We're Constantly in Fear

From San Diego Reader:

Several weeks ago, I approached my friend Jenny (not her real name) for information on how to get hooked up with a teaching position at one of the local community colleges. Jenny currently works at five different schools — three community colleges, one private university, and one online university. My guess was that if anyone could point me in the right direction, it would be her.

I always figured I’d end up in academia. While in graduate school, I taught a semester of undergraduate creative writing, but then after a few years in elementary-school classrooms, I gave up on the idea of teaching. Still, I keep it in my back pocket as a go-to if I absolutely have to do it again.

I approached Jenny not because things have gotten dire, but that the scramble from one freelance writing job to another is beginning to take its toll. I figure why not take it easy for a while, supplement my income with a consistent, guaranteed paycheck and balance out the uncertainty of the freelance life. And, yes, after years of living hand-to-mouth, I have lofty dreams of tweed, sabbaticals, retirement plans, and picking up the check while drinking beer with graduate students.

But, halfway through our conversation, after we’ve covered whom to contact, what to do with my résumé, and which schools not to bother with, Jenny knocks my professorial fantasy on its ass.

“It’s really political,” she says. “There’s an atmosphere where we don’t feel safe to talk [publicly] because we’re afraid our opinions and our thoughts can work against us. We’re constantly in this fear that this could hurt me from getting classes assigned next semester or my comments could hurt me when I’m trying to apply for a position.”

Apparently, this is the point when I become way too interested and change my posture from that of friend to reporter, because she stops speaking briefly to request anonymity.

“You can share that I’m not coming across as a rebel or a troublemaker,” she says, “but this is just how I see things and how I’ve experienced things so far.”

She goes on to explain that it’s not just the department chairs or hiring committees she’s afraid of upsetting; it’s also her fellow faculty members. Adjunct (or part-time, or “contingent”) faculty, she says, can be separated into two basic groups: the brown-nosers/optimists and the cynics/activists. Most of them want the same thing, a tenured or full-time position. But those positions are hard to come by, and the two groups are often at odds.

“I also don’t want to seem like I’m against my fellow colleagues who are in the struggle with me,” she says, “just because I see the positive.”

Read the full story here.