On Motherhood and Academic Community

My mother gave me life, but she also ignited a passion for knowledge and discovery by giving me books from birth on.

October 16, 2014

My mother gave me life, but she also ignited a passion for knowledge and discovery by giving me books from birth on.  My siblings loved to play outside, and as they built forts and dug tunnels, I’d be lying in the grass under a willow tree reading in my Imaginarium. It’s no wonder why I won the Gilliam County spelling bee in 1983, why I was an exchange student to Germany the academic year of 1987 – 8), why I completed a rigorous PhD in the United Kingdom (2002 – 2008), or why I teach English Literature and Writing today: my mother read to me.

Yet motherhood in academia is hushed because the vulnerability of pregnancy; the imminent leave, and engorged breasts are off topic. Talk of the body invites unwelcome social stigma and avoidance in the workplace. For example, while pregnant with my son in 2012 – 2013, I taught the full academic year plus summer term apparently undetected; that is, only three faculty members acknowledged my pregnancy in passing.

In contrast, a friend who is an Assistant Professor met with her chair to discuss her pregnancy, accommodations, and a temporary replacement, should she deliver early or have complications. My experience as a pregnant adjunct was a reminder that I am not essential to the department and that accommodations or even community are not givens. If I couldn’t work, I’d be replaced and maybe lose assignment rights.

Without doubt, my three children sustain my passion for learning and teaching, yet I so rarely talk about them in the classroom, with colleagues, or mention them on my CV or author biography.  They are my raison d'être, yet I keep them inside me, professionally. This is at odds with who I am as a person and educator.

As one of academe’s others, I crave community. Whatever the local euphemism for me is (contingent, adjunct, scapegoat, precarious worker, casual, part-time terminal), it negates the broad scope of my credentials and experience and stratifies me: no it strangles and silences me. I’d like to talk about my status as an adjunct PhD, in particular, through the lens of motherhood.

It’s true that kids affect career mobility, and I did quit the only full-time, tenure-track appointment secured fresh off my PhD because it uprooted me. Hawaii is lush, diverse, and a paradisial, but it gave me rock fever, and I desperately needed to get home to my kids, mind, and peace. A career move that separated me from my kids (joint-custody) was a sacrifice I could not sustain, financially or emotionally.

As I typed my letter of resignation, I contemplated career suicide. I knew my fate: I would return to the mainland, resume adjuncting, and perhaps never get another shot at job security. Now six years on, I’m marooned on another island: Adjunctopia. It is cruel, barren, and desolate, even though I tread water with millions of others who, like me, are ruined in the wake. This may sound hyperbolic to those who don’t share this fate, but there really is nothing to embellish and everything to harangue.

If it were not for my three children, two dogs, and partner, I’d go insane in academe’s hard-labor mills. But lately, I’ve turned to others who bear my burden, not with shame but conviction and dignity. The community I’ve encountered beyond the walls of my home institutions is lively, supportive, ethical, receptive, and talented. They have given me the air needed to inflate my Imaginarium and believe in myself, again.  

Adjunctopia has an oasis, and if you negotiate the barbed maze you’ll find it. For the journey, bring story, song, laughter, tears, pain, madness, memory, experience, acceptance, and everything that you’re made of. Occasionally, a fetid wind blows seeds of fear and contempt from the mills, but move on because this too shall pass. Inscribed above the gates to the oasis is this:  


“THROUGH me you pass into the city of awe:

Through me you pass into eternal equality:

Through me among the people excluded.

Justice the founder of my fabric steady:

To rear me was the burden of Power over,

Supremest Elite, and primeval Lust.

Before me things create are plenty, save things

Damned, and damned I bid goodbye.

All hope regain, ye who enter here.”


“Hear, hear, the narrative’s shifted,” all Adjunctopians shout. “Free! The syllabi. Fair!! Our wages. Happy!!! Our students.” And so on, they rejoice in the spoils of shared governance.

Tiffany Kraft teaches English Composition and Literature at Marylhurst University, Oregon College of Art and Craft, and Clark College.She advocates for student-centered instruction paradigms, Multimodal Composition, Open Educational Resources (OER), and adjunct faculty labor reform. She’s on Twitter @TiffanySKraft and you can find more at tiffanykraft.me.


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