The last six months have been the most challenging and stressful period in my professional life. As I write this communication, I frankly question whether I have it in me to last another thirteen months in this job. What is crystal clear, however, is that I will not run for a fourth year as Guild president even if a gun were held to my head. In fact, I ran again this year quite reluctantly, mainly because no one from Guild Executive wanted the job, but also to provide continuity with the transition of the next Superintendent/President. The strong desire to flee the Guild’s nest after many years of devotion to its cause makes me question elements of this job that crush most faculty members who have fulfilled the role of president on our campus, and to wonder if there are ways to mitigate this pressure for the next generation of leaders.
In past years, tension between faculty groups and the Board of Trustees was considered to be one of the most stressful components of Guild leadership. However, since the arrival of Dr. Riggs, that pressure has eased a great deal: communication has become more open, and the level of discourse has been elevated from bickering to genuine problem solving. On the other hand, internal pressure and infighting across faculty groups as well as among their representatives has gone through the roof. Although my objective side recognizes that this behavior is due, in large part, to the terrible budget crisis that has gripped us at the national and state levels, my all-too-human emotional side can’t help but be overwhelmed by the amount of accusations and negativity I have either witnessed or received in recent months.
I recognize that human nature –or is it upbringing?- motivates individuals to speak up often when things are not to their liking and to be silent, even complacent, when the sailing is smooth. For instance, the manager of a restaurant is called to a table far more often to handle a customer complaint than to accept a compliment. Similarly, I receive most of my daily input from the same small subset of Guild members who are constantly unhappy, almost always accusatory, and who only see the world through the lens of their own circumstances or benefit. This, in turn, has skewed my perception of leadership and created a level of self-doubt that has been quite detrimental to my personal wellbeing. A few weeks ago, I felt that I had hit rock bottom when I had to brush aside the index finger of an angry male faculty member that was held a mere two inches from my face. More than once, I have felt like a reluctant participant on the set of a Jerry Springer show. As I reflect upon all that I have lost in this job – a close friendship, many hours of sleep, and a peaceful life - I cannot help but wonder whether this is all worth it. Please, readers, do not begin to shower me with emails and phone calls; that is not what I seek, nor is it something that I welcome at this juncture. Honestly, it is too late for that level of feedback. The point that I am trying to make is not about me; rather, my attempt is to smooth the way, maybe clumsily, for my successor, and to find a way to support him/her through our collective efforts.
The concept of fairness, I have come to find out, is defined in a myriad of ways by employees, but all with the common trait that in each and every case, what is “fair” miraculously favors them personally. Full time instructional faculty feel shortchanged by the loss of short session pay in recent years; counselors often speak about their restricted schedule while being bitterly resented by their instructional counterparts for their pay differential; librarians have disliked the fact that unlike instructional faculty, they cannot perform more of their duties off campus; Student Services specialists have felt left out of the allocation of short session assignments; credit adjuncts bemoan their low pay while noncredit part-timers feel like the unwanted step children who have been deemed undeserving of paid office hours; program directors consider their project to be the most crucial and the one that should be preserved at all cost; the hourly overload pay for full-timers is lower than that of adjuncts and therefore unfair. I could go on, and on, and on, but I think you all get the point.
A new set of freshly signed tentative agreements was just posted online for your consideration. As you peruse through this sweeping package, I challenge you to look beyond your own gain and loss, concentrate on the big picture, and question whether you could have found a more equitable outcome, not just for yourself, but for the entirety of the Guild membership. If you do, you should consider it your calling to run for Guild office. Also, next time that you enjoy a fabulous meal at your favorite restaurant, please make a point to see the chef and to give him/her a well-deserved compliment.
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