The chicanery at my job is at an all-time high.
You may be thinking, “But Akilah, how is that so when you’re not even at work and on sabbatical? And why chicanery and not shenanigans or tomfoolery?”
I’m so glad you asked.
(1) Shenanigans and/or tomfoolery are not strong enough words to describe the institutional b.s. I am about to share with you. (Also: shout out to my homie Tee for hipping me to using chicanery when shenanigans just won’t do.)
(2) Picture it: Greater Los Angeles Area, Oct. 17, 2023
I am in my living room, checking my work email.
(Why am I checking my work email while I’m on sabbatical when I usually don’t check it on weekends/breaks? Well, I committed to myself to check it every 1-2 weeks to make sure I don’t miss any important announcements or opportunities because last year, the administration sent out a call for people to go to Ghana while we were off-contract/between semesters so I (and most faculty) missed it. I do not want that to happen again. Do I think that may have been a bit of jiggery-pokery since it’s completely sus to send out such an announcement right at the end of finals/once finals are over? It’s possible, but I also went to an info session from the bigger organization that offered the trip, and it turns out that the call was sent out sort of last minute on their end, so I am going to assume good intentions on that front. Also, it’s good I checked my email because that opportunity has come around again. But I digress.)
So there I am, checking my work email when I see an email from one of our department chairs that includes this:
We also want to thank those of you who signed up to help revise the curriculum for English 1A, 1B, and 1C
To which I immediately responded:
I’m curious: how will the work [Colleague A], [Colleague B], and I already did on ENGL 1A and 1C be included in this curriculum revision?*names redacted to protect privacy
The response to that was:
These committees have not met yet, but I can forward any work that you, [Colleague A], and [Colleague B] completed to the English 1A and English 1C committees for review and consideration. I know how hard you three worked on this project.
You know the part in Hamilton during “The Election of 1800” where Hamilton is minding his business saying “It’s quiet uptown” over and over and then busts in with “YO! / The people are asking to hear my voice”?
That was me, leaving the calm of my sabbatical to draft a strongly worded email.
I showed the first draft of the email to my daughter to see if it was too mean, and she suggested I have a face-to-face conversation instead. A conversation wasn’t an option because I needed my response documented and also, I wasn’t going to go so far as to have a meeting with anyone while I’m on sabbatical. So I then sent it to a friend in academia who said it wasn’t mean enough. After some workshopping, this is the response I sent:
Correction: It was ENGL 1A, and [colleagues] and I didn’t just work hard on it: we spent over a year researching and writing the SLOs, SPOs, Methods of Instruction, and Course Content Outline to align our course with the state standards of the California Community Colleges C-ID Descriptor as well as the national standards of the Writing Program Administration and the Conference on College Composition and Communication. We then presented it to the comp committee at our last meeting in spring 2023.
To be honest, seeing that there has been a committee convened to work on revising ENGL 1A without nary a mention of the work we’ve done or even so much as acknowledged and then to be told that our hard work will be sent for them to “consider” is beyond insulting and feels like a slap in the face. At most, this new committee should be directed to complete the tasks [colleague] set out in his email to [new comp chair] when he officially left the comp committee.
So again, my question is: how will the work [the three of us] already did on ENGL 1A be included in this curriculum revision?
Furthermore, how will the work [the three of us] have done to align ENGL 1A with state and national standards be applied to the curriculum revision for ENGL 1B and ENGL 1C? Our goal was to align our composition courses with those standards, so that our courses have a strong foundation in composition and rhetoric as outlined by those bodies that govern our discipline. If these new groups are not keeping that in mind, I am not sure how they/the department will move forward with either the course revisions or keeping up with the field.
[blah blah blah people I’m cc-ing blah] I am also going to forward the email from [colleague] with the course outline updates attached and what still needs to be worked on for ENGL 1A, so please keep an eye out for that. I have also cc-ed [Division Dean] as…this is a larger, departmental issue.
Yes, you read that right. We worked on it for over a year. A YEAR. I sent the first email asking about how our work would be incorporated because I was sitting at my desk wondering if I had imagined we worked on the class or if it was some weird kind of fever dream. And then I was like, no, we definitely met several times and we definitely reworked and wrote up several assignments and policies. And we definitely presented it to the committee because they had ~opinions~. So the first part of the chicanery is that they (department since it’s not a single person) made me question my own sanity. The next part, of course, is the complete devaluing of our labor.
There were a couple of responses, one which said our work would be acknowledged (ACKNOWLEDGED. Honestly, it is so insulting) but no promises about what the final revision will look like since, you know, this new group will be working on it.
And then the topic was added to the comp committee agenda.
According to the minutes, they were told they have to we align the course proposal with the state guidelines and the new CSU (California State University) guidelines–national standards are just “extra”–and then they recognized the hard work my colleagues and I did on the course revision and talked about positive changes in the draft compared with our current 1A that they liked.
That they “liked.” So that’s one thing. Because, again, the work was to align the course with the standards–not to make it palatable. A better discussion would have been how clearly and effectively we aligned the SLOs, etc. with those standards.
Then, The CSU guidelines were sent after the meeting and when I looked them over, you know what I found? Their guidelines match the work we’ve already done, which also aligns with the national standards. Once I saw that, I washed my hands of the whole thing. If they want to do extra work for absolutely no reason, then that’s on them.
Honestly, I had already washed my hands of the whole thing once I sent the above email. More on that below.
My mom and I were talking about this last night, and she asked me why I didn’t just let it go/not say anything. There are a few reasons for that.
First things first: CITE BLACK WOMEN.
A disturbing trend that does not get enough attention is the continued practice of taking work, ideas, and creative genius from Black women without properly crediting or citing them as the source.“The Erasure Of Black Women’s Contributions: From Past To Present” by Janice Gassam Asare
Of the three people who worked on the revision, two of us are Black women and the third (a man) is no longer in the department. The lack of acknowledgment is egregious and, intentionally or not, racist and sexist.
Second, I have learned that I need to stand up for myself, and I need to do it with the people who have upset me. I can complain to my family all day, but if I don’t speak up to the people I actually have the issue with, the resentment and anger will fester and that, my dear friends, is how you get digestion issues.
This is part of why I had washed my hands of the situation after sending the email. I spoke up for myself and my other colleagues, I catalogued why I was upset, and I made sure it got to the right people.
Third, like I said, I needed to document the work that we had accomplished so that they couldn’t ignore it. (I mean, they can and probably will as we have already seen, but I know that they know the truth and are choosing to respond to it in their way.)
Fourth, the way they choose/chose to respond tells me everything I need to know about them and how to interact/work with them in the future.
Fifth, it really always goes back to the Zora Neale Hurston quote: “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” If I hadn’t said anything, they would have continued on erasing our work and not giving us credit. If I hadn’t said anything, they could pretend (or be ignorant of the fact, if I’m being generous) that their behavior was okay and that it did no harm when that is not the case. They didn’t “intend” to devalue our labor or insult our efforts (impact, as we know, has nothing to do with intention) but that’s what happened nonetheless and it is not okay.
I guess the bigger (other) question is why I chose to blog about this. After all, I had already washed my hands of it, right?
Well, aside from all of the above, I was still pissed (obviously), but I know that my department’s response is a larger, systemic issue. So part of why I’m sharing this (besides not letting the anger and resentment fester) is to encourage people to speak up for themselves and others when they notice these things happening.
[S]peak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.Maggie Kuhn
For her own reasons, my other colleague chose not to say anything until after I sent out my email. I am not going to speak for her, but I know she was also angry and disappointed, and I know she did not have the bandwidth to send an initial response. I did. Because I did, I had a responsibility to both of us to say something. Because I said something–whether it’s used or not–we were publicly given credit (acknowledged, sigh) for the work we did. Plus, speaking up says that not only does my work have value, but also that I honor and value myself, institutions be damned.