To feel calm in Arbitration Hearing Number 2, I did three things.
First, I kept my spine straight with my shoulders back and down, like the yoga teachers instruct.
I had to sit on the edge of my seat—because I am petite, that’s the only way my feet will reach the floor flatly, and to keep my spine straight, I need to be able to plant my feet firmly on the floor. If I scoot back, my feet don’t reach.
Second, I wrote down what I heard and saw: the square-ish arrangement of tables and chairs in the Capitol room, what people said, what they wore, their drinks (bottles of Mountain Dew and Diet Coke, a bright red Coke can, and stainless steel coffee tumblers) how they held their hands when swearing in, and the line of their spines. Moving my pen across paper–forming humps, then loops, words, then sentences, lends me a calming sense of control.
And Third, I have a mantra that I learned from Dr. Kristin Neff’s work on Self-Compassion. I saved this for the hardest part–when I took the witness stand (actually just a foldable table) and waited for the Arbitrator to reconvene the hearing:
This is a moment of suffering
May I hold my pain with tenderness
Reciting the third line almost made me cry. I have so much pain that I am afraid I cannot hold it–not with tenderness, not with steadfastness, not with anything. When I felt that pinch in my eyes, I went back to the beginning of the mantra, and continued to repeat only the first two lines until the arbitrator reconvened the hearing.
“The reason I’m qualified to teach Spanish is I have a PhD in Spanish,” I testified. It doesn’t matter. I mean, for the sake of our students and our values, it matters, but Western Illinois University has already told me they don’t need my skillset here. Though deeply valuable, all those fancy degrees I’ve earned and the tenured status I jumped through hoops to achieve, do not do for me what I have thought they would. This lesson hurts. I try to hold that pain with tenderness.
It helps to remind myself that suffering is part of life for everyone. I saw and heard various forms of suffering on the witness stand. A voice died out, as if the witness had left the room, leaving a mute body at the table. A head sunk into its shoulders, as if afraid. When swearing in, a hand was closed, as if swearing against or swearing at.
My body also betrayed pain: on the witness stand, I kept having to re-straighten my spine, and at one point, when the administration’s attorney asked me a question that insulted my academic values, I took a breath in, held it, and turned my head towards the Union’s attorney.
Body language leads me to conclude that both sides have suffered the last two years. Dr. Kristin Neff makes a compelling argument that everyone suffers. Who does not suffer? Suffering makes us human, she says.
It occurs to the cynic in me that management might not be suffering at all. Maybe they feel just fine about breaking their promise (p. 52) to me, about reducing me to a line on a spreadsheet, about taking the side that my rank, seniority, qualifications, and experience (p. 69) don’t matter. I did’t lay myself off. In official letters for 10 years, management encouraged me to persist.
It is hard for me to be so cynical that I believe the administration has completely cut themselves off. Is it even possible to cut yourself off from being human? To testify against someone with whom you used to sit at the same table and work collaboratively is depressing to all.
For the moment, I have lost my academic career–the career I invested 30 years in. But those in power have to live with the fact that they’ve hurt their own faculty and caused our enrollment to plummet far more precipitously than our peers’.
I’ll accept my suffering and my choices. In a way, I’m even grateful.