A Professor’s Views and What Comes Next
The APPIC resulted in the layoffs of 116 professors, some of whom were just beginning their time at IC. The following is an interview with a recently hired professor whose time at IC, secured through a rigorous and competitive selection process, was cut short by the APPIC and the Senior Leadership Team. Please note that, in order to protect their identity, this professor elected to remain anonymous. The Buzzsaw editorial staff wholeheartedly support this decision and wish for them to find a professional community where they will be respected and valued.
Mae McDermott, Buzzsaw Editor: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and involvement and time at IC?
Anonymous Professor: Despite being here for not very long, I’ve gotten involved in as many committees and initiatives as I had time for—I was really excited to become part of this community, so I jumped right in.
MM: The APPIC layoffs are changing lives on many levels and in ways that are still unfolding. It may seem like an overly simple question, but it’s arguably the most important one: how are you doing?
Prof: I’m ok. When I first got the news, I was devastated, and it’s been a long process coming back to where I’m ok.
MM: You’re in the unforeseen position of having to teach after having already been given notice. I would imagine this semester has been rife with tension because every day, you’re fulfilling an obligation to an institution that has already made a final value judgment on you, one that has probably majorly affected your life. How has this been for you? How would you characterize your relationship to IC and your relationship with this semester? How are you balancing your obligation to students with your obligation to take care of yourself and your future?
Prof: This is an excellent question and one that I’ve been thinking about lately. First, it’s been difficult to gather motivation to go above and beyond the minimum requirements for my job. I question how much energy I’m willing to give right now, especially when the pandemic has drained so much of it. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not my students’ fault; I continue to show up and teach and guide just as I did last semester. The value judgment, though, is also demoralizing in other ways. I feel as if I was never needed in the first place and was always expendable. My life matters less than the budget.
MM: You only started teaching here recently, so I would imagine it’s been very strange to have such an aspirational time—what should have been the beginning of a very long stay—cut short. Can you tell me a little bit about how you’ve been processing the APPIC as an educator looking to find a new home in academia?
Prof: I’m stressed. We have lost 650,000 [jobs in higher ed] across the country due to the pandemic. This means that I’m competing against so many more people than normal in an already competitive job market. I’m also thinking about how demoralized and strained surviving departments are going to be; even if I find a new home in academia, I might be walking into newly formed toxicities that emerge when departments lose funding, lose colleagues and lose morale. Competition, insecurity and low motivation among remaining faculty will affect how much support I will get as a new faculty member in those departments. I am scared I won’t find a job. I’m scared I’ll get a job out of sheer, desperate necessity, only to end up somewhere miserable. I’m scared that the past few months being a new faculty member will have been the highlight of my career, at least for a while.
Honestly, this whole chapter has made me reconsider academia as a career path. While I will grieve my scholarship and the loss of an intellectual community, I will seriously consider moving to industry, and leaving academia entirely. Administrations have shown their cards and their priorities, and I don’t find myself aligning with their values.
MM: What drew you to IC? What were your first impressions? How do those first impressions compare to your impressions now?
Prof: This place felt like home within moments during my campus visit. My colleagues have exactly the same values and disposition as myself—they are creative, passionate, dedicated to social justice and believe in community. The students I met and taught during my teaching demo were bright, engaging and kind. I still feel the same way about my colleagues and students.
I have lost respect and trust in the college as a whole, however. I have already begun ignoring emails from the Senior Leadership Team (SLT). I just don’t care what they have to say. When I do pay attention, I get upset all over again. For example, IC announced that it is building a Physician Assistant program. Why are we building new programs when the rationale behind the cuts was to save money, and entire programs are being cut? The language of the announcement is revealing; they mention how in-demand PA jobs are right now. The goal, then, is to build a prospective donor base. PA’s will earn more than liberal arts graduates, so they have shifted away from a liberal arts focus to direct resources to STEM. In that case, APPIC cuts weren’t really about cuts, but about desired profit.
Even if all of these cuts were necessary, the SLT could have chosen to be honest instead of euphemistic, inclusive of faculty input (and help! We had ideas for fundraising) instead of dispensing with shared governance, and supportive instead of denigrating faculty who raised rightful concerns – I refer here to the letter the SLT published in Inside Higher Ed about just how unfairly they were being treated by faculty who were losing their livelihoods. These decisions might have gone over better if we’d gotten the slightest sense that the SLT was apologetic and empathetic, if they demonstrated integrity, if they had convinced us that they really did everything they could to save as many jobs as possible.
MM: Probably, the best support you could get would have come from administration. But what can your students and colleagues do to support you right now?
Prof: I think it’s a drain on our energy and morale to expect anything at all from the administration; they are not listening, it’s not worth your emotional health to keep expecting them to show up for us. Recently, we were told that terminated adjunct faculty, our already vulnerable colleagues, will not even be able to access library resources and other IC resources after their term ends. The effect on their scholarship (and on their careers, subsequently) will be substantial, as you might imagine. Without open library access, journal articles and books become really expensive. On top of being terminated, it’s salt on the wound.
The best thing the rest of us can do is continue to show up for one another. Checking in and asking how you’re doing, looking for positivity and strength in unexpected places and simply being compassionate are the best things we can do right now. I have allowed all my students as many extensions as they need, and they can make up missed assignments much later than during a normal semester. I have to remind myself that I still have my colleagues, who have shown unimpeachable support. I am lucky to still have a paycheck, a home and my health, which is more than others have right now. Counting our blessings and daily gratitude are the best forms of resilience against the threat of bitterness and cynicism.
MM: Is there anything else you’ve been thinking about lately that you would like to share?
Prof: If you’re a student, remember this time, and what happened here. The biggest tool that administrations wield is that of time. They see this as a temporary period, and things will eventually blow over as everyone gets used to the new normal. Be wary of their attempts to use PR to repair their image. Email and Intercom rhetoric is already acting as if nothing has happened. Be careful of falling for messaging that all of this is somehow being done in your name or for your benefit—remember that they just want your tuition and housing dollars more than they want to support the educational infrastructure that makes you want to come here in the first place. Students want their professors to stay, and that desire is being blatantly ignored. Make them accountable for that not just in the coming days or weeks or months, but in the coming years. Leave behind a record of your feelings here, so incoming students know what they are up against, and how they are perceived by those in power. Don’t forget any of this.