarly class must thrive for a society to thrive. We can no longer thrive within the corporatized university world, and must leave in large numbers in order to heal and begin doing the work we are meant to do. This exodus is not just for our own individual well-being. It’s for the benefit of our society. The state of our country makes it clear that our role must be restored in order for the country and society to be restored. I’m not talking about the so-called “ivory tower” academics. I’m talking about the role of the public intellectual, the role that is played by the most well-educated people in the society acting in a public capacity to bring their learning to the community, the society, the country. I’m talking about what I call a Diaspora of the Learned, thrust out of the dying campuses, and back into the world at large, where we are so needed. I’ll be writing and speaking more about this, since it’s very much a part of what I see as my own future, and as the future of the learned of our population. I’m also placing a call for submissions for an anthology of stories, Exit the Edu-Factory, where others can share their stories of liberation.
My hope now is that, with the work we do on the film and the book, and in our public work, we can set a lot of other people – both faculty, potential future faculty and potential future indebted students – free. I want to dedicate some of my own freedom – as long-coming as it has been – to creating a kind of escape map for others. To that end, I welcome stories of liberation from others who had struggled in the edu-factory, and would love to hear from you in our comments, or by email, or of course, through submission to our manuscript call. These are stories of hope, of vision and of renewed intellectual dedication that need to be shared now, as we turn our eyes toward the future, and to the building of new forms of scholarship, academia, learning – as well as to building, or rebuilding, the lives broken by the corporate colonization of what used to be American academic culture.