Undoing What Was Done
Impermanence Is Becoming Permament
As December creeps forward, many of
us part-timers look around with mixed merriment. A friend of mine who teaches
full-time at one of the several institutions that exploits “part” of my own
time asks me with a rhetorically happy grin: “Aren't you excited? The semester
is about to end, and then we can all enjoy Christmas and relax until the end of
For full-timers, this is a joyful
season of the year, a period when the fall semester is done and completed, and
rest and relaxation, often accompanied by gift exchanges and year-end parties,
do up their lives. Another semester's work is done, and it is now the moment to
have some fun.
But for many part-timers, no classes
to teach means no income, and no income means not a lot of wherewithal to fund
any fun. And, unlike our full-time colleagues, who have been assured that their
lives and their schedules, their regular pay and their continuing employment,
will continue into the new calendar year, we know that we work to a schedule
that, as at least one vice-president at one of the community colleges where I
work, calls “if and as needed.” We are asked to sign contracts that give our
written agreement that we may be “done” at any moment.
Indeed, I remember more than a few
occasions when my pre-semester efforts to ready classes for a new term were
done in by school administrators who decided, either explicitly or through
neglect, that my efforts at those places were done. Just this past year, I set
a curriculum forth for multi-faceted study of the work and the thoughts of a
giant in world literature, Victor Hugo, to be examined from musical, poetic,
philosophical and religious, as well as political and scientific perspectives.
Hugo, who lived during nearly a century in the 1800's, was what many have
called “a Renaissance Man” whose work, rather than being done, is being ever
re-examined and re-worked. But administrators at the school where I presented
my “Hugolien” cross-disciplinary notion admitted that they could not decide how
such a plan could be “categorized” and no full-timers at the place seemed to be
sharing my enthusiasm for it. Besides, one department head said to me, was I
not “just a French teacher?” How could I presume to propose something that
would overlap other academic areas where full-timers already ranged? The idea
was cast out, and soon afterward, so was I. French language and culture, it was
decided, should be classed as “inessential” to the school's principal mission.
An acquaintance of mine whose
expertise is in “special education” has found that her work was to be suddenly
un-done as well. While this woman was re-educating herself as a paralegal, she
retained a part-time job evaluating, customizing programs for, and teaching
disabled students. After this past semester was underway, however, she found
that her job had been given away. She was done at the school, she found,
replaced by one of the many disabled veterans who have come to populate the
staff and student body. The new instructor would “get” my friend's course
outlines and textbook orders, and my friend was called upon to “train” the new
hire in how things are done at the community college where she had been
teaching for a decade. The training that she offered was, of course, not
compensated, since it did not “count” in her part-time contract.
Who gets to do what to whom, I
wondered, as I listened to my friend's lament. She is worried now that she will
not be able to complete the paralegal coursework that she has been doing, since
it will require many hours of in-office work with a lawyer, as well as a few
more classes and tests. Unlike me, she has not been working in half a dozen
places; “they told me I was permanent part-time,” she moaned.
Permanence is done.
We live now in a world of flux.
Anything that was once done can be un-done. The daughter of another friend of
mine operates an ecologically oriented small business in Utah; she learned
business practices and land management with one of my colleagues at one of the
other community colleges where I teach. When this young woman found out that
President Trump was about to visit her area, she was excited at the opportunity
to see our country's leader close up. She had voted for him, she said, because
he had seemed to her to have the small businessman's interests in mind.
But when the president arrived in
Utah, this young entrepreneur found, it was not to speak in favor of the
environment or its causes; rather, she wrote to me in an e-mail message, it was
to make a “horrific” decision to slash the very wildlife and natural terrain
areas where she had been working to grow her peaceful life in a pristine way. “Can
a President do that?” she asked me in her message, in part rhetorically, I
suppose. I responded to her message by advising her to communicate with, among
other people, one of the legal experts who have been teaching my other friend,
the part-time special ed instructor and paralegal student.
And now, I see, The Economist magazine has tweeted that “Conservationists have sued the
government, arguing that presidents cannot unmake a national monument.”
Does this mean, I wonder, that
although this American president may think that he can undo something that
others have done before him, this may lead to his own undoing? As The Economist reports, “economic harm”
might come to this very Trump-favorable area if the Utah monuments are opened
up to drilling and land-clearing, ecological change and environmental shift. “Jobs,
personal income, and population have all grown in the Grand Staircase region
(of Utah)...thanks to tourists and businesses that serve them,” The Economist reports.
It is interesting to me, as I write
this with students' papers lying about me and other students' desperate pleas
blinking at me through instant messages and less-instant email, that it is the
British Economist magazine and the
French newspaper Le Monde, as well as
the multimedia TV5 news service that are providing me the most broad-based
perspectives on these matters. TV5 presented recently an editorial report,
called a “feature story” here in the United States, about the plight of the
impermanent worker, called here part-timers. The story was written objectively,
providing data, numbers and facts. I felt it subjectively, seeing a worldwide
phenomenon that must be having an effect not just on lifestyle but on the human
How much can we do that we can
expect will remain done before it will be undone? And what will remain of what
we have done, physically, mentally, emotionally? I wonder.