Dear Chancellor: The Issue Is Pride

Dr. John C. Cavanaugh, Chancellor
Office of the Chancellor, PASSHE
Dixon University Center
2986 North Second Street
Harrisburg, PA 17110

October 8, 2012

Dear Chancellor Cavanaugh,

The issue is pride, Chancellor. Here’s a story, one that is sadly not unique. I spent six years in post-baccalaureate education living off student loans, full-time work in a kitchen, and a university stipend. In that time, my GPA, my publications, and letters of reference from my professors would all indicate that I had been successful, if not excelled, in my training. I entered the job market at twenty-eight.

The work I subsequently was able to secure at various universities carried the adjectives “non-tenure track,” “temporary,” “part-time,” “adjunct.” Universities you would deem having a “flexible” workforce. I was paid piecemeal. I had no 401K, no health benefits. In that time, the observations by various department heads, the student evaluations, and the unsolicited comments on ratemyprofeesor.com would indicate I was successful in my teaching. I was twenty-eight-years old. I was thirty-years-old. I wanted to get married and start a family. I wanted to buy a house.

During those years, when I would see my relatives on holidays, inevitably they would ask about my work, and I would have to explain the utter embarrassment of not being able to provide for my family as my father had, as my grandfather had. Any prestige of teaching at a university was belied by my poverty. Our hyper-capitalist culture dictates an individual’s worth, and consequently their self-worth, is contingent on their financial compensation. And I felt worthless. I lived in a perpetual state of anger and self-loathing. I was twenty-eight-years-old, I was thirty-two-years-old.

If there’s a happy ending, it is a qualified one, and it is this: in 2007 I was hired by the English department and Kutztown University. The position was non-tenure track, yet I was paid a living wage, and for the first time had medical coverage and could make retirement contributions. For the first time, I felt I belonged to a community. For the first time I felt a modicum of respect by the university and my colleagues. By all accounts I was successful in my work. Last year, the department voted and the university approved my conversion to a tenure track line. Given my previous experiences, I never expected to have this opportunity. This university, its staff, and its union — and its long-standing endeavor to provide full, equitable employment — is truly special.

And now there is the sad business or your “bargaining objectives” in the new CBA proposal. That you wish to raise the “part-time faculty member cap,” and create “an additional non-tenure track faculty member status of ‘lecturer’” who will be “employed on an extended renewable contract basis” (and therefore not eligible for conversion) makes me wince. That you consider these “structural issues” makes me outright sick. It’s remarkable that in a single document you advocate eroding the job market by increasing “without additional compensation, the regular faculty workload,” and increasing “employee health care cost sharing,” while at the same time expressing your desire for graduate teaching assistantships under the auspices of “prepar[ing] these doctoral candidates for the job market.” You do recognize the irony? You do recognize how you are fundamentally participating in the continued degradation of this market?

There exists a perception that adjuncts are like apprentices, like interns cutting their teeth, thereby justifying a commensurate compensation. But this equation runs backwards. It is precisely the material conditions and terms of the employment that creates this “adjunct” perception. I have seen throughout my career that the large majority of this “temporary,” “part time” work force is constituted of highly educated, highly trained individuals in their thirties, in their forties — some with more than ten years of teaching experience. These are people who want to be admired by their spouses, looked up to by their children. People who wish to own a home. People who want to help their children with college, and not to be a burden on them when they retire. People who want to be able to look in the mirror and have pride in what they see.

Again, Chancellor. The issue for me is pride.

Sincerely,

Todd Dodson

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