by Robin Marie Gary
Editor’s Note: For the 2019-20 academic year there were 128 non-tenure track faculty at Elon University in North Carolina, according to the university fact book. The writer, Robin Gary, said not having a reason for not being rehired has been difficult, and she does wonder if her support of the union, rather than the pandemic, played a part in no longer having a job.
I apologize in advance for the length of this email, but I ask you to bear with me and please carefully read the info shared below.
On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, in the midst of a move to a new house just five minutes from campus, I found out via a generic email from HR for “Faculty Leaving Elon” that after five years of dedicated and excellent service I would be involuntarily leaving Elon. This email was a nasty shock, to say the least, since I was the instructor of record for a section of Elon 101 and had already completed six of eight hours of training for that position! I immediately requested clarification and was then emailed by my department chair acknowledging my dismissal even though there are FOUR sections of SOC111 currently listed as being taught by “staff” as of 9.30 am this morning. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from Gabie Smith informing me that I could not teach Elon 101 since I was a limited-term faculty member and I didn’t possess the “deep understanding of the curriculums across the institution” needed to teach the course.
I have since asked my former chair (recently retired), my current chair and Gabie Smith about who would be teaching these visibly open sections of a class I can teach — I have been informed that it is “not appropriate” for me to ask. I disagree; since I have been a particularly vocal supporter of our democratically elected union, in the midst of a protracted union struggle that the University has chosen to continue spending money on for over a year, I think it is very appropriate for me to ask if my department is just going to hire a new adjunct to teach those classes, preferably one who is not as outspoken as I have been. I feel strongly that me being let go is retaliation for speaking out, and that the evidence is sitting right in OnTrack.
As a black woman and a sociologist, I was extremely excited about the fall 2020 semester with Elon’s new commitment to eliminating racism and striving for racial equality and justice on campus and in the community. I have participated, without being compensated, in several Elon webinars and public conversations on racism, and was working on new lessons to help educate Elon students about racism, the effects of racism, and ways to become allies in the fight to eradicate racism from our society. I had communicated my enthusiasm for and unique skills on teaching about the topic of racism to my department chair. I cannot tell you all how heartbroken I am to be cut off from this important work!
Let me be clear: I want to work at Elon this 2020-21 academic year, teaching three of those still open Introductory Sociology courses. I KNOW that I am an effective professor and have made a positive difference in the lives of my students. I firmly believe, particularly NOW, my contributions to Elon can and will be invaluable! The express purpose of this email is to garner colleague support for my return to Elon starting in August 2020.
Personally, I am completely devastated by Elon’s decision to have me “leave.” The pandemic is a difficult time for everyone and I understand that all universities, including Elon, are struggling to make the right academic and fiscal decisions for students, faculty and staff. President Book has made a commitment to maintain an effective “teaching and learning environment for students,” even if the pandemic alters the way in which this is accomplished. It is important, now more than ever, for faculty to support our students who are struggling with this changed world, just as it is important to be there for them as they navigate the complex issues of racial prejudice. I believe that I am uniquely positioned to do both and that my track record here has proven that. While the environment at Elon will inevitably be quite different, some consistency and the University’s clear commitment to keeping the faculty whole would be reassuring to students and their parents. I am not the first, nor the only adjunct/limited-term faculty member to lose my job in this way — Elon has terminated many of its devoted, professional, and effective adjuncts/limited term faculty at a time when the COVID pandemic has caused an employment crisis in this country not seen since the great depression. As you may know, North Carolina is one of the worst states when it comes to unemployment benefits, and the CARES act expires at the end of this month. I now find myself in a new home with no job and no health insurance just when I need them the most. Elon claims its students, faculty, and staff are “family,” but I have just been summarily removed from the family.
Many of you have been supporters of the union efforts by adjuncts/limited-term faculty, and some of you were against the union or were on the fence. This situation with adjuncts suddenly finding themselves jobless with no recourse or ways to advocate for our jobs is one of the reasons so many of us voted to create a union. Elon claims that adjuncts/limited-term faculty are “managers” and therefore not eligible to form a union. If I was indeed a manager, I could and would hire myself. Did my union activities and support play a role in the decision to have me “leave Elon”? Due to our ridiculously short, at-will contracts, I am not respected enough for an answer, but I will not simply “go quietly into that good night.”
In October 2019, I was featured in a USA Today article discussing the nature of temporary work and the struggles of adjuncts in higher education. This spring several of my students wrote letters of support for my job to my department chair and copied President Book and others. Below are a couple of examples of their testimonials:
“It could not be more evident how much Professor Gary cares about her students and helping them to be the most informed and best versions of themselves. She has consistently made an active effort to form meaningful relationships with each one of her students, which isn’t something that a lot of professors take the time to do. She puts so much time and careful attention into us actually learning and understanding the material, as well as how we can apply it to real-life scenarios. Professor Gary inherently prepares her students to be global citizens and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good. In my opinion, she is a beautiful representation of our university and reemphasizes what it means to be a valued member of the Elon community.” – a student from my Intro to Poverty and Social Justice course
“While I understand that Elon will have to make some difficult decisions to respond to this crisis, I wanted to write in support of the ongoing employment of Professor Robin Gary. I have had the pleasure of being in her Introductory Sociology class, and I can honestly say it was one of the most positive learning experiences I have had at Elon thus far. Her course content was unique and interesting, and was particularly generation-appropriate for college students. I believe anyone who takes this class would agree that it was well worth their time and energy. She expects so much of her students and wants us to succeed, pushing us to strive for greatness academically and supporting us above and beyond what is typical.” – a student from my Introductory Sociology Course
I absolutely love my job at Elon, and the students here, and I looked forward to continuing to teach here for many more years. I ask you all to keep in mind the unwanted plight I and my fellows are now dealing with!
I close with two requests for action:
To all my colleagues: will you raise your voices to defend less secure instructors? I ask that you contact President Book at email@example.com and Provost Volety at firstname.lastname@example.org today to support me and my adjunct colleagues. Please let me know that you have done so by replying to this email or you can email me personally at email@example.com. I have already been removed from the facstaff listserve. Knowing we are not alone and that our colleagues support and respect us is no small comfort during this most difficult time.
To President Book and Provost Volety: please contact me by Wednesday, July 14 at 5 pm to let me know if you plan to support me getting back the job I love for this academic year.
Again, apologies for the length of this email, but I felt it was important to share all of this information with my colleagues.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Best wishes always,
Robin Marie Gary
Elon Sociology Instructor