Editor’s note: The following guest commentary was written by a former part-time faculty member at Cal Poly who wishes to remain anonymous.
I don’t have a name but a number. I am 34. Or is it 41? Or is it 32? I really don’t know, and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter, though, is that the department where I worked ranks their part-time faculty – a nebulous ranking system more befuddling than the economic crisis – and numbers 41 down to 31 lost their jobs, and more have been guaranteed to follow.
I know what you’re thinking: I worked at Safeway. There were 30, not-necessarily-more-qualified checkers, but checkers who had been around longer. You know, seniority. Well, I didn’t work at Safeway – I worked, taught, at Cal Poly. I have taught at least 600 students. And numbers 41 down to 31, combined, have also taught a lot of you; at least, lowest scenario, 5,000 of you. And you thought students were the only ones identified by a number?
I am deemed useless – expendable – by the CSU system. I, who used to be – no am, no always will be – your teacher is a Jackson Pollock pile of 3 a.m. Taco Bell-run vomit fermenting on the corner of Grand and Monterey. I am a glob of green finals-time mucous camouflaged in the color of car sickness grass on Dexter Lawn. I am a piece of bubble gum that was chewed from Fresno on down to SLO where I was extinguished on a wall with a million other pieces of gum in Bubble Gum Alley. I am chalk on pants. And I am also you – because I have taught you and cried for you and fought for you and laughed for you and defended you and yes I have also at times yelled at you and maybe even hollered at you but only because I cared. I, more times than you will ever know, have lost sleep over you. I am angry. I am hurt. I am disappointed. I am all over campus this quarter. There are a lot of us. Human beings reduced to numbers on a list – our lives now in shambles -because someone told someone who told someone else that cuts had to be made. And the easiest – the only thing – to do was just go down the list.
I am just a number and soon there will be other numbers who will be calling another number that will determine whether or not they qualify for unemployment. See, unlike other corporations – which universities are – we numbers in many departments scattered across campus don’t get a severance package. No, we get nothing. I lost my benefits. Maybe I have two mouths to feed at home and a partner on disability. Maybe I have a mortgage and a baby on the way. Maybe I already had a health condition and without my insurance I might not live. Maybe I’m not so concerned with health insurance but finally found an identity. Maybe I have now been stripped of my identity. Maybe you will see me next quarter – number 34 or is it 41 or is 32 -bagging your groceries at Albertson’s or pouring your drinks at Bull’s or twirling on a silver pole at the Rhino Spearmint Club down in Santa Maria. Maybe I won’t even get a $5 Starbuck’s card from the department that let me go. Maybe I won’t even get a pat on the back. Maybe Christmas this year won’t be so great. Maybe January will be even worse.
What if I told you that I – and the other 10 and the other numbers who have been assured that further cuts are coming – cried myself to sleep every night since finding out that I had been laid off? What if I told some of you that the reason I have such a long face in class is not because my kid at home won’t behave or my partner is having an affair or I just got diagnosed with some terrible illness, but because I was just downright brokenhearted because the CSU system told me I was just a number and my teaching meant nothing? Do you have any idea what this does to a number’s morale – too find out that you are nothing more than a number and will no longer be a number, even, come Christmas? You are now a number without an identity. I guess that makes you less than zero.
The moral to the story of part-time lecturer number 18 (or was it 22, or was it 28?) is not to let a number define who you are. Remember: the character of a number is truly revealed when nobody else is watching, which, ironically, might explain why your ranking is so low in the first place and hence your wait in the unemployment line.
Pretty soon there won’t be any numbers left because the CSU will double the class sizes and ask tenured professors and tenure-track professors to get down and dirty and engage in the trench warfare we numbers have fought for so many years. Further, the part-time numbers that did escape the axe versus the scalpel will now be put on the front line, outnumbered and ill equipped. And the sad thing is, we numbers took and take great pride – felt privileged and honored – for serving our country, the CSU for which we stand or stood.
Oh, one final number for all those numbers that really does matter: 1-800-300-5616. That’s the EDD number to file unemployment. I recommend calling first thing on a Tuesday or late Friday afternoon.
Number whatever is a Mustang Daily guest columnist.