“What would you do if nothing stood in the way of your dreams?” a discussion card read. Each year in WS 265, Women and Creativity, we watched Who Does She Think She Is?, a film about mothers in the creative professions.
“What about you, Dr. Stovall? What would you do?” a student asked.
I stood between my students and a massive metal desk.
“Um, I guess I’m living it? I landed a tenure track job and have a family.” My cheeks heated up under this exposure. Their faces were patient, but unconvinced.
The second year they asked, I hid my body behind the massive desk and said, “Um, write a book?”
Finally, the third year, I did not hide or blush: “Write a book, a story, something creative.” What was I waiting for?
Write what you know, say the great authors. I’ve known more than my share of crappy stuff: sexual assaults and harassment, depression, the sudden death of my brother, etc., but others have written about these themes. I was waiting for something uniquely crappy to happen to me.
Then I got laid off from the career that I believed promised the most job stability. How often does a tenured professor get laid off?
The Western Illinois University provost told the Chronicle of Higher Education that WIU laid off faculty in the early 80s.
The provost’s “assumption” is confusing and disorienting. How important is it that we hold WIU’s upper administration to a rigorous standard for truth and accuracy?
In the 80s, I knew WIU professors pretty well: Dr. Helwig took us to Spain; Dr. Vaughn, an accounting professor, taught my Sunday school class at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); church deacons chaired Geography and Foreign Languages and Literatures. They did not speak of layoffs.
Many professors from the 80s still live in Macomb, so I asked them if they recalled any faculty layoffs.
Gil Belles (History, at the time) did not, nor did Sterling Kernek (History) or Jim McKinney (Spanish). Gil said that the administration told the History department to re-organize and gave them three years to do it. Gil re-trained for RPTA. One professor was given a dual appointment with the advising center. Another went to the Dean’s office. Not one was laid off.
I have asked about town if anyone knew of any faculty from anywhere in the university laid off in the 80s. (No.)
On behalf of a representative to Faculty Senate, Annette Hamm searched the Faculty Senate archives for evidence of layoffs and did not find any.
I visited the archives in Malpass.
I have published a scholarly article based on archival research, so I felt confident about my ability to find evidence of layoffs.
The librarian pulled these documents from the early 80s:
Board of Governor’s minutes:
Newspapers articles about the financial situation of the 80s
I kept an eye out for key words:
Faculty, realignment, re-organization, reduction, layoff
I found nothing. Maybe I just needed to brush up my research skills. Two months later, I returned to re-read the documents. Nothing.
So, laying off a tenured professor who’d worked at WIU 12 years and who’d invested thirty years in preparing for an academic career? And I’m the first and only tenured professor laid off at WIU? These facts meet my standard for uniquely crappy life event.
If my dream is to write a creative book, nothing now stands in my way.