Friday, May 3, 2013

What would Zora do?

I never expected to be Zora from Zanesville, but the moniker feels just right. It's an honor and a privilege, of course, to share a name with the cosmic Zora herself, although I don't know whether Zora Neale Hurston ever visited Zanesville. I have, however, visited a few of Zora's spots and places and I appreciate her candor, humor, and boundless energy. I can proclaim, with the cosmic Zora, that "I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands." I generally prefer to wield the harp, but when the time comes to unsheath the sword, look out.

I've looked at academe from both sides now, from adjunct to tenured full professor to pseudo-semi-administrator, and all in all, I'd rather be teaching. I served as an adjunct at the Zanesville Institute for Hamster-Case Fabrication and Welding, where I shared a cubicle with 37 other adjuncts and where, two days before the semester started, as I was photocopying syllabi for my two scheduled courses, the department chair told me that (oops!) she had forgotten to mention (so sorry!) that those sections had been assigned to someone else.

And then I moved my adjuncting ass on over to the Zanesville College of Gerbil Arts and Hamster Resource Engineering, a pseudo-SLAC in rural MidAmerica where I wanted to fall on my knees and kiss the department chair's feet the first time I saw my office. Yes! A real office! With a desk and bookshelves and windows--plural!--and best of all, a door I could lock! All this and a paycheck too!

So I've stayed at ZCGAHRE long enough to claw my way into a t-t position and, eventually, the department chair's office, and then I slid over into administration to direct an exciting new program, a job I loved until a change of administration made it clear that I no longer shared the Vision of the Associate Dean for Blaming Faculty for Every Little Thing, whose Vision for the exciting no-longer-new program involved stomping it into the ground, which relegated me to just teaching. (Just!)

Not that I am bitter.

The cosmic Zora was never bitter, or if she was, she masked her bitterness behind humor. I think of her when I encounter the director of admissions and beg him to please please please not send me any more students who can't read and he says, "Do you want a raise this fall or not?"--and neither one of us is joking. I think of her when the director of the highly lauded and lucrative Hamster Resource Engineering program demands that my department create a course that will satisfy a particular General Education requirement while allowing every single one of his precious HRE majors to earn an easy A--and again, he's not joking. And I think of her when a very special snowflake sits in my office demanding that I overlook obvious academic dishonesty because "it's not like I'll ever need to know this shit."

What would Zora do--play the harp or draw the sword? Given the choice, I think I'd rather juggle.


  1. One of my favorite quotes in the world is from ZNH: "Love, I find, is like singing. We can all do enough to satisfy ourselves, though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much."
    I don't offer that as a solution to your predicament, just to say welcome!

  2. Hi Zora. Get ready to be confused with Nora Zeale Hurston all the time. :) Can't tell you how many times my students refer to her as "Nora Zeale." Sigh.

    Welcome: if it's my choice, it's the sword, every time!

  3. Welcome, Zora! (I, too, have positive associations with that name). It strikes me that, between you and Suzy (formerly a dean at Square State U), CM is assembling a brain trust of renegade former administrators. I appreciate having that perspective available; it's helpful to both to know how responsible administrators think, and to have people who might offer insight into the motives of (and/or translations of the edubabble emanating from) the less responsible ones.

    Your Horrible Adjunct Experience is even worse than mine: I just showed up for a January organizational meeting of a course of which I'd taught 3 sections in the fall, to find that only 1 of my sections was continuing for the spring (apparently delivering lectures on videotape, with pauses for discussion led by adjuncts -- an early version of what some people seem to be envisioning with MOOCs -- wasn't going over so well with the students, who were voting in droves with their feet). For me, too, a major part of the shock was that nobody had bothered to tell me (I suppose a more experienced adjunct would have been anxiously monitoring enrollment in whatever way was available c. 1994, but I wasn't experienced). I burst into tears, much to the discomfort of the faculty member running the meeting (and, of course, to my own discomfort, especially since I'm not generally given to such reactions). At least I hadn't been writing a syllabus, since we were working from a common one, and any work I had done was still useful for my one section (but receiving 1/3 of the pay I expected was, of course, not so useful to my budget, or my attempts to both support myself and finish a dissertation).

    1. Thanks for the warm welcome, all! And Cassandra, it's been a long time so I don't recall exactly but I'm sure tears were involved in the Horrible Adjunct Experience. Later, when I was in a position to hire adjuncts, I resolved to avoid exploiting adjunct labor, but the problems are so systemic that's there's not much one department chair can do besides treat contingent instructors like actual human beings instead of teaching machines. I don't know whether I ever made an instructor cry, but I certainly never pulled the rug out from anyone at the last minute either.