I am struggling with the notion of the Century Club. It indicates age or rather aging bodies. There’s no certificate from the Queen for having crossed the 100 line nor is there any personal pride. All it does is say that I have taught 100 courses in a system of exploitation. And having taught now more than 100 classes means that I have done so with relative approvability. I have performed compliance adequately enough to warrant another course. I’m not proud of this. Really what it does for me is bring to the foreground all the hurts, the struggle and the fears that I won’t survive.
Last week the CBC reported on the case of a woman employed by the City of Toronto who worked hard in a variety of positions that supported people living on the margins and did so without any guarantee that she would ever have secure work or benefits but the outcome for her is that she now lives with PTSD. I understand the cost precarity has played on her life.
I wish that you had called the Century Club something else or issued an accompanying statement with it drawing a line to the exploitation used by a system that prospers under the use of the bodies of others.
That I have taught more than 100 courses at Laurier is not a victory. I wonder how many people have been missed in this counting who must travel from one university to another for their employment. How many tenure track and tenured faculty in as many years have taught this many courses without worry of whether they would be feeding their family without making the call to the Food Bank? This is the first time I have been entered into a club and since I don’t know the club members or what we’re to do as members I am bereft of explanation. This admittance into a space I had not designed nor requested comes with shame and anger. Shame because of 18 years of getting the message that I’m not good enough for a tenured position and anger that my labour has been used for profit by all levels of the university starting with my program and ending with the institution as a whole.
This term, in a program review I was told once again by the reviewer that I am replaceable and it’s not about me. That’s right we are to assume an objective stance of distance and ignore that this thing called “quality teaching” is only possible when good people with incredible skills are acknowledged. People with names. The meeting was about ignoring me and what I have done but use my contributions in the argument for sustaining the program. How easy it is to say that it’s about the program as though it exists outside the hands of actual people when the person saying that has secure work. Their economic security comes out in their polite silencing of me when I argue that they could practice their feminism and fight for the security of the people who have done the toil of building the program. I wish instead that the reviewer had said – “You are valuable. You bring critical skills to the program and to the experience of students so we will argue for a program that holds the people who make it possible in better security.”
My voice was politely dismissed under the guise that I don’t understand the restraints they as reviewers are under. I had to work hard not to creep away from that experience feeling once again that I wasn’t quite good enough.
I’m 57 years old and I need to have employment for at least another ten years. So, I wonder what club I will enter into next. I have spent most of my life without benefits and without knowing from one term to the next if I will be able to pay my bills. My debt load mounts each year. Those of us who live in precarity say these words too often to people who nod their heads in sympathy but the building of relationships that will do something more pressingly important doesn’t happen. We don’t know how to take care of each other that recognizes ways to use our own privilege for others. We don’t want to give up what we have and hand it over to others. Some days it seems that too many just want more for themselves which means ignoring the “problem children” around them.
Here is what you need to know as well because I want to return to the CBC report that came out last week. This workplace system endangers our lives in ways that for the most part we don’t want others to know about. Too many of us live with high levels of stress, anxiety and depression all the result of a work life that doesn’t care that it is destroying our personhood. But to keep the job that emotional despair has to be kept under wraps. And of course, such a work life doesn’t remain only in the workplace, it seeps into our personal lives, as we try to figure out how not to put weight on our personal relationships. But we do. The economic bind works well with the hidden messaging about our worth and our disposability. This is power functioning at its best.
Could we leave the university? Yes, but where would we go? Because we’re not good enough for the university we’re not good enough for any other place either and for some like me the feasibility of other options is lesser because we aren’t 30 anymore.
I’m asking you to take this notion of the Century Club and apply some features to it that make visible the damage from exploitation. Turn it into a political tool. But don’t do it without us. If this is a club then we all need to be part of the actions that move from it.