The best things you can say to and do for someone who is fired from Western Illinios University are
- How are you? This sounds simple, but you must stop everything you are doing, stand still, and hold their eyes, and say it more slowly than usual.
- I support you and I will join in to fight to restore you to your rightful position at WIU. This can mean supporting the union, but it will probably mean volunteering countless hours to getting out the vote for the John Curtis Campaign, as well as for JB Pritzker. Most importantly, the fight to restore WIU means we must unite and support each other’s disciplines and programs.
- Ask the person who was fired to tell you her or his WIU story. This might be painful and scary because you will hear how dedicated they were over decades, and fear about your own job may rise up, but listen and stay with the story.
- Tell them that what they are going through must be so hard and awful. Understand that the fired faculty’s identity as a teacher and academic is deep and dear. Teaching, especially in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, is a calling, a vocation, almost religious in nature. We feel a great deal of satisfaction and contentment about giving students knowledge and tools that no one can ever take away from them. Firing faculty is a blow to the soul.
Some things that people did or said to me that didn’t help:
- Suggesting I move on before my grievance, arbitration, and appeal process is over.
- Minimizing the impact of the firing.
- Inventing a narrative about my rank and seniority: Oh, you were the junior person in your department. (Not true.), or Oh, you weren’t here that long. I was here 12 years when my contract was terminated. When I was laid off, there were 200 or 300 faculty with less rank and seniority than I had. To justify targeting the heart of the university (tenured professors and others who’ve served this institution for decades), WIU said they had to “realign” staff. That ain’t right. Realignment is for tires–not human beings. We reject an administration that treats us like objects.
On firing tenured faculty:
Most of us in the Liberal Arts and Sciences pursue PhDs because we find enrichment and personal growth in the rigor of academics–not because we believe our degrees entitle us to a better life than other hard-working folks. Tenure exists–and must exist–to protect academic freedoms, and that’s important, but everybody deserves a good and stable income with health care. Everyone deserves income stability.
They can take my job, but they can’t take my PhD or my decades of experience. Since being laid off, I have explored ways to re-invent myself, and in that exploration, my degrees and experience are invaluable. I am thankful for them. However, after a year, I have yet to succeed in re-inventing myself, and honestly, employers aren’t that interested in middle-aged women who’ve “re-invented” themselves.
I am a teacher, and I will fight to see my rightful position at WIU restored. I will fight for yours, as well. We will fight together.