The last few weeks have been hard. I still keep reaching for my phone to text or talk to Jean. Everything everyone said about your first year as a full-time professor being tough has been true. The learning curve is straight up: from learning how to decode university- and location-based acronyms and prep for classes to figuring out how to juggle the demands of teaching, service, and scholarship and strategize about how to find a parking spot, I’ve been spending more time at my office than at home, and I’m exhausted. Add the pressure from changing policies in teacher certification requirements to that mix, and, well, my head is spinning. The truly wonderful news in all of this is that I love my colleagues. I love my students, too, but my colleagues in particular are incredibly hard-working, brilliant people who know their stuff inside and out. I feel honored to walk among them every day.
When Jean and I started talking — roughly a year ago — about where I wanted to end up as a professor, I thought out loud about my fears of being able to be an activist in higher education. She assured me that there would plenty of opportunities, and indeed she was right. Today, I had the opportunity to attend a union meeting as the representative for my department.
The last contract, ratified earlier this calendar year, was a tricky one for the constituents: it includes a number of givebacks — some of which are overt and some of which are covertly vague. All come from the same place: to make us work more for less pay. I walked away from the meeting feeling a little bleak. Morale is very low.
And then a few things happened. I remembered back in 2004 (or thereabouts) when I started as an adjunct at Pace University, and helped organize a union there. I thought back on being a delegate in the United Federation of Teachers in the years that followed, and organizing actions with coworkers. None of it was easy, and we didn’t win every fight, but we found opportunities to organize together and be heard. I’m not sure what’s in store here at SUNY New Paltz, but people are angry and understandably so. I wonder what Jean would say…
A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I took photos with our favorite books to post on a bulletin board in the department. As you already know, Jean’s teaching, activism, and mentorship made an enormous impact on me — how I teach, what I teach, and why. Her call to action in Radical Possibilities is so relevant for me today: we won’t have a voice unless we collectively find one.