Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm Real! I'm Real!

Some days you think you really have a sense of what's going to happen. The fact that life has always proven otherwise seems to always fall by the wayside.

Last weekend, we played Super-Sleuth trying to determine who was affected by the ginormous budget cuts our college is facing. We had bits of information. Connect person A to gossip B and get faulty conclusion C. But we knew something was coming, and that something was going to be big. On Friday, they said that all of us who were not going to be employed anymore have been notified. Whew. Add piece of information A to verifiable e-mail B and get one solid answer. Job Still In Place. Check. Whew.

Yesterday, we had an all-employee meeting. Who knew we had so many employees? They came out of cubicles and doors. They came from under the buildings and above the buildings. They came from facilities and faculty and staff and part-time and quarter-time and full-time and administration. We came for ... wait for it ... a Power Point presentation on the state of our lives.

Slides slid in and out. Charts appeared, morphed, and vanished. 15 full time positions eliminated. 18,000 part-time hours cut. Work week hours increased. Health center closing. Two sports teams eliminated. Ten open positions closed out. 11 faculty members who are eligible for early retirement will get to buy that Range Rover they've always wanted. And then, the organizational restructuring chart. We stared. 13 divisions condensed into 6. Alliances shifted. Who? Where? When? How? Seriously?

And then I saw the slide that set me free. I, a proud and noble department of one, long struggling (cue melodrama music) under the heavy shadow of Composition studies, have been divorced (amicably) from the English department. I am now actually officially a department, and I am now part of Liberal Arts and Sciences. My English department colleagues have become part of the Math department (how fun, though, it would have been to call my mom and tell her I've been moved to the Math department) under the new division of Foundation Studies. I've always felt like an impostor in the English department. I can teach anybody how to write better, but it's inauthentic to me to teach composition. I've pretended well, and I think because I understand writing, it's sort of worked, but my soul has shivered a bit. "It's OK," I tell her. "We teach composition so we can buy funky clothes." Usually that works.

But now, I can play with the other crazy art people where I have always belonged. I now can have department meetings with only myself instead of having to sit through hours of English department meetings which dealt with things I don't have to deal with. I no longer have to pretend that teaching rhetoric is important to me, and no one will expect that I care about or keep up with composition studies. It's been so exhausting (cue hand to forehead) being a twirly-crazy-dancy-person in a field of rigid paragraph structures and outcomes assessment. I can now talk about stories with the crazy Humanities instructor whose PhD is in mythology. The psychology professor stopped by yesterday and we wrote a poem together. My people! My people! I have arrived!

I also get to keep my supervisor, who has been a staunch supporter of creative writing and my program. So, I tried not to be too giddy as my colleagues of 7 years try to readjust to being with a new division with a new dean who does not know their subject matter. I tried to not be too giddy, but I am anyway. And ultimately, I'm grateful for a job, and if one day I find myself back in the English department, I'll be grateful for a job and the ability to diversify, and fewer years to go before retirement.

But in the meantime, I am very excited about what this new organization can mean for the creative writing program. Yes, we have to cut back and cut our course offerings like everyone else, but we have a chance at a legitimacy we could never have in the shadow of Composition. We will be able to grow up now -- to individuate and become something we could never be in an English department. I've already talked with some of the arty-folks no one knows how to classify about doing Guerrilla Art on campus and around town to try and promote the arts and general education classes. Spontaneous poetry? Dance? Who knows.

The administration waved a magic wand and set me free. At last. They see me, my students, and my program for what it has always been: Artists creating art.

Oh happy, happy day.