Monday, August 15, 2016

Reflections of an Ex-Professor

Today is the day. We knew about this day back in late February, when all employees at Chicago State received layoff notices. Some had different dates – April 30, May 15 – but for tenured and tenure-track faculty, the date on our letters was today: “…you are hereby provided notice of layoff effective August 15, 2016.” Back in February, the administration glossed this letter as a notice of “potential” layoff, a public-relations ploy if there ever was one. With the layoff letters, the administration set up a process where employees had to be “recalled” prior to the effective date of layoff in order for them to continue to be employed at the university. For workers across the university, the “potential” became reality on Friday, April 29, as the administration scrambled to send out “recall” notices to approximately half of the non-faculty workers throughout the day while many waited to find out if they would get such a “recall” notice or not – a poorly-managed and inhumane process that has been previously documented on this blog. For a few of us tenured/tenure-track faculty, that potential became a reality just two months later when we received letters stating “you will not be recalled for the Academic Year 2016-2017.” As much as we might have expected such a letter since the end of February or the end of April, it still came as a shock. A gut punch.

Now, the reality of that gut punch is complete. Today, August 15. The date I became an ex-professor. It’s hard to put into words what that means. Sure, it’s a loss of much-needed income, but it’s more than that. 9 years of graduate school, 5 years of part-time but temporary employment at two other universities all added up to one goal, landing a tenure-track faculty position. Getting that tenure-track job meant that I was a professor (sure, I was one before in my temporary jobs, but it seemed more real and certainly more permanent as a tenure-track professor). It’s an identity that became more important as each of the 9 years went by that I was employed at Chicago State. After getting tenure, I remember one administrator saying that this accomplishment meant I had “a job for life.” I thought this was naive at the time, but really I basically believed it. I was a professor, and I could continue to be a professor as long as I wanted. Being a professor became an important part of my identity. For me, that identity that meant working hard to help students learn, continually learning new things, doing research in other languages (for me, especially French), traveling to different countries to conduct research or to give papers on that research, and serving in leadership roles at the university.

Today, that identity is torn away from me. No tenured/tenure-track faculty positions are available for the upcoming academic year. No here, not anywhere. Some universities have started to advertise positions for an entire year from now, just at the beginning of the hiring process. But what now? I will look for other jobs and think about whether that means a permanent career change. This is ultimately the larger impact of the layoffs of faculty, particularly with no final year contract. It could mean the end of a career, the end of being a professor. It’s more than losing a job in the end. And that’s what makes it so difficult to take – it’s a kind of personal and emotional hit.

That’s what it means to be an ex-professor, at least for me right now, and I think it speaks to the personal connection faculty members have to their work. We experience that connection when we see students struggle and then succeed at learning something new. We experience it when we engage in intense discussions and debates with our colleagues about our scholarship or creative work. We experienced it this past year when we spoke and acted out to preserve the existence of Chicago State in response to the attacks of a malicious governor and the meager actions of many indifferent public officials. This work is personal and emotional, not just a job for a paycheck. So, I suppose it should be no surprise that having that work taken away is also personal and emotional. It’s a loss of income, a loss of an identity, the possible loss of a career, a feeling of loss that hits me unexpectedly at any time, just a loss. Since the layoff letters in February, I thought it was likely I would be laid off, and I thought I was prepared for that to occur. Since it has actually happened, I now realize I had no clue what this would actually mean, becoming an ex-professor. 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you, Steve.
    This is my first Fall in over 2 decades that is not devoted to back-to-school in some capacity. You said it well: it's a gut punch and an attack on our very identity.

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  2. Dear Steve,
    Right now you are only an "ex CSU professor." You will always be a professor. You are a true intellectual, unlike many poseurs on this campus who inhabit the title of "Dr," especially those who had a hand in firing you and our other colleagues. I am ashamed of Chicago State University. I am especially ashamed of what continues to pass for leadership in its administrative ranks. Considering the departments and some of the individuals affected, the firings appear retaliatory. I do not see this battle as over though August 15th is here. Thank you for your words today. Thank you for being a generous and courageous colleague who was never afraid of speaking truth to power.
    a bientot,
    Ann Kuzdale

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