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I see you.
No no, don’t worry, I’m precariously employed too, so my seeing you won’t change your employment. I can’t do anything for you, though I would if I could. You don’t need to look like you’re working any harder than you already are just because I am looking in your direction. But know this: I see you. And you matter.
I see you, prepping for your classes every night until midnight (or later). I know you’re teaching more than regular faculty, because that’s how contracts work at your institution. I know you have six or more classes per year and that not a one of them is a repeat. And I know you’re working to make the lectures good, the material innovative and inspiring, and the discussions life-altering even though you’re struggling to get the reading done and the assignments graded.
I see you, teaching a class at this campus, and getting in your car or on public transit or in a carpool to make it across town/ across the city/ into the valley/ into another city/ to the next campus in time to teach the next group of students. And I see you try and smile when you do it. I see you, trying to jam research into the corners of your life that aren’t filled with prep for class.
I see you, not producing research, because there’s no time, or no money, or the very real understanding that maybe, just maybe, there’s no point.
I see you, taking on the book reviews, the peer reviews, the jury duties. And yes, I get it. I do it too, because it feels good to be asked. Because it feels good to participate in the profession. Because it can go on the CV. Because it means someone else sees you too. And yes, I know that you likely kick yourself for saying yes at least some of the time, because isn’t that feeding the imbalanced system? But I see you, because you care about the material. Because community. Because CV.
I see you, carrying your students’s assignments in your bag because you have no office/ share an office/ would rather meet in the library than try to schedule time at your shared desk.
I see your students call you “Miss” or by your first name even though you’ve asked to be called by your professional title.
I see those teaching evaluations — the quiet devastation they can bring — either by being better than the department average, or worse.
I see you, writing reference letters for students applying to for study abroad programs, to be residence dons, to get into graduate programs, for colleagues going up for tenure and promotion, and I know: it might be hard to figure out where to print the letters, because I know you don’t have access to photocopiers, scanners, printers, or, heck, hard copy letter head. Not all the time. Likely not after hours when you can do this work.
I see you, meeting with students on your own time or in office hours to talk about their plans for graduate school. I see you waffle, because you still care, because you believe in the work you do even though you’re being shut out, made provisional, living precariously. I see you do it anyway, and do it well.
I see you say no. I know what it costs you, that small action of agency, that protection of your time. I know that “no” is meant to be a proactive word for you, and I know the second-third-and-fourth guessing that accompanies every decision to use it.
I see you, applying for your own position. And I see you not get it, sometimes.
I see you, applying for postdoctoral fellowships, for grants, and asking for adjunct status if that grant is successful. I see you working extra, because the grant means you can do the work you love, and because the grant would mean that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got some leverage (but not a living wage). I see you wobble, because a successful grant may not end up meaning shit.
I see you, competing against your peers, your friends, your acquaintances for the one or two jobs in your area. I see you, writing those letters of application cringing at the lack of research, or, conversely, wondering if this time your well-rounded application will make it to the top. Or, if it matters, because maybe there is another contract academic faculty member who is the inside candidate, and it doesn’t matter. I see your frustration, and I want to say: it’s ok. We all want to be the inside candidate, even though we know that doesn’t always work out either.
I see the unfairness in the labyrinthine system in which we labour–or try to labour.
I see that you’re tired. I see that you’re trying. I see you, working so hard to be able to work.
You have more agency than you think, though its hard to think when you’re so busy or heartsick.
I see that these thoughts break your heart, and I see you wonder if it shows, if other people notice that you do still carry that little spark of hope that things will change.
Things will change, though they may not look they way you thought they would. We need to leave. And we need to stay, but under different working conditions. We need to organize ourselves, despite the extra work that requires. We can do it. We’re resourceful. We care. We can draw on the will and support of tenured colleagues and on organizations such as ACCUTE and CAUT and we can do something, though it won’t happen quickly. And, we can choose not to, we can choose to leave. And that is not a failure either.
But for now, dear CAF, know this: I see you. I care about you. I can’t fix anything for you by myself, but know that you’re not alone.
PS. Thanks to Lily for the love letter inspiration.
February 25 is National Adjunct Day of Action in universities across North America.
Erin Wunker is Chair of the Board of CWILA and a contract academic faculty member at Dalhousie University in Halifax. She is also co-founder and editrix of one our favourite post-secondary education blogs, Hook & Eye, where this letter first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.