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 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.


Todd Dodson

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1 Comment on Dear Chancellor: The Issue Is Pride

  1. Hi Todd,

    You’re dead on right. The issue IS pride–and it is also health, safety, and even life on PASSHE campuses which may become slated for invasion by the fracking industry. These issues are connected by one thick if greasy cable–the governor’s budget cuts and the ideologically driven motives behind them. I wrote to the chancellor and I posted him the piece I have on RCP concerning SB 367, it’s implications for PASSHE campuses, and its connection to contract negotiations:

    Here’s the full exchange, including what I got back, and what I posted onto my Facebook page about the saving of trees. THIS is exactly how much the chancellor cares:

    Wendy Lynne Lee’s letter to the chancellor, 10.11.12:

    I am aware that several of my APSCUF colleagues from across the Commonwealth are planning on attending the BOG meeting in Harrisburg on Thursday October 11th. While my teaching schedule prohibits me from personally attending the meeting, I would like to express my support of APSCUF’s effort to obtain a fair contract. I am asking that the PASSHE negotiation’s team treat us with the respect that we deserve and negotiate toward a fair contract, in good faith.

    I have also taken the liberty of enclosing here a link to a research essay I recently published via Raging Chicken Press (with links to a number of other websites, for example Shaleshock) which concerns your support for SB 367, it’s implications for PASSHE campuses, the role of the Department of Environmental Protection relevant to SB 367, the position of Governor Corbett, and the relevance of the legislation to APSCUF contract negotiations. I strongly oppose the opening of PASSHE campus properties to slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing, and I urge you to reconsider your position, particularly in light of the hazards this extraction process poses for the health and welfare of PASSHE communities.

    Wendy Lynne Lee, Professor
    Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
    Chancellor Cavanaugh’s response (unedited), 10.11.12:

    Dear Prof. Lee:

    Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts and the link to your Website.


    John C. Cavanaugh, Ph.D., Chancellor
    Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
    Dixon University Center
    2986 N. Second Street
    Harrisburg, PA 17110
    t: (717) 720-4010
    f: (717) 720-4011

    As part of PASSHE’s Green Technology Initiative, save a tree. Print only when necessary.

    The Chancellor recommends we print only when necessary in order to save trees, all the while he advocates the exploitation of PASSHE campuses for the genocidal profiteers. How thoughtful. Call him, write him, email him–and let the Chancellor know how much you appreciate his concern to save trees.

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