Words From a (Former) Organization Chair

This week Deborah Louis was kind enough to speak with us. Though she has since stepped down, Deborah was co-chair of the New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct Equity. Since the NFM engages numerous issues related to adjunct faculty and writing, and since Deborah has been, in her own words, “both a writer and an adjunct for almost 40 years,” I was happy to hear her perspective on these issues.

AA: Why do you write?

Deborah Louis (hereafter DL): Because I have to. It’s been my means of both intellectual and creative expression since I learned how.

AA: How does your academic writing relate to your teaching?

DL: Very little “academic” writing, as it is largely unpaid.  My nonfiction, however (as, social science) both prompts and supports my teaching.  For instance, I have designed courses around my history of the civil rights movement of the early 60s, and use pieces I have done for Feminist Collections in several women’s studies courses.

AA: How about writing that doesn’t qualify as traditional scholarship, such as blogging?

DL: Interesting that blogging is your association with other-than-traditional-scholarship–mine would be poetry, novels, and topical essays.  My only venture into cyber-writing has been some social commentary (both fiction and nonfiction) for an Asheville women’s website by request.

AA: Actually, I’m a poet myself—I just threw blogging out since it is becoming common. Shifting gears a bit, how do you find time to write as an adjunct?

DL: I don’t, and it’s one of the deepest sorrows of my life. I have many books in my head and even first drafts on the shelf, but no subsidized time to turn them into finished work—i.e. to get the rent etc paid for a long enough period of time to do that.  I even have a book of poetry a local bookstore wants to sell if I could desktop-publish it, and neither the time nor the money for supplies has been available.  A colleague thinks she has a publisher for a U.S. women’s political history I’ve gotten as far as an outline for, but needs one finished chapter I haven’t been able to furnish.  My fondest fantasy is a MacArthur Fellowship, which is even less likely than winning the lottery!

AA: How have the institutions who employ you responded to your writing? (Do they support it? Ignore it? Even know about it?)

DL: One has done everything possible to censor it.  The other invites papers and presentations to whatever extent I am able to produce them.

AA: Censor it? Really? Ouch! I’m glad to hear that one institution has been supportive, though. I’d like to hear more about NFM, if I may. What role does the National Coalition for Adjunct Equity see for writing in relation to adjuncts.

DL: Since an overwhelming proportion of adjuncts are English Composition instructors, I foresee some lively activities along  those lines!  Also legal support for adjuncts who are harassed, censored, or not rehired due to unpopular or institutional-critical writing.

AA: Is National Coalition for Adjunct Equity doing anything to support publication by adjuncts?

DL: Not as yet—it is still forming committees and drafting bylaws!  Programmatic activities will probably not be in place until spring at the earliest!  Much of this depends on funding, too, and no one knows at this point how that’s going to go.

AA: Fair enough. Do you have any personal thoughts on the relationship between adjunct faculty labor and writing?

DL: In terms of adjunct advocacy, writing (“scholarly” or otherwise) should be considered one of those “professional development” activities we are simply not afforded in most places, and, as low-wage workers, we can seldom support on our own.  For the most part, those who manage it either are adjuncting in addition to other, higher-paying employment, or have spouses with full-time, salaried jobs.  Economically stressed single moms are especially shortchanged in this environment (I know, I know, JK Rowling did ok—but she had the long-term stability of a welfare check and health coverage for her kids, which adjuncting moms are not entitled to)….

In thinking over some of your questions, it occurs to me that you might want to pay some attention to how “scholarly writing” is usually associated with research, either presenting or critiquing findings.  One of the ways adjuncts are shortchanged in the academy is in their restricted access to research opportunities and funding, which literally cuts us off at the pass.

It occurred to me some time ago that adjuncts should be encouraged to apply for research grants, which prompted me to develop a workshop (and book proposal) on “Grantwriting for Academics”—where institutions may not make research subsidies available to adjuncts, they will tend to support proposals where they serve as the channels for the funds, get a cut of the money and publicity/credit for the finished product.  It’s also a great way to augment departmental programs and budgets, which can help insure continuing rehire.  On top of that, serving as primary researcher or director of a grant-funded project is a tremendous asset in professional development and advancement in the academy. 

However, there is a mindset among instructors (adjuncts and otherwise) that this isn’t their domain, that grantwriting is some mysterious specialization outside of their purview, comprehension, and capabilities, that the institutions have grantwriting staffs whose job that is, and so forth.  When I’ve done the workshop, the first thing is I have to say all of the above to prospective attendees, because it simply doesn’t register that “grantwriting” could be even remotely relevant to them.  Once they see it, the interest and enthusiasm is overwhelming!

Anyway, I am quite sure this will be a pathway facilitated by NFM/The Coalition, especially as I have just accepted an invitation to serve on their Advisory Board and on their Finance Committee! 

AA: I look forward to NFM’s leadership in this area, and it sounds exciting. (And on a personal note, I’d love to take that workshop.) Thank you very much for your time.

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