It Don’t Come Easy: Thoughts on the Citizen Phase of Academic Life

This past academic year we worked through the effects of state funding decisions, demographic changes and longer-term institutional decisions that have had a direct effect on faculty numbers and the positions of professional and operating staff at Keene State College. As a department chair, I had been working hard with my dean and other chairs to adjust long-term staffing patterns with the realities of changes to the institution. My job included talking with adjunct faculty who we were unable to keep at full time.

 

And then, in the spring, a letter to the editor in the student newspaper appeared, an impassioned and mostly incoherent response to changes from a member of the adjunct faculty. The attractive justification of “plain human decency,” as the outraged letter from the adjunct put it, was running up against a number of staffing and curriculum changes that aligned with strategic goals of the institution. Students took the brunt of the budget contraction at the College (we lost 45% of our appropriation) that reduced our operating budget. Tuition increases made up 29% of the 6.4 million. The remaining cuts of 4,540,000 broke out into operating cuts, unfunded initiatives and use of reserves (52%), budgeted positions and benefit reductions and deferred salary increases (39%) and cuts to the adjunct faculty budget (9%).  Difficult decisions all around, very real decisions, with consequences for friends and colleagues.

 

For over a decade I have been involved in professional conversations about staffing and adjunct faculty in the MLA. As someone who pays attention to the national conversations about higher education, then, these decisions and consequences were not unexpected. It was also the case that the meaning of adjunct faculty (and the demeaning of the definition of faculty that is embedded in the fact of contingency) became very, very real.

So I thought that I would begin a thread here as a tenured full professor and department chair negotiating the challenges of working with colleagues (faculty and administration) to make decisions that don’t come easy. Those of us who are actively participating in the life of the institution, experiencing changes that benefit students and the long-term viability of public education, might share stories about what we call the Citizen Phase of Academic Life–with the hopes of offering a humane and decent approach to living with challenges and change.