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2017 December 12 - 09:33 am

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 January!”

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. Done.

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 mind.

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.

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