Nothin to Lose but my Chains: Poor People’s Campaign in Springfield

On Mother’s Day I went to bed early and read a magazine article that felt life changing. The Reverend William Barber, along with Liz Theoharris, has reignited Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.  Barber is a minister trained in the tradition I grew up in, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (The Disciples church in Macomb sits across from the Police Station.)

Barber’s theology fuels his tireless efforts to address poverty, and he has inspired folks all over the country—rural, urban, north, south, black, white, male, female—to join the Poor People’s Campaign.

Since I was laid off from my tenured professor position in Women’s Studies last year, I’ve struggled with insecurity and self-doubt, but after learning about Barber, I felt certain that I would walk with the Poor People’s Campaign. OPPC

I woke up early Monday morning, searched the web, and found that the first event of a 40-day campaign for moral revival was set to begin that afternoon in dozens of state capitols across the country. The theme of the week is one I’d taught in my Women Studies classes for more than a decade:  “Somebody’s Hurting Our People: Children, Women and People with Disabilities Living in Poverty.”

Even with the two-lane roads and the occasional monster tractor ahead, I could get to Springfield in an hour and a half. New-Banner Outside of Beardstown, IL, I passed a billboard: “Elect John Curtis.” John has walked my congressional district door to door and he’s seen for himself the extensive poverty (nearly one third of the people) that plagues McDonough County.  Though Curtis is a politician, not an activist, his walk through the poverty of our district reminds me that King did the same—choosing to begin his Poor People’s Campaign by marching out of Marks, Alabama, the most destitute town in the country.

IMG_2765                               In Springfield, the Lincoln Statue was hot and sleepy.

img_2744.jpgThe steps around the statue were empty, but I began to hear voices singing and tambourines ringing—and then a procession of marchers emerged from behind the capitol.

img_2746.jpgSinging in a minor key: “We are a new unsettling force for liberation and we’ve got nothing to lose but our chains.”

IMG_2785We gathered around the Lincoln statue, and Jade Mazon (purple shirt) told the crowd that poverty and PTSD from domestic assault have erected obstacles to her role as mother of Kiki, an honors student who stood by her side. Jade works two jobs and two “hustles,” (informal work). From Mazon’s perspective, Kiki’s school tends to punish Mazon for being poor and disabled with PTSD.  Our society has made parenting while poor a crime.


A close-up with Jade Mazon and her daughter Kiki. Jade is a mother struggling to raise her daughter, and the the speech she delivered was as clear and compelling as anything I’ve ever assigned in a Women’s Studies textbook. Jade and Kiki wore purple t-shirts that read “Rebel Bells,” a mother-daughter group the fights the storage and emissions of neuro- and lung toxins on Chicago’s Southeast side.


Poverty and toxic air and water are rural problems, as well as urban.  The Illinois Poverty Report ranks McDonough County as approaching a 30 percent poverty rate—one of the worst in the state.  One report ranked air quality around Macomb’s Elementary school very low. In addition, neuro toxins from agricultural fertilizers and other sources may poison drinking water in rural areas, such as McDonough County, IL.

Poverty and environmental destruction are UNIFYING factors because they affect every racial/ethnic category:  for example, most poor people are white and many LGBTQ folks are poor. And everyone needs clean air and water.


The War against the poor is immoral.

After speaking truth to power, we moved . . .

img_2794.jpgEvent leaders told us to march in twos, which we didn’t quite pull off.



Keeping the mood positive.  All but the red arm-banded will move to the sidewalk corners.

IMG_2835At the intersection of Monroe and 2nd St, three white women, three white men, and one woman of color, all wearing red armbands they had earned in civil disobedience training, stopped in the box and linked hands.


Most of us kept to the sidewalk corners. To encourage and support those who were risking arrest, Rev. Saeed Richardson led chants:  “We love you.”

A 93-degree sun beat down on the red-arm-banded protesters in the middle of the intersection.  Nearly a dozen police vehicles surrounded us.


“Prisoner Transport,” arrived last.



Police trained to address civil disobedience talked to protesters, escorted each one to the sidewalk, and ticketed them. The two women above graciously took selfies with me after coming off the protest line to wait for their tickets.  (Ticketing the poor??? Doesn’t solve much, but raises public funds, at least).

Afterwards, one of the ticketed protesters sat on the curb in the shade.  She was a woman who didn’t look that different from the white women who’ve recently made the news for calling police on black folks for engaging in completely appropriate activities.

She smiled, her face sweaty.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Hot, but I’m from Southern Illinois, near St. Louis, where white people hardly ever get arrested for petty crimes.  I wanted to take my turn, take a stand.”

“Thank you for putting yourself out there,” I said.

“I’ll be glad to see my kids tonight,” she said.

I went home and signed up for a civil disobedience training webinar.

I’ll return to Springfield each Monday in May to campaign with the poor people.



Note:  even the police officer, left, can’t resist jamming a little, smiling, and taking video.




Thank You for Re-carding your UPI membership

Dear Colleagues,

I want to thank you, my colleagues, who have re-carded your membership with the University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100. In light of attacks from the SCOTUS, the Koch brothers, Governor Bruce Rauner, and our own administration, I feel an urgency to articulate my gratitude to UPI leaders and members.

The best explanation for re-carding I’ve seen comes from the Chicago Teachers Unions:

To proactively fight this expected decision . .  . reaffirm your membership and support for the union. We need to demonstrate our solidarity and our determination to stand united as a union.  We owe it to our students and ourselves to make this happen. Without a union, educators are relegated to lower pay, longer hours, and worse conditions for students.

Like in the Chicago Public Schools, the best way for public universities to provide high quality education to students is to keep education resources in actual education, meaning in the classroom (not management), meaning adminsitrators must pay faculty and professionals fairly and provide us with working conditions that are both psychologically and physically healthy.

Dear colleagues, I once had a heated debate with one of you, a sturdy southerner.  We were eating tortilla chips with cheese dip. When you said that scientists are always objective, I told you not to deceive yourself.  Your eyes narrowed—it was clear that we would not reach an agreement on the common belief that scientists are more objective than literary scholars.  But last week, when we crossed paths at a recent UPI event, we greeted each other happily.  One thing we agree on—we value our union and the importance of re-carding.

What I like most about my fellow union members is that you care about Western Illinois University and the region.  Many of you, I know, wrestle with the way you will vote on UPI questions, and you consider many factors beyond yourself.  After careful consideration last month, one of you decided to vote to authorize a strike, went to bed, woke up, and changed your mind, but you made your voice heard, you accepted that most of your colleagues voted for strike authorization, and you re-carded. Your willingness to cast a vote of dissent, and then support the union when things don’t go your way, impresses me. What we agree on is this: if the UPI doesn’t stand up for professors and professionals, no one will. I hope the next WIU administration understands that to support faculty, they will have to support the UPI.

I value my union because I love teaching and learning.  The UPI fights to keep resources in the classroom.  Paying professors fairly is the best way to value education.  When the UPI gives up pay, the administration directs those funds to expensive attorneys who don’t know our students and are not invested in our classrooms. Or they give a generous “promotion” (raise) to someone in Sherman Hall, where there are no classrooms.

If you believe, as I do, that education is a social good, that we are preparing students to be engaged citizens, that we will help them get jobs and avoid poverty (and please remember that a woman needs a college degree to earn the same as a man with only a high school education), then we have to fight to keep university resources in the classroom. That means we must all re-card now, before the Supreme Court announces the Janus decision.

For me, the UPI’s most important impact, after education, is social justice.  My union fights for a broad vision of justice.  Some folks assume that the UPI is just a group of middle-class professionals bargaining for a raise, but that is not an accurate picture.  (For one, we’re not even bargaining for a raise.)  Because wages do not keep up with inflation, while our health insurance premiums and bills are increasing, some WIU professors cannot pay basic bills each month.  In our house, we struggle to pay bills on one full-professor income.  We don’t have Netflix, cable, or cell phone plans.  Our cars are old and in need of repair.  We don’t eat out.  I get angry, ashamed, and depressed when a check bounces.  The women at the check-out are always kind when my debit card is rejected. Many of my colleagues struggle much more than we do.  Social Justice requires that professors and professionals have a salary that can support a family.  The UPI is the only organization fighting for our families.

The UPI takes a stand for free speech, which is necessary for social justice, as well as teaching and learning. When I angered the administration by speaking with the Chronicle twice, and then blogging about how sexist WIU’s administration is, the UPI could have told me that it would be easier to defend me if I weren’t so publicly critical. They didn’t–instead, they supported my academic freedoms and rights to free speech.

We know from historical and economic research that unions stabilize economies and prevent the widening of the gap between rich and poor.  This means that when you re-card, you are supporting the local economy.

I know from my experience of studying with Polly Radosh, a feminist activist academic, that the union has worked hard to close the gender wage gap, which is an important social justice issue. When you re-card, you are supporting fair pay for women.

Union activism and bargaining may be the most effective way to prevent neo-liberals million- and billionaires from draining resources from the public classroom and sanitizing curriculum. Wealthy conservative extremists are leading a national movement to reduce our public universities into training and instructional institutions (See Starving the Beast).  They attack the humanities, which are, historically, the very core of university degrees.  The union is a check on the senseless wealth of neo-liberal billionaires like the Koch brothers and their fellow ideologues, such as Governor Bruce Rauner and Mike Pence.

The UPI functions at its best when listening to members and engaging in difficult conversations. If I have a concern, I let UPI president Bill Thompson know and we talk through it.  After two grievances, two arbitrations, and two-plus years being laid off, I wish the UPI had won back my reinstatement already. Things have not gone exactly my way, but I support the union, as does my husband, who has already re-carded.  Though the UPI leadership always listens, they cannot please everyone at once.  When you re-card, you have a voice.

Union members know that we must balance individual concerns with the good of the whole.  A WIU administrator recently called this concern for the whole group a form of “Kool-aid drinking.”  What he calls “Kool-aid,” I call a broad vision of justice that looks beyond one’s individual wants and needs.  The UPI should be proud of our willingness to defend what is true and good beyond the individual.  President Goldfarb and other previous administrations understood the value of unions.  They didn’t accuse us of drinking “the Kool-aid.”

Thank you for recarding.  Thank you for supporting our union. Thank you for taking a stand for your own ability to pay bills and, if you choose, support a family.  Thank you for setting up yourself, and your position, for a solid defense should you find yourself laid off this month.  Thank you for contributing to the organization that fights for the classroom, our students, our families and the community.

Warmest Regards,



In Defense of the Minima My Professors Fought for

At Western Illinois University, what values do we hold dear?  What is worth fighting for?  What do we take risks for?  I think about my WIU professors, and I know I would support a strike for a fair contract that includes a defense of the minima, the policy that closed the wage gap at WIU.  As WIU administration attempts to compromise the minima–render it toothless–I will speak out.

I learned about the minima when I took Dr. Polly Radosh’s Women and Crime class at WIU 30 years ago.  Some of us walked to class with Discmans playing the Joshua Tree CD.  We met in one of those cave-like lecture halls in Morgan.  We sat in arched rows of seats with fold-away writing tablets.  The chairs were welded into the floor.

After 30 years, I’m remembering her classroom dialogue the best I can.

“Poverty drives women’s petty crimes,” said Dr. Radosh. “And women are poorer because of the wage gap.”  Polly really did use the phrase “petty crimes.”  It’s funny the things I remember decades later.

Polly attracted politically engaged students who cared about the world.

“Wage gap?”  said one of my classmates, “Aren’t women paid less because they work less? Or their work is less valuable?”  A student usually poses some form of this question.

“Consider WIU.  Even here, women with the same rank and seniority, in the same department, doing the same work, earn less than their male colleagues.” Polly said something like that.

“You mean this is practically the 1990s, and they pay men more for the same work?” Maybe I posed this question, but  I was probably too shocked to speak.  I still believed the United States was a fair place for women.  It would not have occurred to me sex discrimination was still blatant and would hit so close to home.

“Yes, WIU does, in fact, pay men more for the same work, but a group of us in the faculty union is working to close the pay gap,” Polly said.

Something was terribly wrong:  Polly Radosh was getting paid less than her male colleagues at the same rank. I’ve never seen any faculty member or administrator who worked as intensely, for long hours, as Polly Radosh.  She was not chummy.  She did not schmooze.  You would never, NEVER, find her with social media or Ebay or on her computer screen.  Or a chess game or personal check book on her desk.  As focused as she was, she always dropped what she was doing if I needed her help, even if she was working on a deadline. I was so lucky.

Dr. Polly Radosh and her colleagues instituted the minima and it closed the wage gap. Polly and other professors, like Dr. Karen Mann, were making a better world for women like me.  Or that’s what we believed.  That’s what we wanted, what we still want—to level the playing field for our students and our daughters.  To win for every woman, all women, a fair start, an equal opportunity.  And when we defend women’s rights and freedoms, men and children benefit.

Polly and Karen taught me how to be a feminist activist academic.  They have retired.  I have picked up their torch.  So has the UPI leadership.

My WIU professors formed the professional union and created the Western Organization for Women. I’ve admired them for their political commitment:  they fought for and achieved fair wages and good working conditions.  The stakes are high.

But gains won for fairness–for women, for people of color, for state employees– are easily lost.

Will we be the generation of faculty that sits by as the hard-won gains our predecessors fought for are attacked and destroyed?

UPDATE:  WIU’s professional union, the UPI, overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. So no. No we will not be the generation the sits by.




Fact Checking

I wrote a letter of fact-checks with regard to some of Western Illinois University’s administrative rebuttal to the faculty senate petition for a vote of confidence.  Judging by the higher-than-average voter turnout for the referendum, it looks like a generous majority of faculty who participated (the 64% who voted no confidence) understand the facts clearly.

Dear Editor,
I read last week´s article in which the WIU administration rebuts a faculty petition for an administration confidence vote. Since two of the president’s rebuttals concern me directly, I decided to “fact check” some of the rebuttal.
The administration attempted to rebut the faculty statement that the administration has laid off tenured faculty. I am a tenured professor. I am laid off. The administration is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees in an attempt to keep me laid off, and the AAUP of Illinois has publicly defended me and the violation of my tenure. My layoff is expensive as well as damaging to WIU’s reputation. The faculty petition is correct.
The faculty petition states the administration has marginalized women in the curriculum. In rebuttal, the president claims he values Women´s Studies. If he valued Women’s Studies, he’d honor his commitment of tenure with WIU´s only faculty who has earned a graduate degree in Women´s Studies. That’s me. WIU now has no faculty member with a completed graduate degree in Women’s Studies.
The WIU administration practices sexist tokenism. I found the web page of WIU’s top administrators ( and took a screen shot) and only 1 of the 6 administrators on the list is a woman, and she’s an interim—not permanent like the men on the list. A 1 in 6 representation in the official top administration is called tokenism. Tokenism is a form of sex discrimination because those in power can say, “We’re not sexist. We’ve got a woman on board.” Women are 51 percent of the population, so why should we be only 16.7 percent of the top administration’s webpage?
The administration’s rebuttals concerning me and women at WIU don’t withstand the checking of facts. We should be skeptical of the rest of the rebuttal, as well.

Holly A. Stovall


In Appreciation of Select Individuals

In appreciation of the select individuals who:

lead the UPI and continue to defend my position at Western Illinois University

signed their names to a petition that would finally, after 27 months, hold the WIU administration accountable for endangering the entire university,

passed a referendum (read clarification at end of TSPR report) of no confidence in WIU’s current administration,

refuse to make excuses for a failed administration,

defend a diverse curriculum that attempts to fully integrate the diverse perspectives of feminists, people of color, LGBTQA folks, people with disabilities, and many others who tend to get pushed to the margins

have taken a stand for faculty at Western Illinois University,

believe that faculty are the university,

and in taking the above actions, have moved in the direction necessary to save the university,


And I’ve changed the title of my blog to LAID OF, BUT NOT LEFT BEHIND.



Sadness as a Ghost in my Throat

What would happen if one woman told the truth about
        her life?
     The world would split open
                                                       Muriel Rukeyser


“Do you want your WIU job back?”  Because I am so openly critical of Western Illinois University’s current administration, I get this question often, always with the emphasis on the WANT.  I have been so angry, that this question has been harder to answer than it should be.

Sadness over the loss of my teaching position at WIU emerges at night.  Since the current administration terminated my contract in May 2017, I sometimes dream that a ghost is lodged in my throat and choking me to death.  Then, half awake, I flip over to my hands and knees, widen my throat and attempt to gag out the ghost.  Nothing emerges.  I have swallowed the ghost and it will kill me, I fear, but then, fully-conscious, I feel my heart pounding fast.

This dream often haunts me when I have been journaling about losing my students.

For 12 years I invested myself, emotionally, psychologically, and professionally, in WIU’s classroom. I have longed to teach my students from my perspective, and with my philosophy of teaching.  I have never longed to teach at a more rigorous institution, where students prepare the reading and attend class faithfully. Those places do exist, and those students are easier to teach.  But I have invested myself here.  I want to teach my students.  My students are Western students.

Four or five years ago, I began to meet student skepticism with personal stories.  In the WIU Women’s Studies classroom, doubt is common and can be quite harsh on feminist professors.   95 percent of my students were women and at the beginning of a course, they would intuit that if they identified how, on a daily basis, they are targets of sexism and misogyny, they would be angry all the time. They resisted knowledge that would make them angry.  Men resisted the awareness that being male confers privilege:  the powerful want to remain powerful.

One day in 2013 or 2014, we were discussing a slide about blaming the victims of gendered violence.  A young man raised his hand.

“But aren’t these girls responsible? If they don’t want to be grabbed, why do they wear leggings? Why aren’t they more careful about where they go?”  His tone and the harsh lines of his jaw projected privilege.

I could have brought up more slides or opened our textbook to a key passage.  Instead I took a risk.  I turned off the screen and came out from behind the podium.  I stood right in front of them, so there was nothing between my students and me.

I was sexually assaulted in 8th grade.  What do you think I was wearing?  What do you think I was doing?”  Every single student looked at me and I was embarrassed, but I stood there anyway, making myself vulnerable to them.

“Calvin Klein jeans like most girls wore,” I said, moving my eyes from one student to the next.  “I was on my way to Algebra.”

The room was so quiet and still.

I looked at the young man who was learning how to blame the perpetrator and believe th victim.  “Does that answer your question? I can take a different approach to the answer, if that would be helpful.”

“No.” His tone and expression softened.  “I understand what you’re saying.”

The tiniest of fault lines had split the ground beneath our feet and we looked in. After that, our faces were softer when we greeted each other before class.

So YES.  The answer is yes.  I want my job back.









Witchy Feminist Mass Hex: Multiple Guess

Are You Prepared for the Witchy Feminist Mass Hex?  Take this quiz to find out.

Optional:   read the story  from Breitfart News.

  1. A Witchy Feminist Mass Hex is
    1. A crafty internet plot by feminist witches to assassinate misogynist patriarchs far and wide.
    2. A story that’s totally legit because a Breitfart news reporter broke it.
    3. A 2-ton manivore bitch whose DNA is emerging from melting arctic ice.
    4. Mansplain:  Let me tell you what a Witchy Feminist Mass Hex is. I can tell you about your vagina, too.
  1. The best way to prevent a Witchy Feminist Mass Hex is

    PROOF that Breitfart is right:  2 witchy feminists out hexing in Chandler Park.  Left sign reads: JK Rowling @jk_rowling, How Horrible. Voldemort was nowhere near as bad.

    1. Don’t layoff your tenured Women’s Studies prof.
    2. Apologize for protecting rapists.
    3.  Ban all pink wool.
    4. Himpathize.
  1. When the Mass Hex peels off  thick slabs of your skin, you should,
    1. Resign.
    2. Pop fat bombs:  mix equal parts MCT oil, butter, egg yolk, coconut oil, and pink salt.  Form into balls, roll in bacons bits.
    3. Re-assert your claim over the sidewalk: “Hey baby, wanna go on a date?
    4. If you are sitting in one of those linking black chairs in a meeting, manspread now.
  1. In order to minimize the apocalyptic impact of a Witchy Feminist Mass Hex already set in motion,
    1. Clean the toilet
    2. Order a bunch of huge red signs that say “I ♥ Women’s Studies.”  Place them in front of the president’s parking spot, in the football locker room, and in front each fraternity house.
    3. Write a love song to Title IX and sing it Karaoke-style at the Board of Ed meeting.
    4. Where’s my mancooler?
  1. In the event of a Witchy Feminist Mass Hex, take shelter in
    1. Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys who Want to Be Girls
    2. Iceland–it’s already been hexed
    3. The shooting range next to the preschool.
    4. My $500 billion New Zealand mancave.  I’ve invited Putin to take cover with me.  He’s a tremendous man.
  2. The only way to counter a Witchy Feminist Mass Hex is
    1. Take a Women’s Studies class and learn to acknowledge your privilege.
    2. Cook low-carb/high fat chili for the witches. One with mushrooms and the other with grass-fed beef.
    3. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
    4. Train your school district to understand and comply with TITLE IX
    5. Manterrupt it.


  1. D.  C has “man” in it, so I’ll accept it too.
  2. D.  If it has the word “man” or “him” in it, it’s correct.
  3. D. See explanation, #2.
  4. D.  Duh.
  5. D, but Miss Vera is tremendous–here’s how to enroll.
  6. E, If you chose A, B, or C, you deserve to be boiled alive and eaten by the Witchy Feminists.


Thank You, Time for Recess #metoo #mac185

Thank you, Macomb, for coming out to support our students after news broke that Macomb 185 is being sued for  violating Title IX and the Illinois Premises Liability Act.

Monday night, in front of a crowd in the Board of Ed meeting, the 185 superintendent narrowed his eyebrows, stared me down, abandoned his previously chummy tone, and spoke in an authoritarian manner of his disapproval of my blog and the questions I’ve raised about the Board of Ed agenda. (If he had bothered to read the full threads on Facebook, he would have known that my questions were genuine —no one on the thread indicated they thought I was attempting to “prove” something).

The superintendent’s role at the BoE was to listen only, and since he stepped beyond that, it’s been traumatic for me, because when someone in a position of power adopts such authoritarian tone and words, I worry that he will retaliate against me or my family.  The superintendent is the individual most responsible for the school district.  It is alleged that his district has violated the rights of students.  I feel like he’s trying to violate my rights as well. I don’t like being bullied.  I haven’t slept well.

But then I remembered how the audience in the BoE meeting erupted in applause, after my daughter told the Board that “A school is supposed to be a place where my classmates and I can walk down the hallway without worrying about being sexually assaulted.”  And then BoE member Jim LaPrad thanked folks for coming out and showing we cared.  I am astonished that not one other BoE member thanked us for coming.

I am so relieved that we are not Steubenville.  I don’t cry easily, but if I take a breath and look away from this page, I feel so much relief that the heart of this community stands on the right side of the law, on the side of our students.

My history with Macomb goes back to 1987.  My late brother went to school here, as did my late sister-n-law and my husband.  Macomb is the closest place to a permanent home I’ve ever had. I want this town continue to be a good place to live. But we’ve suffered so much under corrupt leadership.

As I compose this post, I attempt to read it aloud.  It’s really hard.  I know my readers understand.

In a recent Facebook post, I said that, after the slog of winter death day anniversaries in my family were over for the year, I intended to take a break from this blog.  Then the news of the lawsuit emerged.  It has been like another death day to mourn–the damage that has been inflicted is so profound, but I have good reason to hope and believe that community solidarity is more profound.

For now, I want to focus on the manuscript of my dystopian novel and other types of writing and activism.  Today, marks 7,000 views to my blog!  At some point, I’ll resume this blog again, but I’m taking a break for a while.

Thanks to all my readers.  Thank you to all those who have reached out to tell me my blog is courageous!   Thanks to everyone who has come out to support victims, students, and a safe 185.

Holly A. Stovall

I wanted Laura to solve the riddle of my layoff.  She wanted to say goodbye.  

Two years ago, before my first layoff grievance hearing, I invited Laura to Yummy Chin’s.    Laura was my sister-in-law.  I wanted to be with someone who did NOT view her job as a  a calling or a source of personal fulfillment.  I wanted to be with someone who kept the towels in her linen closet folded evenly, who was never in a hurry, who kept 8 or 9 souvenirs on her keyring, and who would write down, each night, exactly how she spent her day outside of work.

Going to lunch with Laura the Thursday before the Monday she died, I did not notice how frail she was– she covered it up by smiling and expressing gratitude:  “Thanks for driving– I’m so glad we’re having lunch.” She walked from the car to the restaurant so slowly, but I thought it was because she was enjoying the sun.  I did not notice that the color under her skin had changed—had become green like the sky before a tornado.  I did, in fact, hear the urgency in her voice, like a plea, but, in my state of shock from being laid off, I could not make sense of it.  She must have been in pain.  She must have known.

My layoff was a riddle and I wanted Laura (she was so quick and witty) to solve it for me. Instead, she kept asking about Maya and Mathew.  She had seen them only two days before, but she kept asking.

“Maya goes from school to track to home for dinner and back to school for musical rehearsal. And Tom will take her to drive in the parking lot this weekend,”  I said.

“And Mathew?” She asked.

“He likes his teacher and friends and reads a lot now, and moves along quickly with piano.”

“He’s so talented.  What about sports?”

“I will be happy if he runs cross country and track, like Maya.  I don’t want to deal with any concussions.” Laura already knew all of this, but she wanted me to say it anyway.

I resumed my trash-talking of WIU–their actions were so unbelievable.  Laura listened and supported me.

What makes my eyes sting now is that my answers were so inadequate.  I want so much to have been able to give her more.  My layoff had depleted me even more than the tenure process had.  The more time passes, the more I realize that. When I am in pain, it is so hard to tune in to how others are doing and feeling, so hard to have a relaxed conversation.  And so it’s not just about Laura, and how I could not be present for her in a way that I might have and that now feels like such a missed opportunity, but also, what comes out in the story of lunch is how I wasn’t present for my children either—I could only speak about them in the most general of ways–couldn’t tell her something she didn’t already know.

I wasn’t even fully present for my own pain.  It should have been a happy time—completing the work of tenure after 20 or 30 years of dreaming about the life of an academic and working towards it!  Travel and study and travel and study and accumulating experience and more experience and the rejection letters from editors, and the re-submissions!  Only now, two years later, do I dare begin to feel the loss of my dream and the loss of Laura in the same winter.

Tom and I take walks around Compton Park and try to practice “couple compassion” (a rif on Dr. Kristin Neff’s Self Compassion). The circumstances of our marriage have been quite challenging—PhDs are hard on marriages; sudden deaths are hard on marriages.  We’ve had two of each of these.  Layoffs are hard on marriages.

I often feel I’ve done my best to cope with a death and a layoff and the grievances for that layoff that occurred at the same time.  I also feel that my best is lacking.  My best leaves me with such regret.

There is nothing Laura could have done to solve my layoff, and nothing I could have done to stop the cancer I didn’t know she had.


For Christmas one year, Laura gave me a magnet with this New Yorker cartoon on it. Laura was not impressed with the work world.  It’s funny that we had lunch on a Thursday.  That was the only time ever.


AAUP Committee ‘A’ finds WIU violated Tenure Standards

Yesterday, Western Illinois University administrators  received a letter from The Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the Illinois Chapter of the American Association of University Professors.  Committee A has concluded that WIU has clearly violated the standards that are articulated in the AAUP Redbook (Policy Documents and Reports).  The AAUP’s Recommended Institutional Regulations on Academic freedom and Tenure is a national model for academic due process across the academy.

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A screen shot of the page with the link to the letter on behalf.

If Committee A finds a violation, it means that the institution has failed to protect academic freedom and tenure.

Committee A’s Chair, Peter N. Kirstein, says that “Tenure is a sacred commitment on the part of and institution and cannot be arbitrarily revoked through layoffs without a determined, good faith effort at relocation.”  He’s referring to the fact that I am easy to relocate within WIU.  I don’t need retraining:  I have two advanced graduate degrees in Spanish and more than ten years of teaching Spanish.  Dr. Kirstein is also referring to the fact that two of my colleagues teaching Women’s Studies resigned after I’d been given notice that I would be laid off.  He’s referring to the fact that I have not been reinstated.

If tenure can be arbitrarily revoked from one professor, as it has been in my case, then  not one professor at WIU can count on the institution to uphold tenure.  If we must self-censor or risk losing our jobs, that’s not academic freedom.   Tenure was not created to reward those who are complicit–rather, it was created to protect those who dissent.

Two  verdicts are in.  And the verdicts come from recognized authorities in Education and Academics. This administration is guilty.