As another semester begins, there are so many things I am excited to teach you. But some of the most important of these lessons simply cannot be taught in a classroom. I write to you now because I am in a unique position to show you one of the most life-changing skills you can ever have: the ability to take a stand for what you think is right.
I want you to be confident in yourself. To trust your own voice. I can see the lack of confidence in you sometimes because I have lacked it myself for so much of my life — until now. Confidence is when you think something, something probably very grand and bold and right and good for humanity, and then — and this is key — act upon it. Taking the leap with no assurances of any kind of what will happen.
You will need support along the way. You will need people to stand with you. And you will have to be strong. Resilient. Persistent. Tenacious. Because the right thing to do is usually the hardest. The David up against the Goliath. The vulnerable against the powerful. I can only hope you will be choosing the side of right, increasing your confidence and learning just how much you really can do for the rest of your lives.
I am in the middle of a decision like this right now, right here on this campus. I decided, as an adjunct professor, to wholeheartedly join the movement to form a union of adjunct and non-tenure-track professors at Elon University because I believe it’s in the best interests of all students and faculty on campus. I wanted you to know this, to see it, so you know what a leap looks like. I will not lie: it’s terrifying. But it’s also exhilarating and immensely empowering. Whatever comes next, I will never be the same after this. It has made me stronger, stretched what I thought I was capable of, connected me to this community like never before and has given me an inner confidence that cannot be diminished.
I have been teaching at Elon since August 2012. I started on a one-year commitment, and then I took unpaid maternity leave for a semester to have my daughter Anna. After that, I was offered nine semester-by-semester contracts, some part-time and some full-time. This academic year, I am on a year-long contract. Though I always hope I will be back each semester, there is never any guarantee. I live with the uncertainty of knowing I could be let go at any time.
Teaching for me is like breathing: I don’t know how I’d survive without it. At the same time, the low pay offered to adjunct professors today is demoralizing. From 2012 to 2018, as a professor with a PhD working at the top regional university in the South, I have been paid an average of $26,104 — sometimes as little as $19,428 and never more than $40,255. As my students, you know exactly how hard I work for this university and for that pay.
For some of your professors, everyday expenses like rent and medical bills can become simply impossible to cover. Before Anna started school this past fall, I spent roughly half of my salary most years to pay for high-quality childcare. Fortunately, my husband’s salary helps stabilize our household income, and his employer provides dependable healthcare for Anna and myself. I am deeply uncomfortable with the fact that I have a PhD, yet if I were single and taking care of Anna, or if my husband didn’t have the job he has now, my salary at Elon would not be enough to cover even basic living expenses for my family.
Students, it is very possible that you have been taught by an adjunct professor at Elon that is under severe financial stress. To make matters worse, as female faculty at Elon, we make an average of 6 percent less than our male counterparts. Yes, the pay gap you study about at this university exists at this university. I cannot stand in front of you semester after semester and stay silent about these injustices.
I have been working with my adjunct and non-tenure-track colleagues for months to form a union on this campus so we have the power — and the voice — to collectively bargain for the improved work conditions that will benefit you, our students, as well as this campus as a whole. Ultimately, our efforts seek to align Elon’s noble mission statement with actions that are on par with those values.
We have asked community members to stand with us in calling on Provost Steven House and President Connie Book to respect our request for them to remain neutral in this process and to allow a democratic election regarding the formation of a union to proceed as soon as possible. The community has responded with an outpouring of solidarity: to date, letters of support from students, alumni, tenured/tenure-track faculty allies and faith leaders have collected hundreds of signatures combined — and counting.
Our efforts to form a union on this campus — every conversation, every amazing colleague we’ve met, every perspective we’ve heard — have made Elon feel more like my home than ever before. Students, I do not know what will happen with this today, or tomorrow or next week. I do know that everything in my being tells me this is the right decision. I want to stay at this university for years to come and know that my colleagues and I worked so hard to make Elon better for its students, truer to its values and more equitable for all. I will persist and be brave. Watch me, students: this is how you take a leap.