Last night, as darkness began to drop, I drove home under a cinematic sky. Lightning zigged between towering clouds. Surrounded on many sides by a threatening weather, I hurried home so that I could turn off the electronics.
Perhaps it was the threat of storm that pulled my thoughts to the negative. I thought about how much my work as an administrator has changed.
Not so long ago, I was proud of the fact that I'd managed to keep our full-time people from going part-time. Back then, the policy was that if your full slate of classes didn't meet the right amount of enrollment, you'd go to part-time for a quarter.
I fought this threat of people going to part-time by solid scheduling, by creative scheduling, and by arguing for the necessity of certain classes, even with low enrollment.
It was an inhumane policy, and in a way, I'm glad we've changed. But the law of unintended consequences gets us in the end--now faculty face permanent reductions to part-time determined by a complicated matrix that falls on our heads from above. Administrators have little choice in the matter; our school simply takes the last hired and changes their status.
Of course, it's not my fault. I can't do anything to change these circumstances. Even if I was a brilliant logician, even if I could argue skillfully for the necessity of my faculty, I couldn't save them. These decisions are not up to me.
You might think that it would be easier this way, that I could sleep at night because I am not the agent of change. My brain doesn't work that way.
I try to keep myself from sinking into despair over the fact that I can't save jobs. I try to focus on what I can do as we go through these wrenching changes.
I spent part of the day yesterday doing all the work necessary to bring back one of our colleagues laid off a year ago. She will teach remedial Math. She will have an opportunity to move into teaching, an opportunity she might not have had if I hadn't been there to make the calls and do the legwork to make it possible.
In the past weeks, I've worked with faculty members who will soon be going to part-time. I've tried to help them salvage as good a schedule as is possible. Soon it will be time to put together the Winter schedule of classes. I will continue to consult with faculty to give them the classes that their schedule needs dictate, even though it would be easier for me to announce what classes exist and let people take or leave them. No: though I can't give people the full-time work that they need/want, maybe I can make their part-time work life a bit less stressful.
I remind myself that I do some of that kind of work every day, that background work that makes life a bit easier for faculty, students, and other staff. I try to convince myself that it's enough, even though it's not the kind of work that will find its way into a valorizing movie.
Think of all the inspiring movies we've had that depict the lives of teachers. Now try to come up with any films that depict the administrators who work in those schools in a similar way. Imagine your favorite movie star in the role of an administrator who puts together an excellent schedule, who finds a talented adjunct, who mediates a conflict between a teacher and a student.
So, aspiring filmmakers, I give you this gift: make us a film about work life that's inspiring, not absurdist. Make a film about administrators/officials that shows them as fully human, not as cartoonish buffoons. Surely it can't be that hard.
By the end of the night, we hadn't had a huge storm. We had a light show that lasted for hours. I wanted to camp out in the yard so that I could watch.
And this morning, I woke up thinking about all the positive poetry news that I've gotten in the past month. It's not the best news, like book-length manuscript acceptance or being made poet laureate. But I've gotten good news nonetheless. August is not a month that I associate with good poetry news. Nudge from the universe or simple coincidence? More on these thoughts later.