Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Loyalty or Desperation, Revisited

In honor of the job numbers coming out of the MLA regarding potential jobs for all of us PhDs and ABDs, I want to reexamine an idea I put forward this summer. Last July, I wrote about how loyalty to a university can just as easily mask desperation in contingent faculty (the university that I mention in the post is not the same university where I am currently working). But I have been rethinking the ideas of loyalty and/or desperation in faculty members as it relates to the students I teach. I hope and wish that my institution would show loyalty towards me because of the loyalty I feel towards its students.

I have moved around quite a bit during my career. Being one half of an academic couple has lead to my traveling to multiple universities for work. But I am tired of moving around, tired of learning and relearning a new academic culture, and, most of all, I am tired of never knowing how the students I have taught have done in their academic careers. Teaching developmental writing, especially, creates a type of bond for me; I have invested a great deal of time and effort getting to know these students and trying to help them be successful in college. And I want to be there for them if they ever need me during their four or five more years in college. I want to be readily available to write letters for them if a reference is ever needed. I want to help my student who wants to get a PhD in Economics achieve that goal, even if it is just cheering him on from the sidelines. And I want to be there at graduation when they cross the stage and finally achieve their goal of getting a degree and becoming a teacher, a nurse, a vet tech, or whatever else they are hoping to do with their education.

But I can't do that, at least not easily, if I am not employed at the university. I told my students that even if I didn't have a job on campus next year or beyond, chances are I'd still be around because my husband is on the tenure-track and we have just bought a house in town. But how much weight would a letter carry from a former instructor, versus a current one? How easily could they track me down to ask for help, guidance, or a pep-talk, or would they even bother, if my campus email was shut down and I no longer had an office? I hope that I am still an employee, even as an instructor off the tenure-track, for many more years, not only for myself, but for the students I have taught and will teach.

My loyalty is to them. Many of them have come from very difficult situations, and I really want to help them succeed, or at a minimum smile proudly when their names are called and they cross the stage to receive their diploma, knowing I had played a small role in helping them achieve that goal. So, to my institution I say, your students have won me over. Now, are you going to show me a little bit of loyalty in return?

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