On Our Temporary Positions

Today, I’d like to talk about the term-limited aspect of our position. Fair warning: there’s a chance that the impetus of this post (and indeed, this entire blog) might be an accumulation of rage that bubbled up to a point where we could not remain silent.

I think that people have a tendency to see permanence as an indicator of value. In much the same way that marriages that “last” are considered “good” marriages, permanent jobs possess more social value than temporary ones. I take issue with this; permanence can be correlated with stability, which can be good for us as individuals, but it is also correlated with entrenchment in backward practices.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, I was startled, disturbed, and offended to find that the colleague, whom we have served alongside with for months, sees our position in the same light as contract or temporary positions — and that light, where he is concerned, is not a good one. The colleague refused to discuss the significance of differentiating the residency program from other term-limited positions, and went so far as to ask if F and I are students. Alongside this colleague, we have provided in-depth reference services, we have taught information-literacy workshops in gen ed courses, we have brought up and facilitated salient discussion on teaching practices, and we have participated in and facilitated dialogue and collaboration with other departments. We have both been introduced as professional staff multiple times. We are both members of the corps of academic librarians that liaises to the faculty senate, and we are both members of the faculty union, alongside the other professional librarians of our university.

Our colleague’s statements were couched as simple lack of understanding of our position, but I feel with increasing certainty that they actually have nothing to do with the position being a new one in our library, and everything to do with the entanglement of the word “diversity” in our job description. This is another instance of someone making an automatic assumption that two first-generation, LGBTQ, ethnic-minority people could not possibly have EARNED positions of any rank –  that the positions must have been extended EXCLUSIVELY to DIVERSE PEOPLE. And *surely* diverse people haven’t gotten as far as becoming successful young professionals right? There can’t be any of THOSE running around yet (perish the thought!), so these two “girls” must be students. Why else would they have taken TEMPORARY JOBS?

Let me switch back to my non-sarcastic voice now so we can get a couple things straight. We are fully-credentialed. We possess robust experience; we have ideas for using our experience to inform our work here, and for leveraging the experience we gain here to do meaningful work in other institutions. We’ve paid thousands of dollars and some of the most productive years of our human lives as dues, to get ourselves through advanced degree programs and to build up the professional acumen that qualified us for our current positions. Not to speak of the countless moments of doubt, steeped in fathomless first-generation guilt, that we have worked ourselves through to convince ourselves that this work is worthy of our energies, that this profession is a worthy legacy to contribute to. For my part, I have worked for six long years in low-pay, no-benefits, assistant-level positions, waiting for the job well that dried out in 2009 to fill up again. I took this position because I thought that it could be a valuable addition to my CV (yes, my CV). I accepted it at a lower salary than one offered to me for a permanent position at another university in a town with a far lower cost of living. I took this position because I believed, despite knowing the potential shortfalls of “diversity residency” programs, that driving conversations about diversity into the full light of day is one of the most important things that I can do in this incredibly white, incredibly cis- and hetero- normative profession. I do not owe explanations for occupying any space or position. I’m here. Ready or not…

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