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A Bad Week

Why a bad week now, professionally, isn't nearly as bad as when I was contingent.

September 24, 2014

I had a bad week at work and at home last week. I didn’t deal with it very well, as my husband and kids will attest to (and anyone who was on Twitter last Wednesday). Kid got sick, I got pulled away from work when I was also on a tight deadline, parenting duties needed to be renegotiated (and renegotiated again), more fires flared up at work…

And it’s not that I haven’t had bad weeks at work before. The kids always seem to get sick the same week my husband leaves for a conference and important things are happening in my classroom, or stuff gets crazy within the department or the university, negatively impacting me or my husband, or both. And I was often left feeling absolutely powerless to do anything. My position was such that anything I did was often meaningless, other than to make me feel better, at least professionally.

(Personally, of course, you stay home with the kids, you make them feel better, and they love you. And because I have insurance, I never had to worry about if the kids got MORE sick. So there's that, too.)

But, this time, when a crisis came up, I was actually able to help. My skills contributed to the fires being put out in a timely and, dare I say, productive way. I was able to quickly research some things, write some things, meet with some people, and generally get stuff done. Stuff that needed to get done. Stuff that people were grateful that I had done. Stuff that made a difference, so that this week won’t be as bad.

I made a difference. Even my little temper-tantrum on Twitter has led to a larger discussion around issues of visibility and transparency and fairness, discussions that should have taken place long ago, but never had. I cared enough to start a discussion, and other people cared enough to take part. I was a part of something, in both cases, larger than myself, and I was making a valuable contribution to it.

I never felt that way when I was a contingent faculty member. Ever. EVER. If contingent faculty seem … angry or bitter or disillusioned or any of the other tone-policing words used to try and police and dismiss what adjuncts (and former adjuncts) have to say, then I would just say that it stems from a complete and total lack of agency within the system they are working. There isn’t any feeling of community, of belonging, or of even “making a difference.” As contingent faculty, it’s even hard to gage what kind of difference you are making in a student’s life because there is not time or space to develop any sort of meaningful, long-term, mentor-mentee relationship.

Adjuncts have skills that are valuable. I have skills that are valuable and that are now valued within my position. Many adjuncts have long wanted to make a difference, but are trapped by their positions (or lack thereof) from being able to really do anything about it. So we find our own ways of making a difference. And those ways don’t often fit within the narrow confines of what we consider “good behavior of an academic,” be it taking to the Internet, taking a post-ac job, union organizing, or embracing an alt-ac label.

I have finally found a place, “in real life” and on social media. I won’t criticize those who have also found their way to make a difference. And for those who feel like we’re making a bigger difference than you, bringing us down won’t make you feel any more powerful, at least not in the long term. 

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Lee Skallerup Bessette

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