Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Legend of the Yellow Rotary Phone

Movies, video games, and television transport us back to era’s past.  Like most 80’s kids watching Guardians of the Galaxy made me yearn for a Walkman and briefly regret throwing out my awesome cassette collection.  

Likewise, Antiques Road Show and American Pickers reminds us that sometimes-retaining objects can result in them increasing in value.  Collectables are not always predictable or many of my loved ones beanie baby collections would have replaced their pensions. 

Instead, the monetary value of collectables is measured only in their ability to evoke meaning from a specific culture or era, a feeling people are willing to pay to recapture.  Sometimes people see a be-be-gun or comic book and return to a time when they felt safe, loved, or innocent.

When I helped my grandmother plan her 50th wedding anniversary celebration we sorted and scanned hundreds of family photos.  In these photos my own likeness peered back through decades of my aunties, grandmothers, and cousins sitting together in my great-great-great-aunt’s Formica kitchen table.  In that kitchen, that forgot it was once a porch, existed an object that exuded for me a feeling of safety and love: my aunts yellow rotary phone.

Even in black and white photos it is easy to spot my treasured yellow phone as a permanent fixture in the periphery.  The kitchen where that phone hung no longer exists.  As I wrote in a recent blog Honey’s house on East California was bulldozed for commercial zoning.

The empty dirt lot that is left where the modest house once stood still makes me sad.  But I remind myself that bulldozers cannot take away traditions that remind us who we are.  A few days ago I turned 33 and enjoyed a quiet celebration with my twin and our husbands at the same ice cream parlor we have frequented since our youth.  My aunt Honey, the owner of the legendary phone, left to be with Jesus almost ten years ago we still feel her presence when we celebrate our birthday the way we use to with her.

The day following our dinner my mother came for an impromptu visit from out of town.  I am not embarrassed to write that I ugly snot cried when I opened my gift and found my aunt’s yellow phone inside.  Before the construction crews started work on the house my mother drove down to Bakersfield and harvested windows, doorknobs, and one magical banana yellow rotary phone. 

I do not have a landline to connect my new vintage phone because as I described above it is not about being practical.  To me this phone is a mystical object that has been cradled by generations of Cruz women.  The same women who held babies, constructed tamales, and shared their lives through its receiver.  I know it is only an old rotary phone but for me it represents joy. 

I will keep you all posted as I attempt mounting locations for my yellow phone at its new home.    
Me with Legendary Yellow Phone post Ugly Snot Cry 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why we need to retire the Old Adjunct: What I Learned at an International Conference about Organizing Contingent Labor

The simple classroom could have been located in any of the four countries represented in the room, if not for the New York skyline in the backdrop.  The dry erase board in the front of the room was cluttered with social justice terminology.  Half of the 25 people in the room had their arm extended indicating their desire to speak.  This was not a room of eager students but contingent educators brainstorming about the media.

The conversation started with input from an editor of an education news agency.  The presenter proclaimed that daily newspapers do not care about social justice and doing education right.  Instead, the media wants to discuss higher education as a “consumer issue.”  Simply stated, the guest journalist communicated that most media is not interested in the plight of college teachers.

It is difficult to explain labor issues to a public that largely is unaware of the existence of part-time professors.  The claim from our expert was clear: when talking to the media teacher victimization is not a popular pitch.  After decades of fighting for job security it is time to retire the adage of the “poor adjunct.”

As the conversation shifted the audience came alive.  The room was a flutter with ideas of how to illuminate the research, artwork, and teaching accolades of adjuncts. 

Then, a millennial peered her head from behind her MacBook and asked the audience to consider her generation.  She shared that she was “not interested in her teachers’ scholarly research” but instead just wanted a “good teacher.”  A room filled with brilliant educators now had to shift gears to not only change the way they tell their stories to media and also, consider a younger audience.

In a few days I will turn 33 and I have spent the last nine years as an adjunct lecturer.  One of the best parts of being at an international labor conference was gaining insight and context from other adjuncts, some which have been teaching longer than I have been alive.  The title of this blog post was not intended to be ageist towards these trailblazing leaders but hopefully get you to read its content on this important issue.  We need to keep our history alive and retire the old messages that work against us.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Survival Mentality of an Adjunct Professor:
The Dream of a House with 2 Bathrooms

The daughter of a single teenage mother my early years were transient.  There were always at least three people in our apartment and only one bathroom.  One thing I have known since I was small child is that when I grew up I would live somewhere with more than one bathroom.  Another passion that emerged early was my desire to be an educator.

In 2006 I was hired as a full-time adjunct professor at a state college in central California.  As the sole breadwinner for my family I was lucky to be teaching in my hometown that has one of the lowest costs of living in the state.  After two years of teaching I was able to buy my first home and was living my two lifelong dreams—a house with 2 full baths and a teaching job in higher education. 

Everyone knows what happens next in this story: the market crashed in 2008.

The moving vans descended and within months our street filled with loud children and barking dogs went quiet.  When the smoke cleared there were only two of the original families left on a street once filled with young working families.

At the University where I work the faculty offices emptied as quickly as the houses on my street.  I remember my University President boasted to local media that our campus had not had any lay-offs.  This is technically true because adjunct faculty are not considered permanent employees. This means, if we never get asked to teach again they do not have to call it “firing.”  Like the empty yards, empty offices created a sense of loss and fear especially for the junior or temporary faculty like myself: to keep my dream career and home I worked harder than ever.  

I did not get to keep my job just because I worked hard.  There are plenty of hard working educators in higher education that were not so lucky.  I was able to keep my job because to protect junior faculty other professors: retired early, increased class sizes, agreed to voluntary furloughs, increased service work, and fought harder as faculty activists.  

*Photo of from 2011 of myself and daughter creating poster at a protest to protect CSU faculty.  

As an adjunct faculty member the majority of my academic career has been spent fighting to remain in my classroom.  This week I am attending the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL XI) in New York to regroup with international contingent faculty to discuss now that I am still where I belong, what comes next. 

My mental model has been about quality education and survival.  This week I hope the conversation with fellow activists will be about both overcoming my fears and developing a plan for a future.  A plan where my expertise are valued and I am no longer treated as though I am expendable.