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Homeless Adjunct: Building Community from Brokenness

I’m thinking a lot about Jean Vanier these days; I’m working on some posts about his work here at the start of what I hope will be a break-out moment for the Adjunct Nation:

I’m also convinced now that my work in the 90s was also an annoucement of this moment in the Adjunct Nation (Dartmouth MA thesis, “The (Subversion of the ) Imperial Will: A Study of Power in Selected Works by Herman Melville)

I’ve long contended that Ishmael’s narrative is a study in psychic and post-colonial resistance to the imperial will of Ahab. Problem: in retelling the story of the White Whale, Ishmael pretty much goes insane–more a shuffle than a step away from the suicidal tendencies (“pistol and ball”) he describes at the start of the novel.

Couldn’t resist (wink).

Wendy wrote on OCTOBER 19, 2012 AT 2:42 AM (I have edited it solely for formatting purposes; my eyes are very tired these days. So, this helps me see/hear her more clearly.)

Great to see you are putting forth some new publications and that you are influencing so many people in the blogsphere. |

This stuff is sooooooo important. Open communication from you guys is so important, because as you know, the classic tactic of the university is to isolate you so that you believe it is really you who is mad and not institution. |

Yes, maddness. They work you so hard for so long that eventually you become “irrationally” attached to your subject, as Pannapacker states. |

But I believe that this “love” is something that happens, in part, because there really is very little else on which to hang your hat. How, for example, can you become “irrationally” attached to your office, as many ftime profs are, if you are never given any space? How can you become “irrationally” attached to a good salary when you receive so little per course? And not being “irrationally” attached to your subject can also result in poor teaching evaluations, so what seems to be an “irrational love,” for one’s subject, might be a very rational response to an irrational situation. |

So maddness is a necessary component for subjugation, and this is done through the anonymous, equally subjugated student who has every reason to feel they too are in some sort of mad house not of their own making. I believe this is why the conversations in my classes have been so intense, because of the maddness of that very moment, the insanity of paying someone nothing, by an audience who has no money to give. |

Is it a conversation between desperate people trying to hold on to a ship that is tipping over even as the captain tries to steer the course [?] |

^^^^^ this is the one I’m focusing on next after some more business/corporate writing today and tomorrow

And the ones who are the most insane are not even there. They are the ones evaluating all of this maddness and giving it a score. |

Surely they should see the shock and desperation in their students eyes, yet they do not. Surely they hear the voice of the voiceless adjunct as they are forced to keep teaching because they can find nothing else, yet they do not. This too is maddness. The organization chart says that someone is driving the ship, but in fact, I believe there no one is driving the ship. |

We are adrift. We are insane. And we cannot allow ourselves to feel what is happening to us, or we cannot chart the maddness. I have seen both adjuncts and tt profs destroyed by this system, and I am convinced that any sane person cannot survive it. |

The other day, my sister told me I looked like a bagperson in my second hand clothes, and I said to her, why should I try to convince my students that this situation is any different than it is? Why should they not evaluate me on the content of my character and not the color of my clothes? And yet, I know these things are so important to administration. You must look like a professional and yet, we will give you no money to look like one. Maddness.

[end Wendy]
Here’s the reply I posted to one part of her amazing comments:

Dear Wendy,

so much to say.
so little space or time to say it.
the FoxNews story is going to break and I still have a lot of prepping to do.

Regardless, let’s start here.

Talk a bit as the sound of invading trolls swells in the darkness.

//The other day, my sister told me I looked like a bagperson in my second hand clothes, and I said to her, why should I try to convince my students that this situation is any different than it is? Why should they not evaluate me on the content of my character and not the color of my clothes? And yet, I know these things are so important to administration. You must look like a professional and yet, we will give you no money to look like one. Maddness.//

First, thank you.
Thank you for your work.
Thank you for staying in the game.
You are so important; your work is so important; your voice is so important.
You are a blessing to your students, to your friends and family, to yourself.
In the language of my mentor Avital Ronell, you are a dear one, my friend.

From suffering we create community. Together and only together can we talk about how the Adjunct and the homeless person have more in common than the adjunct and the Full-Time Faculty and Administrators. At least, right now, at this minute there are more parallels. I wish it were different. I really do. I reflect and rail about this all the time; I’m not doing it in public to, quite frankly, save my sanity.

FOX NEWS SPECIAL REPORT w/ BRET BAIER as therapy? Or, deeper insanity? I guess we’ll find out, won’t we. :)

As a member of DC Coalition for the Homeless in the late 80s, early 90s and someone who regularly volunteered for The Haven in White River Junction back in the 90s and early 00s, I can say without any hesitation that we do have more in common with the homeless than even I would like to admit.

We do not know how to plan our financial lives one moment to the next. We’re barely employed, contingent, at-will. We create micro-economies with our families, friends, states, nation, churches, synagogues, mosques, etc. We are ashamed by what we’re able to afford in the way of clothes and food and apartments and homes and (laughing) ever owning a home. We’re confused and exhaused; explaining this situation in it’s most basic terms is tiring because the very thing that enobles us as professors is what can hurt us in public — saying too much, too fast, with too much passion to an audience conditioned to receive bullet points, crisis points, and perennial missed-the-points.

But, we as long as we say “yes, I have more in common with the overnight off-the-books teams of cleaners at restaurants” and say “yes, that woman pushing that cart is me in two months if I am not paid for my work exactly what I am due” and say “yes, I am homeless in the world right now as we move from one university to another, one college in one section of the country to another.”

Oh. And while I’m on the subject: the biggest connection we have with a homeless family or person is sharing the burden of answering this question, which I did on Fox when Chris Wallace asked: “Why don’t you just move? Move to where you can find more work?” My response was laughter and a firm (paraphrasing): No. You can pay me for my work and then we discuss my geographical preferences.

Or something like that.

I believe I followed up — I blanked a bit here and there, it was such a bizarre experience that I grew to somewhat enjoy — with a discussion of how much it costs to move to an area where the adjunct pool is stuffed with equally qualified, economically strapped, and professionally disrespected PhDs. At least in VT and NH, the PhD had a lot of currency until right around the time I completed mine (laughing).

Hope that gets us off to a good start. I’ll do a better job watching these conversations as I try to manage what will amount to the single greatest electronic swarm in my career.


The Hobbit opens this weekend.
I think that’s perfect.
An unlikely hero going on an impossible journey which will change the course of history.
I’m either completely delusional or dead on, either way, I’ve definitely lost my mind. :) :) :)

“Going out of our minds” (Sonja Johnson) is a great first step!!

About Dean RCB

Dean of Academics Lebanon College Philosophy and Integrated Liberal Arts Writer & Producer (theatre, television, film) Composer & Producer RCB lives in the Upper Valley with his wife and four boys.

3 responses to “Homeless Adjunct: Building Community from Brokenness

  1. This whole conversation should take place in the converence room just a few feet away from Bartleby’s scrivener’s desk. 🙂

  2. Greg ⋅

    Is Ishmael’s boat a computer screen or a cellular classroom?
    (Either/or fallacy warning…,)
    Are we crazy or awake?


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