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Spring 2017 & then…

Wednesday: May 10, 2017

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This semester just ended! I had two intro to physical anthropology classes that ran nary a hitch. I also had an upper level bioanthropology course with an accompanying bioanthropology and forensics lab. It was another new course for me, and the book I had to blindly select once again ran a little too close to the information in the intro book I use, though it did go more in depth.

For my intro book, I use Kilgore et al.’s Essentials of Physical Anthropology. For my upper level, I chose Larsen’s Our Origins. What I was able to do, though, is run through all the stuff I cover in intro quickly as a refresher (and included all the new more in-depth stuff) and then slow down with the brand new material. I did add material here and there as well. For the lab, I used Walker-Pacheco’s Exploring Physical Anthropology lab manual, though at times I made my own labs. And for the forensics component, I added Nafte’s Flesh and Bone. It made for a great little reader; since the focus of the course isn’t on forensic anthropology, it was just enough.

Other than a few hang-ups with how long each lab took (I never quite got them to fit within the preferred time frame), the class went well.

So overall, the semester was nice. In fact, one Friday afternoon I was in our lab organizing things and I decided to go all in for teaching. Why not? I am the only full-time anthropologist on campus, and the only physical anthropologist. We have one cultural adjunct who has been steady for years, and another that is hit and miss. Though my Visiting position was limited to a two-year term, my department expected me to be extended to three years, and they were pushing to have the Visiting part of my title dropped so that I would be sticking around much longer. I had been contemplating turning it all down, but with the realization that teaching doesn’t have to suck the life out of you if you are actually given time to prep and classes you are experienced in to teach, and the fact that I would be getting a new Chair who was able to stay on top of things, I decided I should in fact just suck it up and act like a more permanent feature of the department. I did in my actions, but it was time to do so in my head.

So off to the faculty organization meeting I went, thinking about the perspective shift I would need to do in my mind. Afterward I checked my email and lo, my Dean had sent me a note earlier that morning reminding me that my contract was ending. He asked if I would like to stay on as an adjunct in the fall.

I confirmed this news with my colleague (who would be Chair). A huge disappointment all around. I notified our students because quite frankly, I was personally pissed. Not that I was losing my job – in fact, it was amazing I even got the opportunity with only a Master’s (though this is part and parcel to some of the issues I discovered there: the path of least resistance and how I just happened to be there at the right time) and I was aware that it had a 2 year limit when I signed on. Instead, I was angry because as a former student, as a mentor to these students, and as a sane professional, how could the University offer a bachelor’s program without any full time staff? This is the type of stuff I found in the news on and off during my searches about how crappy adjuncting is. Here is an article at the AAA’s Ethics Blog that pretty much summarizes the issue: Fighting Academia’s Contingency Crisis Together. Of course I was professional when I discussed it with them – I asked them not to panic and simply explained how it may affect them (lack of mentorship, lack of letters of recommendation, lack of consistency in courses offered, possible lack of quality of courses because of the trials adjuncts experience to survive in our economy, etc). The students opted to write letters, as did my department. None of it was about me keeping my job – I made it very clear that my contract was over and it was completely fair on the University’s part (even if it didn’t make sense under the circumstances).

I have yet to hear what the University’s plans are (and may never), but it is difficult to remain positive for the program. I declined adjuncting – I would still be expected to carry the load of the physical courses (some outside of my area, and developing new courses) and I would not feel right asking our sociologists whom we share the department with to take over as advisor to the anthropology club or lab and whatnot, so I knew that if I stayed on, I would just enable the current situation further and be paid even less than pennies for a job well done. No thanks.

They notified me mid-semester and it did indeed take the wind out of my sails. Why was I making a brand new class? It was hard to convince myself to stay a good educator, but I think I succeeded overall. It wasn’t the fault of my students and they did not deserve what the University was doing (basically not supporting their major, yet taking their money).

I shifted my perspective – it was nice they told me so early so that I could begin a job search. What happened at the University was no longer my problem.

At the end of the semester, though, they asked if I wanted my contract extended throughout the summer. Curious they didn’t realize they needed me until the last moment, but I was not surprised if I am being honest. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was a science class online (I totally oppose that), and that I would have to develop it since I had never taught it online (besides I hate online classes – as a former student of them and as a teacher of them), and that it started in just a few weeks, I may have considered it more seriously. Instead I politely turned down the offer. I mean, I have been looking for opportunities since they notified me, and it is more important I pursue what I like than throw the towel in for another few months with a company that can’t get it together in my opinion.

It is a bittersweet ending because although teaching is a humongous cosmic joke for me, I excelled at it – I am not ashamed to say that (real funny, Fate!). It is disappointing that I finally came around to the idea to then have the rug pulled from under my feet. It is sad that I can no longer help our region’s students learn how to learn and build the confidence in themselves that they apparently weren’t given within their own support networks. It’s terrible I can’t share my love of anthropology daily with people who have no choice but to listen (ha!). It’s frustrating that the University doesn’t support a major that is more vital today than possibly ever under our new administration and the increasing globalization of our world.

But… though I am nervous about the unknown future, a smile keeps appearing on my face. I am free of the mess of academia (I am not searching for another teaching position). Since the very beginning, I have been confused by how it operates. “Ivory Tower”, indeed – the whole system doesn’t make sense to me, a person who has been “in the real world” as I like to say, at a corporation that mostly made sense in their doings. I am free of the particulars I discovered with this specific University (some which had not been changed since I was a student). I find it humorous that I have been assigned an office in the new building for the fall, by the way. I wonder if I have a name plaque?

So my future plans are this: I have not been job searching. Boy and I had some serious discussions about it and he needs help at his office more regularly than I was giving him while teaching. But it is only part time. My mother-in-law runs a candy store, so I can once again help her out here and there when needed. Again, part-time. The plan for now is to see how bored I get. There is a ton of things to do around the house that was post-poned when I began teaching and me doing it will be cheaper than hiring people. I joined an embroidery guild and will possibly delve deeper with the EGA, learning about the history of stitches and what-not through their education programs. I will focus on my arts & crafts side.

And then I will get bored. So in the back of my mind I have another list: I am free now to actually be a legit volunteer at the Field Museum; I found a community development center that focuses on adult education and English as a second language so I might work there; I can seriously look into archaeological CRM work, or perhaps join DNR at the Dunes (once the current administration realizes the importance of DNR anyway); I can get a second Master’s degree or jump in to a PhD (Boy’s least favorite, of course). Essentially, I’ll be looking casually for experiences until I become bored or money becomes an issue.

What I won’t be doing is looking back at my teaching experience and regretting anything (even the Year From Hell last year). In fact, I can now claim that I made the University pay me back all the money I spent on it and then some, ha!

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