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Dodging a Seventy-Five Cent Toll



for Alex Kudera



Dear Alex,

Thank you for including my comments on your blog as well as promoting the thinking/thanking model I’m trying very hard to practice here in the prelude to Fox News Special Report.

I’ve found such affinity and joy connecting with other writers, adjuncts, and even, dare I say, “fans,” over these past months. This past week, and I suspect across next week’s news cycle, maybe, will find me participating in the media rugby match of a lifetime. Or maybe no one will show up to the tournament. It’s hard to know.

Like rugby, the best moments happen when small bands of brothers and sisters find each other in the midst of chaos and push the ball downfield against impossible odds. (Umm: unlike football, we welcome without any hesitation any woman who wants to get in and scrum. Same for the rugby parties, too!)

But, the post to which Alex refers []startled me out of mediated hypertext and telephonic discourse. It brought me right back to the day before I blew another transmission in yet another hand-me-down not-so-gently used sedan I used to drive from Vermont to southern New Hampshire.

I remembered the feeling of helplessness, not understanding that I would have to wait five weeks for my first check, the longest I had to wait for pay at any job I performed since high school. Given that I was hired to teach my maxed-out nine credits with three weeks lead time before the start of Fall 2003 (this happened again during the intercession of Summer 2011, right before my last regular adjunct contract) I was sure I would see a check before October. Not true.

I scrounged for change. Asked for an alternative route to take on my way back north on I-93. Not only would I skip breakfast and lunch that day, I would need to avoid the toll. I would not be able to find another seventy-five cents. At that time, I didn’t know anyone well enough to even ask for a dollar. Pride, back then, was a real obstacle. I should’ve asked for a dollar. But, instead, I drove around the toll that night, puttered north to the Upper Valley on I-89.

Dodging a seventy-five cent toll.


You would’ve thought at that point, at the beginning of this disaster, I would’ve realized just how insane it was to accept these conditions. And I did. We all did. It was what you did. To get more contracts, you shut your mouth. You sucked up to the Dean or Associate Dean or the Program Coordinator. You didn’t think in terms of labor abuse not because that wasn’t precisely what had happened already; you simply couldn’t see yourself as someone capable of fitting the description of an abused worker. That happened to other people, other professions. Not the professor, not the academic. And certainly not someone with such an impressive and elite set of email and telephone contacts.

You saw yourself as a special class of worker.

[You] don’t get to claim abuse.

[You are an elite professional.]

[Abuse] happens to poor people.

That happens to unskilled laborers.

That happens to people who don’t know any better.


As if these statments weren’t terribly presumptuous or downright false.


That’s not EXACTLY what happened.

We are and remain abused workers as long as we choose to stay in these awful relationships. Those who perpetuate these crimes also fail to acknowledge their choices in creating this awful situation. [Everyone loses.]

I now understand more the psychology of why I put up with so much uncertainty and flat out lying for so long. I associated the abuse with a rite of passage, a hazing ritual. If you want to get ahead in this profession, you learn to take it. After all, some of our closest colleagues were also abused yet somehow found the courage to defend us and ward off —- OH MY GOD THIS IS HOW A PRISONER THINKS.

That’s how fast it happened.

Only, that realization was in 2009 when I was already chin deep in a dissertation and teaching seven classes. Yes, seven. Three online, four face to face. [Grateful for the work, always, I grew increasingly worried that I was going to blow my own mental and spiritual transmission.]

Rather than pursue this line of thinking, stage yet another mental pity party or simply “take it,” I decided to fulfill a promise I made myself and others when I first started organizing in NH. I would thank them first. I would share my inner thoughts from the worst time in my professional life. Words spoken to me by colleagues and administrators who knew we were all growing increasingly stressed and demoralized across the 00s. [Thinking and thanking are essential neurologies found in

I simply want to remind us all, at all turns in this strange journey, that what we do is important to so many people who look to us to help them get from point A to point B. Student-centered has always meant to me: putting differences aside and working on behalf of people who use their savings, take out loans, and work three jobs to complete their degree programs. I remembered how important it was to hear those words “thank you” and [what it means] to take a moment to visit with a suffering colleague. [So do you, Alex; and for the support, I am forever in your debt.]

Thank you for noticing. 🙂

-Dr. Baum (aka Migrant Intellectual)

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.

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