By Sandra Mizumoto Posey
I’m an accidental academic, but once I fell into academia I kept falling. It was pure luck that the only job I was invited to interview for when I was searching for a job with benefits — in or out of academia — was the one I got: the coveted tenure-track faculty position. And believe me, with the sheer numbers of Ph.D.s on the job market, many with better credentials and more publications than I, I know full well it was luck as much as anything. Truthfully, I think all these jobs can be attributed to luck but people want to believe they earned things so they tell themselves they were the better candidate, then proceed to treat adjuncts like crap. It can be ugly.
I was also fortunate to be able to transfer that tenure to another job, if you could call it fortunate at all: in my next position, the impossibility of the ever-rising workload and the toxicity of the environment (where undermining colleagues was routine) led to a series of ailments including 2 open heart surgeries, 2 strokes, and other disabilities to the extent that I am now officially employed but basically out of work well before retirement age — and my disability income ends at retirement age even though they no longer contribute to my retirement. Rock, meet hard place.
Between medical appointments, I spent my newly out-of-work schedule writing. It was a need. I had a lot to process.
My project started as catharsis and evolved into something more. It was originally a prose memoir but I noticed that if I posted on facebook some comment or excerpt with an accompanying doodle, people responded more. My husband suggested I turn my project into a graphic novel and I was incredibly intimidated by the prospect. It basically meant not only a full rewrite (and I’d already written two full drafts) but drawing hundreds of images — and while I’ve always been a bit arty, I haven’t really drawn much since I did my first comic in the early 90s. But once I got going, it just really started coming together and I realized that it wasn’t just a semi-fictionalized memoir of my misery. It was bringing me back to my roots as an artist that academia had all but wrung out of me and more than that the change in format started crystalizing into giving the project a larger goal:
Shine a light on the issues and start a movement to restore funding for public higher education. Get people in AND out of academia to care and to remember that higher ed has always been as much a public good as a private one: that we NEED it to exist and thrive for society’s sake. I know many people think I’m deluded and that the university system is not worth rebuilding but I also know that if I don’t try it will definitely remain a delusion while if I do try maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference that none of my earlier attempts within the academy have been able to sustain.
Pair that with my near death experiences and it has put a sense of urgency to my project that has restored my sense of purpose — which for someone on disability is sorely needed.
I’ve gotten pushback both from people outside and inside academia.. I agree that the situation is damaged and toxic on so many levels that even my book, 250 pages long, cannot cover them all. But I persist. My efforts may result in nothing, but it will have given my remaining time meaning.
Even if I fail to get this book published or convince a single soul that participating in collective mobilization will make the least difference, I will have tried. When the third emergency open heart surgery rears up to take me (I’m a folklorist: things come in 3s), I’ll be ready.
But maybe I’ll live long enough to act. Wait for the call.
Consider not saying “no” because the system crushed you. Consider creating something for the next generation that will give your suffering meaning. I’m not claiming this is the only worthy cause and I know your time is valuable.
To make change you have to be irksome. I have a lot of irk and I’m guessing you do too. Let’s put it to good use.