Dear Director of Writing and Assessment, UNF,
I should have no reason to introduce myself, having worked for you as part of the University of North Florida Writing Center’s faculty for over five years. However, considering your reasoning for my recent dismissal, it’s quite clear that you have no idea who I am. In fact, I doubt that you ever listened to a word I said.
To first address the proverbial elephant in the room: yes, I am running for Congress. However, you assumed that my political involvement arises from aspiring to be a career politician or political scientist who teaches only politics politics politics all day. Your suggestion that I get my master of public administration degree for this purpose is grossly misguided for three reasons: your decision to eliminate me compromised my ability to afford a new degree, a new master’s degree would qualify me for nothing more than yet another adjunct position, and, most importantly, I am just not interested in teaching political science. That is not my field; rhetoric is. No, if I get another degree, it will be a PhD in English, with a focus on digital media, the field I specialized in the first place. Remember all those department textbooks that attempted to integrate digital media and how I offered to help with them? Of course you don’t.
You were confident that I could somehow, magically, get a high-paying job in politics. With your tone, you tried to assure me that you were doing me a favor. You told me to run someone else’s campaign, yet you forgot that I need someone to run my own campaign, and I’m not experienced or qualified in directing field operations. Few candidates are. Furthermore, while I will do my best to win in 2018, treating that as a certainty, as you did, is downright foolhardy. On top of all that, Jacksonville has no campaigns to run in any significant capacity in 2017.
My reason for running for office in the first place is what allowed you to get rid of me so easily. A system so corrupt as to allow the exploitation of adjunct professors has no reason to exist. The corporate mindset prevalent in government and universities shortchanges hard work in favor of stroking the egos and bank accounts of the already powerful. According to politicians, the poor need to get college educations to pull themselves out of poverty, yet they are paid too little to pay the obscene costs of college. Then they take a class taught by an adjunct who needs parental aid to pay rent. Where is that tuition money going? This adjunct dreams of a career in higher education yet has no path to expanding that career, regardless of publications or expertise. What message does this send to students?
With all that said, my call to run for political office arises out of a duty to my fellow adjuncts and exploited workers, not an inherent love for politics. I vow to end the exploitation of all abused workers. As someone who leads adjunct professors, you should understand this mission.
But you don’t. You probably think you do, but you don’t. Why? Because you are personally responsible for exploiting adjunct professors. You give them extra work beyond their described duties despite the near poverty wages and lack of job security. You use adjuncts for your personal gain.
The proof is in the dreadful textbooks you force your adjuncts to assign to students. Invariably, these books have little practical utility and only the most tenuous connections to the supposed themes of the courses. When the theme of ENC 1143 in 2015-16 was apparently satire, This Is Not a Book contained very little actual satire. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Philosophy of Composition” is not satirical—ironic considering that Edgar Allan Poe did write satire.
You know who writes satire and would have gladly loaned her knowledge/ability to that book’s production? ME. I have written two entire satirical books and numerous short stories that have I finally begun submitting to journals. With no help from course materials, I taught satire through my personal expertise.
I repeatedly declared my interest in improving these textbooks, yet I was never brought aboard the teams making them. Most egregiously, when I heard about the themes of video games and transitions for the 2014-15 textbooks, I recall coming right up to you and saying that I wanted to be involved. I had already studied interactive media as a graduate student, with a continuous interest in video games since I was five. In fact, my essay on gender dynamics in The Legend of Zelda series is due for academic publication soon, yet I was never consulted about Push Here. As for Plans, Trans, Fans, the final product had nothing “Trans” about it. Considering that your only transgender staff member asked to be involved, it raised some red flags for me. Why include “Trans” in the title with no intended trans representation?
Interestingly, Push Here was the final remotely usable textbook for ENC 1101. #heavymeta and #digacies certainly were not (and it should be DigIcies, with an I, but apparently finding someone who can spell in an English department is a tall order). These two books fulfill your personal interest in composition for composition’s sake, starting with the titles. Starting a book title with a hashtag is incredibly forced and screams “Hey kids! Look at us! We’re cool and hip with all these newfangled Twitbooks and Facers nowadays!” I checked—only two people ever tweeted #digacies, and they both helped create it. I was embarrassed to say these names in class because I couldn’t believe that someone paid a living wage would come up with something so asinine and force an adjunct to use it. As a side note, the cover art to #digacies is terrifying and has nothing to do with what is inside; find a better artist.
I doubt that any existing topic has any connection to what is inside of these books. With the exception of a few texts, like those by James Paul Gee, the readings are so esoteric, pretentious, and overblown, that no one except rhetoric and composition specialists can even read them, let alone understand them. College freshmen with a variety of majors disengage instantly upon reading such riveting lines like, “Teaching style from model essays, in this view, is teaching the discourse conventions as formal structures, as if they were universal patterns of thought and language. What we should do is teach students that there are such things as discourse conventions” (Bizzell 39). Why does a student majoring in engineering, nursing, psychology, math, or most of the humanities, including most English majors, need to read this drivel? I understand that assigning difficult texts is meant to stimulate student thought processes, but what relevant thoughts arise from information that students have no logical reason to know? How many of them will teach composition? Why should all students know how to teach composition? What was so wrong about the concepts of community, rhetorical situation, and plagiarism from past books? Students actually had an iota of interest in those.
The textbooks display raw ignorance of what students want and need to know. “Oh hey, I’m interested in teaching composition, so this research study meant to be read exclusively by composition professors must be perfect for my students to read. I sure do love composition! Let’s talk about composition! Composition! Composition!” News flash: what’s good for a professor to read can be useless to students.
I never told you this, but I refused to use #heavymeta in my Spring 2016 ENC 1101 course. Instead I hand-selected appropriate readings and distributed them myself. I figured that a class about rhetoric should focus on rhetoric, not on how to be a professor. Students learned far more from George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language,” James Porter’s “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” and Harry Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit” than anything in #heavymeta because these texts were about relatable topics. Students want to learn rhetoric that applies to their own lives, so they can be more likely to remember it.
Now, did I break the rules by not using the your departmentally provided textbook? Your rules, yes, but not UNF’s. Section 10.1 of the UNF Faculty Handbook states,
A. Non-unit Faculty shall be free to:
1. Cultivate a spirit of inquiry and scholarly criticism and present and discuss their own academic subjects, frankly and forthrightly, with freedom and confidence.
2. Select instructional materials and determine grades in accordance with University procedure.
3. Engage in scholarly and creative activity and publish the results in a manner consistent with their professional obligations.
Oh, what’s that? “Non-unit Faculty,” which includes adjuncts, shall be free to select instructional materials? In other words, by requiring these textbooks, you are breaking university policy. How can professors confidently present materials that they find inappropriate for students? In part because I dared to speak out against these contrived, ineffective textbooks and their limitations to effective teaching, you dismissed me. Isn’t the whole idea of academic freedom to allow thoughtful considerations of opposing viewpoints? Isn’t that a cornerstone of rhetoric? Isn’t that something we, as rhetoric professors, are careful to teach students, or at least should be? Why should adjuncts, already grossly underpaid, face an extra layer of difficulty interpreting your personal academic interests?
And let’s not forget about the freedom to perform scholarly activity and publish results. You cited your desire to focus on composition experts in the lower level writing courses, instead of someone with my literature background. However, my effectiveness at teaching ENC 1143—a course in which literature is quite relevant—combined with my recent research and drive to advance my academic and professional background, apparently meant nothing. My constant search for professional development, which CIRT can attest to, also meant nothing. Furthermore, my understanding of politics and interest in running for office in part extends from my expertise in rhetoric and discourse, making your decision even more nonsensical. On top of all that, a student nominated me for an outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2015. Other students thanked me in person and in other ways specifically for not being just like every other English teacher. None of this means anything to you.
And most of all, according to the above policy, faculty shall be free to determine grades appropriately. With no due respect, the individual in charge of ENC 1101 since Fall 2016 proved to me that she is a fool. My refusal to celebrate this “Learning Contract” grading system and the extra work/assignments she built into it is not due to any dearth of intelligence or ability for me; rather it is the result of the system making no practical sense.
As soon as any neutral party learns about the Learning Contract, the immediate reaction is that it is little more than a glorified participation ribbon system. As someone who grew up in the millennial generation, contrary to what right-wing blowhards say, I can attest that participation ribbons are meaningless. An “effort-based” system in which meeting the minimum requirements is enough to succeed is a ticket straight to mediocrity. It is about as meaningful as a building contractor saying, “I know the house is falling apart, but I worked really hard on it, so you should pay me its full value.” “Effort” is meaningless if it never leads to quality.
In fact, does this system even lead to increased “effort”? I was told that it would condition students to the writing process so they would put time and care into their writing. I was told that they would be less concerned with grammar and instead focus on higher-order concerns like organization and evidence. I was told that students would pay more attention to feedback to improve their writing rather than focusing only on justifications for their grades. I was told that students would have a better idea of their performance in the class overall than they would with a numeric grade.
In reality, students paid far less attention to the writing process and were more likely to squeeze something out the night it was due. Grammar became their only concern; since I did my job and focused on higher-order concerns in my teaching, hardly anyone failed due to not fulfilling minimums in any category other than grammar. I had plenty of students who would have passed assignments in a traditional grading system yet failed only because of grammar, while others did the bare minimum in every regard and got the best grades. Therefore, this pass/fail system forced me to justify each grade more than ever. With no overall grade besides a visual sampling of passing and failing assignments, students had no clue of how they were performing until the very end of the course. All factors considered, this “effort-based” approach led to no effort.
When students subjected to the Learning Contract in ENC 1101 took my ENC 1143 courses in the spring, their writing habits were awful. The initial assignments were some of the worst I had ever received. Yet, you have eliminated me for the sake of preserving what little integrity this grading system has. I know that it has some research behind it, but any academic research can have potential counterarguments. I brought them up and was proven right, yet I was instead silenced.
The Learning Contract masquerades as an objective evaluation, just like the overload of summaries you require adjuncts to assign. Six summaries is far too much for an adjunct to grade, amounting to more work for the same low pay. The essay assignments, despite being longer, were easier to grade because being creative is more natural. I can cite countless examples of great essay writing, but precious few of great summary writing. Summaries test only rote regurgitation of someone else’s ideas without any thought about the material, yet you only care about the summaries and use that as the sole measure of student progress.
You axed me in favor of a less experienced, less politically active adjunct who was willing to teach your form of composition without question. I knew something was wrong over the summer as soon as you said that you had no classes for me yet had hired a new adjunct. However, you continued to lie to me. You told me to check back later in July to discuss fall course possibilities. Only after Action News Jax reported on my campaign did you finally vaguely hint at cutting me. Clearly, this was a conscious and timed decision, which I only realized with time.
Just because of changes to ENC 1101, you got rid of me. For years, I asked you again and again for an opportunity to teach other courses. You gave these opportunities to plenty of other adjuncts with the same qualifications but never to me. I had years of experience tutoring UNF students in writing. I constantly pursued professional development to expand my knowledge and skills. Just because I didn’t fulfill your ideal image of someone who obsesses over freshman composition over all else in life, you ignored me.
After the political excuse failed to clear your conscience, you told me to get a K-12 teaching job. One big problem: I didn’t know I needed to apply for a K-12 job until late July, when full-time teacher positions were filled, and it was much too late to apply for teaching certification. On top of that, what conservative parents would want a transgender progressive Democratic candidate teaching their kids in K-12? It’s hard enough for transgender students to use a restroom without facing resistance, and I can’t find anything reported about transgender teachers. I had a reason for wanting to continue teaching college, despite the low pay and awful textbooks. The only job I could find in a reasonable time was substitute teacher, which makes my master’s degree quite pointless. I have only subbed a few days so far, and I have already had students find out I was transgender from my public persona and shout obscenities at me. Sure, my thick skin helps, but your excuse that I would be better off in K-12 than UNF is clearly ridiculous.
As for service jobs, do you honestly believe any retail or food establishment wants to hire an author with a master’s degree and aspirations of career advancement? And what would that say to any of the younger trans women who want to make a mark on the world, only to see one of their own demoted from the prestige of higher education to service work. At least I was taken seriously as a scholar. In fact, full-time professors at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference told me that I should be teaching courses in digital media and gender studies. They were surprised that I was an adjunct teaching only what you wanted.
These other professors also asked me if I had any professional evaluation of my teaching. They were amazed that I had none. After over five years, I recall you sending multiple invitations to meet with me about my academic progress. I responded to all but one, yet you never followed through on any response. It reached the point that I thought I responded to the most recent one even though I missed it. Little did I know that this would be the only one you would take seriously. You finally decided to do your job after five years, yet I am the one left without a job or a single evaluation of my teaching. You broke UNF policy in this way too–evaluations are supposed to be yearly.
You acted like you were doing me and yourself a favor by by getting rid of me, but your extreme lack of foresight and hindsight is astounding. I have been there, willing to be an active part of the UNF Writing Program time and time again, yet you have constantly ignored me. Apparently, the UNF administration feels the same way: they awarded me a $16,000 out-of-court settlement (before lawyer’s fees and taxes) due to your blunder. That’s right—UNF’s legal department is willing to recognize your actions as possible discrimination even considering the lack of job security for adjuncts.
I once respected you. I once looked up to you. I admired your groundbreaking studies in fandom. I wanted to succeed in my own form of rhetorical expertise, just as you had. I thought that you were willing to fight for what is right. However, I see now that my admiration was misplaced. Your limited, ego-inflating hyperfocus on enacting your delusions of the perfect Writing Center will be your undoing.
Monica P. DePaul, M.A.