Mental Health Professionals-R-Us

IMG_3872So, I’m just going to keep posting the stupid-ass stuff that college administrators keep sending adjunct faculty. Apparently, by completing an 8-hour workshop (for which we will  not be compensated, naturally), we adjuncts are going to help decrease the appalling number of suicides among 15-24 year olds in the United States.

From: [an actual mental health care provider]
Sent: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 7:51 AM
To: PART TIME FAC; Adjunct Faculty; ASO Members; Faculty & Instructional Staff; President & VPs; PSSO Members; Temporary Employees
Subject: Spring Offerings of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Training for All Employees & Faculty


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds. Often faculty and staff are first to identify a student in distress or in a mental health crisis. To learn how to assist an individual who may be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis, The Center for Faculty & Staff Development has scheduled Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) USA workshop which provide training that can be utilized until professional treatment is obtained or the crisis resolves.

 Upon successful completion of this 8 hour workshop, participants will receive a Mental First Aid Certificate from Mental Health First Aid USA. By attending an MHFA workshop, participants will:

• Explore various types of mental illness.

• Examine risk factors and warning signs related to mental health issues.

• Learn a five-step action plan to assist individuals in crisis to connect with appropriate community resources.



Workshop #



Start Time

End Time









FLRS 208








JOHN 105

Thank you,


[actual mental health care practitioner]

Personal & Career Counselor

Student Success (LSS Division)





Welcome to Class, Kids!


I recently received this memo from the “Vice President for Learning” at the community college where I teach. I have never read an administrative memo that so insulted the intelligence of faculty members. There are many problems with this memo, which I could (and might) pick apart ad nauseam. For now, I will let the memo speak for itself:

Welcome Email

Rationale, Best Practices and Samples


Beginning in Summer 2017, all credit instructors – full-time and adjunct – are required to send a welcome email to students at least three days prior to a course’s start date.  The goal of this college-wide strategy is to immediately engage students.   Below are “best practices” and sample welcome emails to support this college-wide, engagement strategy.

Best Practices for Welcome Emails

The following is a list of suggested best practices for Welcome Emails; none of these suggestions are mandatory, just helpful suggestions to make your Welcome Email the most impactful as possible:

  • Be friendly!  This is your first chance to engage students and let them know they are welcomed in your course and at **CC.
  • Introduce yourself.  You can save specific introductions for your CANVAS webpage or to share during your face-to-face class.
  • Direct students to attend the first class and arrive on time.
  • Share required textbooks and other materials with students, so they can acquire the course learning materials prior to the course beginning.
  • Begin sharing course expectations and studying expectations with students.
  • Communicate your office hours and availability, and when emails are checked and returned.
  • Consider sharing your course syllabus or other important documents with students prior to the course start date.
  • Include links to important student services on campus like the Writing Center and Supplemental Instruction; “It takes a village” is also true for our students and their completion of your course.  Why not engage the village now?
  • Let your teaching philosophy, style and personality shine.  Part of what makes **CC such a robust institution is YOU.
  • Consider sharing a welcome video you have crafted to convey important information to students as well as demystify you, the instructor.

Sample Welcome Emails:
Read the four sample Welcome Emails below.  What do you notice about them?

Sample #1 – Face-to-face class

I’m looking forward to getting to know you next week as we begin our 15-week course in Group Communication and Leadership (COM 141). This is one of my favorite courses to teach because there is so much variety in what goes on in the classroom (some days lectures, other days movies, other days group activities).  I also like that the content is so directly relevant to most of our current and future career paths.

First the answer to the two most frequently asked questions: While we do a lot of group activities in class, there are no “group grades” and no group meetings outside of class. I feel those situations both can create undue stress and annoyance for many students.

There is a “shell” in Canvas (**CC’s learning management system) with this semester’s syllabus, the assignments, and test review sheets already posted.  You can access that shell three days before our course begins.  If you want the syllabus, reading guide, or any documents ahead of time, just shoot me a reply. (I will not be checking email over the weekend.) Be sure to tell me which course and section you are in because I have five courses this semester. You don’t want all five syllabi, I imagine.

When we meet next week I will have hard copies of the syllabus and reading guide for you, and we will begin to get to know each other and think about groups in new ways.

Have a great week!

Professor ***********, Ph.D.


Sample #2 – Face-to-face class

Good afternoon, everyone!

I am Dr. ********, your professor for this course, EDU 111-002: Foundations of education. It is an incredible opportunity to study the field of education, complete fieldwork hours in the ********* school system, and figure out if this is the right career path for you!

Please come to class on Tuesday, August 30 at 9:30 am sharp (or a few minutes earlier since parking can be challenging at this time of day) so that we don’t lose one moment of our time together. Attendance is REQUIRED on the first day of class, or it will be suggested that you drop our course and register for the 13 week section.

Please bring your textbook(s) on the first day and every day:

  • (Required) Sadker, M.P.& Sadker, D.M. (2013). Teachers, Schools, and Society.

[Tenth Edition] Boston: McGraw Hill

  • (Suggested, not required) Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset. New York: Random-house Publishing.

Please also have a notebook and something to write with. I check my email very frequently, however, I am not allowed (due to federal laws) to reply to any personal email of yours, ONLY my**CC email or Canvas, so please contact me using your **CC or Canvas email accounts. If you are not in the habit of using that email (or the email account through Canvas), then get in that habit quickly.

I am very excited for our course and to meet you! If you need anything before class starts, please do not hesitate to reach out. Please also email me to let me know you have received this email contact.


Dr. *

P.S. Here is a quick video I made for you with a few more details? (you may need to cut and paste it into a browser)

Sample #3 – Online class

Greetings class!

Welcome to COM 110: Interpersonal Communication! Our class starts next week and I am looking forward to a meaningful learning-filled semester with you!

I have attached the syllabus, since I’m sure some of you are wondering about the course policies and textbook.  You will need the following required textbook to complete assignments due the first week of class: McCornack, S. (2016). Reflect & relate: An introduction to interpersonal communication.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s (4th edition).  A copy is on reserve in our library.

My goal is for your experiences in the course to be meaningful to you as you grow as an interpersonal communicator – in all areas of your life.  When the course begins, please reach out to one another and me for answers to your questions and concerns. We are a learning community and can support each other in having a successful semester. Many of our assignments address personal communication situations, and you will soon find out how much we have in common – as well as ways in which we are unique. 🙂

Note that each week you have one MODULE to complete. Often, the module includes an online DISCUSSION and your first post will always be due on WEDNESDAYS.  All other assignments will be due on SUNDAYS.

Plan to review the week’s module on Monday and then ask questions and get started early.

Remember to purchase the textbook so you will be ready to have a productive first week of the semester.

Have a good week and I’ll be in touch next Monday!

Dr. *******

Sample #4 – Online class

Hello and welcome to ENG 111: Composition & Introduction to Literature.

My name is Dr. ******* and I’ll be your instructor for the semester. You can reach me anytime through the Canvas e-mail system. I regularly check email/Canvas during business hours (9am-5pm) and occasionally later in the evening. I will always respond to email inquiries within 24 hours. Also, if you’re ever on the ****** Campus, you’re also welcome to stop by my office in the ******* Building office ****.  I also encourage you to post questions to the Ask Questions Here! discussion thread. If you are unclear about something, chances are some of your peers are too. This discussion thread lets everyone see my response to your questions.

I want to give you a quick introduction to the class. As you know, this is an 8-week, online course. An 8-week course compresses everything we would normally cover in a 15-week course (16 weeks if you include exam week) into half the time. This course will involve a lot of reading and writing, so be prepared!

In a face-to-face class, **CC recommends that you spend 2 hours of study/homework/writing time for every hour of time spent in the classroom. If this were a face-to-face class, we’d be meeting 6 hours per week and you’d be spending 12 hours per week doing work outside of class. So you should budget about 18 hours every week for the next 8 weeks to complete the reading and the course assignments. If you do not have this time budgeted into your schedule, you are going to have a difficult time being successful in this class. I’m not trying to scare you off, but I want to be honest with the amount of work you should be prepared to do. Week 6, in particular, contains a lot of reading, quiz taking, and writing.

Assignments will be due on Thursday evenings at 11:59pm. I will spend Friday & Saturday grading your work and you should see feedback from me by Sunday or Monday. One exception to this is the first discussion thread assignment. This assignment is designed as a warm-up. It allows me to see a sample of your writing quickly and it lets you get a chance to meet your peers. This first discussion thread is due on Tuesday of the first week.

You should write all of your assignments for this class in Microsoft Word. I know many students use Google Docs (and I occasionally use it myself). But Google Docs lacks some of the features that Word includes and Word documents can be easily uploaded to Canvas. If you’re a student at **CC, you have access to free Microsoft Office software through the Campus Bookstore. Click here for more information.

There are a lot of resources available to you here at **CC. You should visit the course page for information on the Writing Center and the Virtual Writing Center (VWC). In addition to having access to me, the tutors at the Writing Center are available to you as a resource. Your tuition pays for them, so use them if you need extra help!

That’s all for now. I look forward to hearing from you in the first discussion thread this Tuesday!

Dr. *****

What did you notice about the five sample Welcome Emails?

What do you want your Welcome Email to read like? Sound like?

Created by the Retention Explorers, ************** Community College, November 2016

Triumph of the Well-Off: Part 3

Slide23-2Q: How many radical lesbian feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: That’s not funny.

Do you know that joke? I do. I have told it so many times and my delivery is pretty good (which is saying something because I am a pretty shitty joke teller). I used to feel okay about telling the joke, which I deployed only among friends and allies who would understand the irony of me being semi-self-deprecating about the seriousness and earnestness with which I once expressed my political views. Those views have changed, becoming more nuanced and as a result (at least in my case), more radical.  Age may have withered many things for me, but it has not undermined my fundamental belief in human equality. I have sensed the urgency of defending those rights, and I have sometimes participated directly in such efforts.

The longer I live, the more assaults on human rights I have seen. Well, of course . . .I am older. Moreover, my perception of inequality is certainly impacted by the development of the globally-connected-world-internet-bitrate-camera-in-every-hand culture that I inhabit as a US citizen. And doubtless, “things” are better for some people on the planet than they were in the 1980s (even some things for me). But while those “things” have gotten better, we have developed a very serious problem with wealth inequality. I am not sure we have ever seen anything like it since this country was founded (I leave that to the economic historians). And my response to this situation reminds me of my own more-youthful earnestness.

Again, today, reading about the various ways in which the US seems to be veering straight towards a totalitarian regime and we all debate about the extent of that spread, I kept coming back to the five men who own 50% of the wealth on the planet.

Of course, this statistic has was derived from methodologies both complex and imperfect. Of course, it is “more complicated than that.”

The more strident me would insist on drilling down into the factual accuracy of the statistic. The older, and more radical me thinks: context. Consider that such a statistic can come even close to being accurate. But more importantly, consider that as a society,  we can and do entertain the possibility of quantifying the wealth of the planet and naming the names of those who possess it.

This week, American Nazis and their ilk have terrorized the public. It is freaking me out, of course. But what worries me even more is that we already have a global totalitarian economy.

That is a human rights violation of unimaginable scope, with the gravest of consequences. And that is most assuredly not funny.

Black Lives Matter, Period

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 2.23.34 PMBlack lives matter: I state that unequivocally. Most white people—the ones that I know, which is far from any kind of legitimate statistical sample—have been smart enough to understand that for a variety of reasons, we need to shut up for a change and refrain from saying stupid shit like: “All lives matter.” Even people like my mom, who would not want to be labelled a racist but who also harbors suspicions about the legitimacy of the BLM movement, have begun to catch on. I understand that in the overall scheme of things, apologistic excuses for white people’s ignorance is the sort of rhetoric that is actually suspicious; but she’s my mom, and honestly, I am proud of whatever bit of raised consciousness that she continues to develop at the age of 85. While white people like my mom may not embrace BLM, they have, perhaps under some pressure from their children and grandchildren, begun to understand that it is no longer acceptable for any white person, ever, to say: “All lives matter.” 

Yesterday, my mom watched Virginia with a different sense of urgency. She nearly wept. I am not sure how well the events in  Charlottesville represent the strength or size of the white supremacist movement in the United States. But I have friends, historians, who would argue that regardless of the strength or perceived strength of white supremacist ideology, its existence and continued articulation is extremely dangerous. I believe them. For me, it is axiomatic that institutionalized violence against people of color has been an ongoing war for centuries in this country, and further, that every white person in this country must act to end this war.

Right now, for me, this means many of the things that have already been published on how to be an ally. Listen. Take to the streets. Educate oneself about the nauseating history of racism. Learn as much as you can about the contributions made to American culture by people of color. And–one of my most beloved direct-action strategies–educate other white people about all of the above and more.

There is so much to say, and doubtless those thoughts will find their way into other posts. There are actions I need to take, and they will unfold in the days ahead. Today, and specifically at this very moment, I feel an urgent need to simply say, over and over, in any context I am given or in any forum in which I am privileged to speak: Black Lives Matter. Period.

Trump v. Sister Elizabeth, RSM

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 1.03.13 PM

I am thinking of Sister Elizabeth, who in the 1970s was an art teacher at St. Frances Cabrini school in Piscataway, NJ. She was a large woman; perhaps today we might even call her obese, perhaps morbidly so. She was a nun to be reckoned with, but she also understood how to make children joyful. As I said, she taught art.

I also remember the disappointment I felt when recess was over at St. Frances. But eighth grade brought with it several privileges. The one I remember most is that we had art class immediately after recess. As the bell rang to call us back into the school building and before we were in earshot of our elders, we used to quietly chant, “Saved by The Liz. Saved by The Liz.” In other words, art class felt like extended recess, and Sister Elizabeth was our coach.

I also remember a kid named Mark Wilson. Just remembering the name brings a smile to my face. Today, a kid like Mark would most certainly be taking Ritalin or something of that sort. I probably would have been medicated in elementary school as well. But then, we knew nothing of such things, and so we all watched as Mark fidgeted and ran his mouth and got into all sorts of trouble. To be clear: I don’t remember laughing at Mark, but rather with him. I can see now that both he and I were clowns, and that we each had our own unique schtick. For my part, I had “good grades” to balance my wayward behavioral tendencies.  I cannot speak for Mark. I can say that the trick I remember best was how, after sharpening pencils, Mark would launch them skyward, attempting to stick them into the ceiling. When he nailed it, I was jubilant. I cannot recall whether or not I allowed my joy to be seen.

I also remember Sister Elizabeth threatening to hang Mark Wilson out the window by his feet if he did not sit down and shut his mouth. I think we laughed, or at the very least snickered. We most certainly did not run home and tell our parents about the verbal abuse Sister Elizabeth had wreaked upon some poor helpless child.

Flash forward to the following decade. Now a college student, I was in a junior-year abroad program in London. There was a country called “The Soviet Union”; Reagan was in the White House and Thatcher at 10 Downing. I was politically aware and active–what people today might call “woke”–and I was furious. But I was also terrified. I can recall with clarity standing at the window, at the sink washing dishes, in my flat in London. I remember looking up and imagining a mushroom cloud on the horizon that seemed so real on some days that I wondered if I was hallucinating. It was only much later, more than a decade I would say, that I understood two things: (1) I had spent the better part of my early adulthood in a state of anxiety (sometimes extreme) about nuclear annihilation; and (2) I had not been alone.

The next decade found me and my peers marching against a different, not-so-Cold, war. Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait and the US, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, started bombing the living shit out of the Iraqis. No matter that the US had sided with the Iraqis and helped arm them in our proxy war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. At that time, I had been too frightened of nuclear annihilation to have paid enough attention to the Iran-Iraq War, but by the time the first of 100,000 bombing missions by the US military and its allies began in 1991, I was up to speed. The spectacle of aerial bombardment that played over and over on my television terrified me. As hard as I tried, I could not help but imagine that underneath that violent and expensive fireworks show, there were people. There was also a lot of military hardware and if nothing else, by the end of the first Gulf War, the fourth largest armed force in the world had been reduced to rubble.

The next decade brought a new Bush and a new war. Call me naive, but I am still perplexed by how thoroughly the American public was hoodwinked into believing first, that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks; and second, that he was holding WMD in his woefully underfunded failed state. For starters, I thought that anyone with a soupçon of knowledge about Middle East politics knew that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a madman, he hated jihadists at least as much as we did. Indeed, he probably hated them more since his demagogic regime was surrounded by them. I also knew enough about Photoshop (and the history of the C.I.A.’s success in toppling regimes deemed to be a danger to US oligarchs) to know that whatever “evidence” was being proffered by the intelligence agencies was suspect at best and required a lot more scrutiny to determine the resemblance of the “evidence” to reality. For me, all of this was an elementary critical thinking exercise: The events of September 11, 2001 were scary indeed, but Saddam Hussein certainly had nothing to do with it. For crying out loud, 15 of the 19 men who carried out the attacks were Saudis. Osama Bin Laden was a Saudi. Saddam Hussein loathed the Saudis. However. After watching those towers fall, we were a terrified populace. The Bush II machine knew precisely how to tap into that American fear and they did so with great success. I had learned something from the 1980s and the 1990s and Saddam Hussein was fairly low on the list of people who scared me. But I was frightened, and overwhelmingly saddened, by the war crimes that unfolded, funded in part by my tax contributions to the US war chest.

I do not like fear. I do not like the way it feels physically, the way it shuts down my appetite as well as the activity in my prefrontal cortex. The way it shutters my awareness, subsuming every single object into its now-limited scope, and then paralyzes me. I dislike fear so much that it is the one thing I almost-literally pray that my dog, Red, does not have to feel. The sight of any fearful dog throws me into a spasm of concern and sadness. When I consider my own dog being fearful, it can bring tears to my eyes. I myself am sometimes afraid of being afraid.

And so today. Fear is everywhere in my country. It is everywhere in the media. White supremacists marched on Charlottesville yesterday. Bona fide Nazis actually killed and injured people. They have done it before: Mother Emmanuel comes to mind. So yes, I am afraid; I fear a great deal for people of color anywhere in this country. However,  I will respectfully refrain from writing more on that topic today. The fear experienced by people of color in the ongoing institutionalized war against them in the US deserves its own well-considered series of posts, and I cannot do it justice at this time. So I will turn my attention to the other source of my terror today.

I woke up to the sound of the Sunday morning news talking about the fear that the Trump administration is peddling: North Korea. Are you fucking.  . . . kidding. . . . me? This script is so old. It beggars belief that it is being trotted out again. But the Trump administration is far less canny and far more stupid than the Bush or Reagan (or Clinton or Obama, for that matter) administrations ever were, so why should I be surprised? The White House is pitching fear again, as it has done every single decade of my life. I am in my fifth decade now and I am bloody well tired of it. I wish I could assume the comportment of casual, cynical ennui. I wish I could roll my eyes and SMH. But something very serious is going on again, or still, and I cannot bear to turn away entirely. I can, however, take steps to protect myself so that the fear I know so intimately does not envelop my body and cloud my mind entirely.

Visualizations help. And this morning, a near perfect series of images came to mind. I think of Sister Elizabeth, and I smile. I think of her stomping into the Oval Office and ordering Trump to sit down and shut his mouth.* I can see her wagging a finger at him and scolding him. I see her telling him to stand up. Then, Sister Elizabeth, who no doubt would have towered over Trump, grabs him my the back of his suit collar and frog-marches him out of the Oval Office, past the generals, past the snickering staff, and straight out the front door of the White House.

Saved by the Liz. And in the words of Adrienne Rich, “I start to speak again.”


*I want to be very clear that I am drawing no comparison between Donald and my childhood compatriot-in-chaos, Mark Wilson. Among other things, and wherever he is and whatever he is doing, I am certain that after being educated by the Religious Sisters of Mercy, Mark knows how to read, write, and rithmatic.

I Am Worried about Rachel Maddow

IMG_3646I recently read Susan Bordo’s excellent book, The Destruction of Hillary Clinton. Bordo provides a clear narrative of the events leading up to the 2016 US presidential election; it offers a complex and personal answer to the question: What happened? The book is erudite (as befits a well-published academician), well-sourced, and accessible. Bordo concludes is that no single factor contributed to the demise of a woman who was arguably the most qualified presidential candidate in modern US history.  The book was a balm for my soul and my ego. Among the many assertions Bordo makes, I took particular solace in the following:

As political campaigns have become more and more like the theater, reporters have begun to adopt the role of theater critics rather than investigative journalists. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t very good at discerning what literature professors call ‘unreliable narrators.’ (129-130)

I found this particular passage so very gratifying. I have long known that studying literature, or culture of any type, prepares one for a lifetime of critical thinking. But Bordo states that here with such pith that I was fairly bowled over. Being able to consider “unreliable narrators”—and a host of other methodologies used in humanities inquiry—has led me directly not only to the enjoyment of literature great and not-so-great, but also to the understanding of truths such as climate change. It is precisely that kind of inquiry that made me understand that whatever we have heard between November 9, 2016 and today about the US presidential election is simply not the whole truth. However, this type of inquiry has also taught me is that the search for the whole truth can be part of the very mechanism by which we become enslaved to lies.

Right now, in the name of “truth,” the liberal faction of the US media are taking Trump to task. It makes for riveting and entertaining television. I did not expect that I would be pulled away from binge-watching the latest Netflix or Amazon release to tune into MSNBC nearly every night. The network spectacle is fascinating; I particularly love the way they use Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” as part of their own advertising. I’m not sure it will legitimize the network in the eyes of Radiohead fans, who can be a pretty cynical bunch, but it made me smile and think of irony.

I have not had cable TV since 2013 or so, and I have been impressed by MSNBC this summer. It has been gratifying to hear the type of resistance I have been feeling for years being voiced in the national media. But then I read Bordo’s book. In a nutshell, she makes an excellent case for the ways in which the liberal media in the US (including but not limited to MSNBC) fueled the rhetoric and ideology that led to Clinton’s demise. In short, MSNBC and others colluded by digging into any detail that fit into what Bordo calls “optical illusions like ‘Untrustworthy Hillary’” and failing utterly to question the other optical illusion: “Straight-shooter Trump.” I am not going to summarize Bordo’s thoughts on each pundit. [To my students, I would say: You have to read the book!] I will say that Bordo compellingly  argues for the ways in which Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, and particularly Chuck Todd were unwilling dupes in the larger catastrophe of November 8, 2016. Suffice to say that since reading The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, I have been pretty pissed off at most of MSNBC’s evening line-up. But Bordo goes fairly easy on Rachel Maddow. I was not watching TRMS when the optical illusions of “untrustworthy Hillary” and “Straight-shooter” were in full play, so I only have Bardo’s word that Rachel was, if not blameless, then at least somewhat less culpable than her colleagues in creating, even unwittingly, those illusions. Now, after reading Bordo’s book, I sometimes skip the rest of the pundits, but I still make an active attempt to watch TRMS every night because I have fallen head-over-heels in geek-love with Rachel Maddow.

But Rachel has me worried. Don’t get me wrong, as with President Obama, it does my soul good to simply see something like the world I live in represented on the main stage. As a fifty-two year old lesbian who has been out since the 1980s, I am thrilled when Rachel currently reigns as MSNBC’s number-one talent. I even feel a muted sense of accomplishment.

But Rachel does have me worried: not because of what she is saying, because she is almost always fascinating. I understand that her style of burying the lede does not play well with her critics, but I love the sense of drama she develops every night. I appreciate her tenacious digging into the details Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Russian attack(s) on the US presidential election. Her wonky-breezy and detail-oriented persona strikes me as authentic, and that is saying something because I possess Jedi-level bullshit detection skills.

I am worried: all week, Trump has been allowed to terrorize who knows how many people in the US and northern Asia with his ridiculous talk about nuclear war and North Korea. And all week, TRMS and MSNBC more generally has done a great job of bringing in one expert after another to reassure us of the truth: nothing has significantly changed in North Korea and the President is clearly out-of-bounds on this. He is ill-informed, idiotic even. The pundits now refer to “adults” in the Whitehouse (as opposed to infant Trump) with a shameless glee that I share. 

But I am worried: Mueller is following the money trail. This is good. Money trails have a better-than-average record of leading to somewhere very bad for people like Trump and his ilk. Following the money will lead to indictments, and perhaps even impeachments and resignations. This would be good. Certain truths will out.

But I am worried: Some journalists [and most MSNBC show hosts] are indeed “calling for the revival of old-style investigative journalism.” And they are indeed turning over every stone in their attempts to find the truth behind Trump’s lies, obfuscations, exaggerations, and bluster. This is admirable work, and as I said, it is very entertaining.

I am worried : Bordo writes of optical illusions that destroyed Hillary Clinton. And Hillary Clinton has been well-and-truly destroyed. But regardless of the sounds of opposition, defiant glee, and steadfast  resistance to all things Trump, a new optical illusion is being created and reinscribed over and over on the newly-resistant American psyche with the uncredited assistance of the liberal media.  And the pundits, once again, are not doing enough to call attention to the illusion and the process by which it is being created.

This optical illusion is more dangerous than all the lies, scams, and flim-flammery that the journalists with new-found courage have been covering and uncovering. And while everyone in the MSNBC evening line-up has offered us tree after tree of beautiful and satisfying truth, they have failed to consider the optical illusion that is the forest:

Donald Trump is not now, nor has he ever been, the legitimate President of the United States. 

This is the patent untruth that worries me above all. We need to be reminded of this untruth at every opportunity. We need MSNBC to stop talking to experts in foreign policy and constitutional law. We need Rachel and her colleagues to start talking to the experts in ideology, the construction of truths, and the deconstruction of truths. In short, we need them to start hosting a bunch of culture-war-weary and battle hardened English professors. 

The Tenured, the Adjunct, and Lecturers, Oh My! The Destruction of Higher Education in the US

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 3.15.50 PMI have been complaining about my underemployed status for about ten years. As I wrote in my last post, I chose to leap off the career gravy train and have been wandering around in the misty lands inhabited by similarly “overqualified,” “overeducated,” and underemployed misfits. Recently I told a friend that while I know the complete transformation of US culture and economy has been a gradual process, it still feels like I woke up one day and quite suddenly realized that savage American capitalism had won game, set, and match against the ragtag bunch of intellectuals and artists among whom I dwell.

Every week or so this summer I have discovered a heretofore unknown (to me) corner of the commodification of, well, everything in US culture. Understandably, given my vocation as an educator, a more-than-average number of these insights regard education in general and higher education in particular.

Today’s lesson? How the “adjunctification” of of the US professoriate has become unequivocally and without challenge, the new normal, and how, even more tragically, there is no going back. I have talked about this for so long and in so many different fora that if you are a friend or family member, you may be tempted to stop reading. I urge you not to because what I figured out today genuinely blew my mind.  I now have enough information to see emerging something like an endgame for those who wish to savagely capitalize every tedious and monumental aspect of American life.

When I started my Ph.D. program in 1992, roughly 35% of all faculty in the US were adjuncts and about 65% were tenure-track. That is an average, across all universities and colleges and all academic departments. By the time I finished my PhD, that number flipped. The details vary depending on whose data you look at, but I have not found this the trend disputed anywhere. Be wary of losing the forest for the trees.

It is August 11, and I am in high gear in terms of hustling to find adjunct gigs. I have worked my way through the entire Maryland community college system, and I am now hard at it with the Master’s granting institutions, the various schools with titles like: “[Region or City] State University.” When I get to the website for Towson State University it takes me some time to find out how to either be placed in the “adjunct pool” (a practice that is well-known to me) or to apply directly for an open position as an adjunct. Interestingly, I cannot find this information on their website (and I am a tenacious and creative website researcher). Stumped, I called Towson State’s Human Resources office. The young woman who answered the phone inquired if there was anything posted on the HR website. (No ma’am, that is why I am calling). She displayed remarkable ingenuity by placing me on hold so she could inquire further (I am not being sarcastic; I have placed many similar calls that end not with further inquiry, but rather with a “Sorry” and abrupt disconnection). I was informed that regarding adjunct work, I should contact the “Provost’s Budget Office.” No need to call back; she connected me right away. Somewhere inside my skull, a little alarm bell started ringing. The HR office was now  connecting me to a Budget office (albeit in the Academic side of the house) to inquire about a faculty position.

The Provost’s Budget Office told me that they had nothing to do with faculty hiring (the lingering alarm tolled: still interesting that the keyword “adjunct” had landed me there), and that I should be in touch with the English department directly. I felt a sense of calm descend as the little alarm bell receded back into my limbic system, and I returned to familiar ground.

I know this drill, I had just done it yesterday for the University of Maryland—Baltimore County. So now it is Towson State and I am back online at the English Department website, searching for their list of faculty or any other list that would reveal to me the identity of the department chair. I scrolled up and down. I looked left and right. I checked and double checked. There was no link to a list of faculty. [Call me neurotic, but I was so surprised by this that I just checked, again, as I am writing.] To answer what I anticipate as some of your questions: Towson State is a fairly well-regarded Master’s level university in Maryland’s fairly well-regarded public higher education system. While Towson does not offer a master’s in English, you can major in the discipline. So yes, I think it is a bit strange that their faculty listing is not right there, obviously, on the department home page. Now of course, perhaps Towson State is in the middle of overhauling their whole website. Perhaps some financial aid student worker left out the faculty link on the main page. Or perhaps I am the only one in the entire world who considers it relevant for a publicly-funded and well-regarded University to list their faculty in a major discipline just 17 days before the start of the semester.

Nevertheless I persisted.

I performed a regular (as opposed to an institution-focused) Google search for “chair Towson State English” or something to that effect. I found the list, replete with clickable links to every faculty member.

Here are the numbers for Towson using the two-category classification noted earlier:

27 tenure-track faculty

20 adjuncts

That is not the worst ratio I have ever seen, by far. The New England Institute of Technology, where I last taught, has an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students and offers Associate’s, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in 50 different programs. While an English major is not available, one would think that for all of those programs at three degree levels, there would be sufficient need to hire a decent- sized core faculty to get all of those students through their Gen Ed requirements. But there are only seven (N=7) full-time faculty in the entire Division of Humanities and Social Sciences. This is, of course, beyond unethical and probably only just legal, but for purposes of this blog post,  I am simply providing context: from my perspective, having roughly 57% of faculty on the tenure track seems, if not ideal, at least reasonable.

If only that were true.

Upon further inspection, I find a third category of faculty in the English department at Towson State University: “lecturer.” I will leave the analyses about the distinction between “Lecturer” at Towson State and “Lecturer” at, say the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), to people who are actually paid for such analyses. I can only say that at RISD, I was adjunct faculty. My title was “Lecturer.”

Simply put, by using the category “Lecturer,” Towson State (and perhaps many other colleges and universities in the country), obscures the simple reality that there are only 27 tenure track personnel in a department of 65 faculty. Put another way, about 40% of the English faculty at Towson State are tenure track. This puts Towson State pretty squarely in the range of “normal” in national faculty rank data.

In the past decade especially, I have not been alone in my dire prognostications regarding the adjunctification of US higher education. Among the providers of higher education and their ancillary operatives, many a research hour has been spent on quantifying this situation (I go so far as to call it a “crisis,” and when I am in a particularly resplendent mood, a “catastrophe.”) And there has been something like a growing awareness, if not concern, among the general public, who might well be considered the the consumers, buyers, or customers of higher education. Thus it is quite sensible for Towson State—and doubtless many other institutions—to respond to both increasing alarm on the part of its sales force and the enhanced awareness of its customers.

So here is my buried lede [sic] and today’s conclusion: the rapid and devastating adjunctification of higher education in the US could have been addressed differently. With the eight-year spurt of optimism that was allowed to flourish under the Obama administration, one could have hoped for a substantive change. The dead tenure lines lost in the Culture Wars that have been raging right under our noses for the last three or four (or five) decades could have been revived. The meaning of tenure could be torn from the grip of the fascists who have cynically used the phrase “politically correct” to destroy academic freedom in our nation. The public could have been educated about what tenure does and why it matters. 

But none of that happened. Instead—and this should surprise no one—the corporatizers simply scraped the surface clean and applied a fresh coat of varnish.  In this particular case study, the varnish is rather simple, hanging on a single word: lecturer.

It is quite a trick. Allowed to metaphorize (or simile-ize, but who the fuck cares?)–and because I am in a resplendent mood–this English professor might liken the addition to the database of another category of non-tenure track faculty to waving a stick of Febreze over the rotting carcass of American higher education. 

And now I see the endgame emerge. Like the manufacturing jobs of the Rust Belt, tenure-track faculty positions are gone. And like those jobs, they are not coming back.

“Culturally Incomprehensible”: Thoughts on Gender Performance and Work


For the last decade I have been more-or-less a full time adjunct faculty member, cobbling together a career anchored by teaching positions at the highest of the high (Rhode Island School of Design) to the lowest of the low (New England Institute of Technology), including along the way several schools that best embody the concept: “the triumph of mediocrity” (Bryant, Salve Regina, Curry, and Assumption). On the side, I have worked as a freelance editor, a Census Bureau enumerator, a vendor’s assistant at craft fairs, a sales associate at the Home Depot, and a cashier in a liquor store.

Adapting to the gig economy in this way was necessary after quitting my full-time position as Director of Community and Government Relations at one of the aforementioned colleges. I had been warned off of taking that job by the President of a large and well-regarded public university. “It will destroy your career,” Lois said. I didn’t care at that point. I had been imprisoned in upstate New York for too long: I longed for the ocean. And wasn’t this why I declined my one tenure track job offer, after all? To have more freedom of mobility?

By the time I took up residence in Newport, RI, I was damn glad to see the ocean, but Lois had been right: the job destroyed my career. Not so much because I was in such an extreme  academic backwater, but rather because it was here that I realized the extent to which higher education in the US had sunk to appalling depths of mediocrity. By the time I overheard the Provost speaking of student as “income generating units,” I was no longer surprised. But when I found out that the college had been lying to me about its long-term campus development plans, and thus had I been an unwitting accomplice in an albeit low-stakes land grab, that was the last straw. 

So in 2007, I quit my day job. 

And I have been struggling to figure out why it has been impossible for me to get back on the career train. [To be clear: this is the first time I am publicly acknowledging some deeply held opinions about previous employers.] I have been thinking about this for the past decade—all the while applying for jobs in the non-profit and higher education sectors in Providence, RI. That is to say that the question of my employability is not a new one for me. But this summer, it reached a new sense of urgency. When my unemployment benefits were unexpectedly cut-off in the first week of June, I immediately went on Medicaid and food stamps and moved in with my mother. I won my appeal with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and now I am significantly less stressed since I have a few months left of unemployment benefits. I have been busy this summer and not just with worrying. I have applied to 140 jobs, ranging from dog-walker to board secretary at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I can actually do, and am qualified for, every position for which I have applied. I am not exaggerating the numbers either: I have kept excellent and updated records in a spreadsheet.

The fruit of my labors have been face-to-face interviews at the Apple Store in the Mall, a wine bar in downtown Annapolis, and a Doubletree Inn near another Mall; a synchronous video interview for a full-time assistant professor position at a dubious for-profit college for which I would have been starting in less than a week;  two asynchronous video interviews; numerous boilerplate rejection emails from Johns Hopkins; and the uncovering of two employment scams that have left me SMH.

Part of what I know about this difficulty in getting a job has already been addressed by economics and human resource professionals. The vicissitudes of the job market for certain fifty-somethings are well documented.  I also have friends and family who have made a number of suggestions. One friend recommends getting a life coach, another suggests joining the local chapter of a group of folks who will teach you to re-tool your resume, many suggest teaching in public school (possible, but I challenge anyone to find me a K-12 teaching job that doesn’t require me to relocate at my own expense, pay my own tuition for a six-week “teaching fellowship,” with no promise of a job at the end and no promise that I will not be kicked out of the program at any time with no reason given). Other advice: How about Catholic school (most want certification now while they continue to pay lower wages and evade unions)? Private school (even more difficult than Catholic school if you consider the plethora of unemployed PhDs on the job market)? Why can’t you just get a full-time job teaching college? (Answer: Because only 35% of teaching positions in the entire country are full-time at this stage of US history)

My sister-in-law is C-Level at largest hospital corporation in the state.  She thinks I should take up medical coding. My oldest brother is C-Level at a pharmaceutical company. He thinks I should look into doing online surveys while sitting around collecting my unemployment (I did. it took me two full days to earn a $10 PayPal credit). A friend in computer software could not find a job in the Boston area. One of his closest friends hooked him up with a job in Washington, DC. Now he commutes home on weekends. So he suggests “networking” above all. He recently spoke of another mutual friend: “Now there is a competent person. I would hire her in a heartbeat.” I said, “What about me?” And he said: “No, actually. Hunh. I’m not sure why.” I had stumped him.

To these three people I sent a copy of my full resume with the hope, I suppose, of getting some help in finding a job that befits my experience and education. I understand that they are trying to be helpful. But I cannot help but feel like however well intentioned, this type of advice is at best ill-informed and at worst, insulting.

I think this is the last time I will ask for help. Not out of pride, but out of self-preservation. Because I am not sure anyone knows exactly why I have not found a suitable job not only this summer, but for the last ten years. Until recently, I myself did not fully understand. And now that I do, simply put, my heart is broken.  

I am well-aware of the many macro-level forces that have made this a “tough time” for fifty-two year old job seekers (including the commodification of education, the Great Recession, No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, anti-intellectual fervor, the rise of the gig economy, the destruction of labor unions), but the interactions I have had this summer with friends and family have given me pause. Is there a particular impression that I convey which allows those who know me to think of me as an incompetent and preciously idealist flake? To be sure, I am a non-conformist. But I have come along way from my hippie days, my punk rock days, my union-organizing days, and my drinking days.

Around the house, I am likely attired in aging shorts and tee-shirts splattered with paint (I make art on the side too). But when I have worked in high level capacities, with direct reporting to C-Level, I have dressed the part: ironed shirt, great Italian shoes, and a suit. I match my socks to my shirt. I let my hair grow out a bit more and even when short, I use copious gel to keep it conservative rather than spikey-funky.

And surely, my friends and family know I clean up well: there are pictures of me all over my mother’s house from my halcyon days. Here with the Governor of Rhode Island, there with Senator Clinton, here at a gala fundraising ball, and . . . ah, yes . . . there, at my brother’s wedding. As a bridesmaid, I wore a full-length green velvet gown. My hair was blown out of recognition into a bona fide hairstyle, puffed up and lacquered into place. There are pearls around my neck, a bouquet of flowers in my hands, and presumably, underneath, a bra and a pair of comfortable but clearly gendered women’s shoes.

And suddenly the words that my mother had spoken to me a few days ago flooded back in an entirely different light: “I know it’s not fair, but for some reason, I think some people think you are still very defiant.” And I get that . . . or at least I thought I did.  I used to think that my intelligence is read as arrogance no matter how diplomatic I try to be. This, despite the sheer amount of time I have spent in my life (after the age of twenty-five mostly)  sucking it up and shutting my mouth. I have learned, at least I thought I had, to blend somewhat into a world that does not appreciate loud women, smart women, drunk women, or foul-mouthed women. I have tried to  appear to be less of all those things. And if I had a nickel for every time I refrained from rolling my eyes and shouting down some ridiculous mansplainer trying to define (inaccurately) the difference between a tornado and derecho, I would be hanging out with Bill Gates this weekend. If I could title my life’s work, one phrase that comes to mind is this: Toning it Down.

So why this impression of defiance? What is this unnameable but powerful aura that hangs about me making me simultaneously the life of the party and the village incompetent?

And here is my simple and heartbreaking conclusion: It’s how I dress. Or put another way: my lack of a dress.

I rock a suit. Men’s suits, with men’s shoes, shirts, and even underwear. I own a wonderful collection of ties, but I’m not an idiot: I only wear them when I know that being a fashionable dandy will be if not appreciated, at least not cause me to be fired from my position. I also rock office casual with a fine collection of collared golf shirts, chinos, and loafers.

Then I thought about how, at the Mac store interview, the manager called to me—“Mary”— when my back was turned. He then said: “Oh, I’m sorry” before I even had a chance to say “Yes, that’s me.” He was apologizing for mistaking me for what I am: a cis woman. The interaction descended into a awkward (for him) series of mumbles and scuffles. I did not get a second interview.

I thought of all the customers who called after me in the aisles of the Home Depot, “Excuse me sir?” and “Hey, buddy!” I thought more about my managers, most of whom were young enough to be my sons, who called me “bro” and “dude.” I requested a promotion. Denied. I requested a full-time position. Denied. I requested a transfer. Denied.

I thought of the day I was fired from an adjunct faculty position at Salve Regina. It was the Friday before I was to start teaching in the Spring semester in a Graduate Studies humanities program. My chair implied that someone higher on the chain of command had told him that he had to let me go. He implied it was political. Of course, I thought immediately that I lost the job because I taught post-Marxist, feminist, and critical race theory. I was furious at the erosion of intellectual freedom in the classroom. But then I thought about all the times I showed up in class or at faculty functions dressed to the nines—in men’s garb. So now I don’t think my syllabus did me in at Salve Regina. I think it was my tie.

I recalled the numerous double takes I have experienced in the last two or three years—more than at any time in my life: women open the bathroom door and see me at the faucet. They check the bathroom door sign. No, not at the Home Depot. At Whole Foods, at Starbucks, at the Brown University bookstore.

I recall the time I went to get running shoes only to find one single pair of adult women’s running shoes that was not pink or purple. I saw perfectly respectable athletic shoe brands festooned with sparkles. I thought: What self-respecting female athlete wears this shit?

I thought of how I really dislike wearing scoop neck tee-shirts, and how shitty I look in teal, bright pink, purple, or green. I do not like darts in my shirts—what is the point, I have teeny boobs. I no longer own a skirt, dress, bra, or stockings of any kind. I do not wear makeup, ever. 

And this, I have begun to consider, is the tipping point at which this bad job market in this down economy renders me “unemployable.”

I know I am seen as defiant but I used to think that it had to do with my intelligence regarding a large range of topics and my strong opinions. But now, I think I am seen as defiant mostly because I do not wear women’s clothes. Moreover, I do not identify as trans. So I do not belong to a movement. For me, bathroom laws are irrelevant. No policy can legislate whether and to what extent my gender presentation is interpreted as defiant, nor can any act of law force employers or supervisors to admit that I make them uncomfortable. Home Depot does not give a shit that I unsuccessfully tried to organize a labor union 35 years ago. But they are uncomfortable that in addition to my clothes, I hold none of the other symbolic currency that has allowed the world to accept people like me into their midst: I have no children, I am unmarried, and I own no property. 

So I could go to a consultant to fix up my resume. But once I am on the job, I expect that it will not take long for me to blow my own cover. And sooner rather than later, my defiance will become evident. If not the cut of my suit, the cut of my hair will give me away. One of signal differences between a women’s short haircut and a man’s short haircut is that women’s haircuts leave slightly pointy tips in front of the ears while men’s haircut’s are cut straight across to the ear. I cut my pointy tips off.

I am kind and compassionate. I can converse intelligently (or otherwise) to just about anyone for as long as they desire or allow. I can turn Baba Yaga into the tooth fairy. I can teach those deemed unteachable. I can type nearly 50 WPM with 4 fingers. I can write full sentences. I can deliver charismatic presentations. If it were not for my scruples, I could sell you sand in the middle of the desert.

And most of all, I can suit up extremely well.

The only problem is that I am not wearing the right suit.

Triumph of the Well-Off: Part 2

Screen Shot 2017-07-28 at 3.00.47 PMThe Senate finally found a way to kill—for now, at least—Repeal & Replace, or Repeal, or a skinny bill.

Somewhere in the midst of the chaotic reporting in the last 48 hours, I also noticed that Jeff Bezos was elevated to the position of the world’s richest human. By today, that title is being challenged. It doesn’t matter to me (although I bet it matters to Jeff Bezos). Because whether Jeff Bezos is the first, second, or third richest man in the world, does nothing to change the fact that at the very least he is one of the gang of 62 humans who control 50% of the planet’s wealth.*

So again, I ask you to close your eyes and imagine what Carl Sagan called the “pale blue dot.” Now slowly zoom in on the dot and imagine it as we often see it from an orbiting satellite: beautiful blues and greens, grays and whites, atmospheric swirls and landmasses and oceans. And then imagine that there are about 54 men and six women standing on one side of the planet. And then imagine the rest of the planet’s population—approximately 7,500,000,000 humans standing, sitting, kneeling or crawling on the other side. Hold that picture in your mind for a few  seconds. That is the distribution of wealth on planet Earth. If the image makes you angry, I understand; if the picture makes you nauseous, I get it; if the thought disturbs you, I concur. Grievously sad or profoundly disgusted? I am right there with you. Powerless? I know. But if you feel nothing, if you feel apathy, if you feel contentment, if you feel joy, then there is most certainly something wrong with either your limbic system or your cognition. Perhaps the magnet in your moral compass has fallen out.

So back to healthcare in the US. I do not think that the gang of 62 gave some kind of permission to Senate Republicans to lose this particular battle. Nor do I think the gang of 62 are going to benefit enormously from US healthcare policy. Doubtless, there is money at stake in the legislative struggle over healthcare and every other political battle. But the gang of 62 are men who possess so much wealth that they only need to maintain it, not necessarily grow it. Their greed is incalculable, and their egos are immeasurable. They compete against each other for first, second, or third place or perhaps a place in the top ten. Some of them are content to remain in the middle of this billionaires’ pack; without a doubt, many of them value that particular position as it limits public scrutiny and enables them to continue doing whatever they want to stay in the pack.

So I don’t think Jeff Bezos or anyone else ordered Mitch McConnell to stand down (or John McCain to stand up). But I do think that if the gang of 62 ever thinks that their wealth would be seriously threatened, they will not hesitate to step in.

*The number 62 is derived from a report done by Oxfam in January 2016. A more recent article in Salon puts the number at five.  I would argue that the specific number is somewhat irrelevant to my overall argument. Whether the number is “5” or “62” doesn’t impact the equation much given that the other half of that equation is 7.5 billion. However, if the number has shrunk in just 17 months from 62 to 5, that is relevant. I will look into it.