I was sitting around a table with scholars, thinkers, and culturalists from all over (the country and the world) as we got introduced to the administrative logistics of our fellowships with the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. I have the honor of being a 2015-2016 Nasir Jones Fellow with the Hip Hop Archive & Research Institute at the Hutchins Center. As we introduced ourselves and our work, I was struck with a feeling. I listened to everyone mention the institutions they taught at. One scholar had just gotten tenure and was very excited (rightfully so). Each of them on sabbatical or leave from their home institution to participate in scholarly activity. I felt a little awkward.
I’m sure they are evaluated on their scholarly activity much like we are at Saint Augustine’s University. There is actually a category on our evaluations that is “Professional Activity.” The definition is below.
Professional Activities – Participating in discipline related conferences, workshops, and artistic presentations, evidence of publication, professional presentations, discipline related research, submission of grant proposals, and obtaining grant funding.
Now this category is new, but the premise isn’t. Before this it was listed as “Research and Scholarly Activity.” I of course would think that being a research fellow at Harvard would qualify. Wouldn’t you?
I was so excited when I got word that I had received the fellowship. I made sure to let my department chair know about the appointment. I slowly started to tell my colleagues. I was encouraged to share with our Office of Marketing and Communications. I did. The piece they put out on it was picked up by HBCU Digest. Our new president was aware and offered congratulations in passing. As the spring semester ended I prepared for what I knew was going to be a great journey and a wonderful opportunity to glean some insight that I could use myself and pass on to my students.
I saw if as a continuation of work I had been doing with colleagues on campus. I had been a part of a grant funded project that allowed myself and other colleagues to develop a writing course based on popular culture. This was in addition to other programming that fostered critical think and writing skills while pushing the exposure of the students to various modes of analysis. As an artist, I enjoyed being able to take this approach. I had already worked with secondary school teachers on the same thing through a relationship with Communities in Schools NC and the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching. This included helping educators integrate pop culture into their classrooms, especially Hip Hop. Through this grant funded project I was able to bring that experience to my institution. I saw this fellowship as a chance to have even more to offer and to expand the impact of the things our project had been able to accomplish.
Before the semester reached its end I notified HR that I wouldn’t be teaching upcoming year (because of the fellowship). This was presented to me as a necessary step to get my class load covered, especially if an adjunct would need to be hired. Makes sense. That hole in coverage would need to be addressed. Justification would be required for additional hiring. Can’t get more justification than the loss of a instructor for a full academic year.
That was it. Our contracts are annual and I am not tenured so a sabbatical wouldn’t apply to me.
I finished my end of semester tasks and prepared for graduation. When graduation ended, I said my goodbyes and gave out a lot of hugs.
In June I got a call from HR. I was told I needed to come to campus to pick up checks. It was explained that I had checks that included my remaining salary (my pay was spread out over 12 months) and a benefits refund. My benefits had been stopped at the end of May. They decided to cash out the remaining salary rather. With the checks was a letter from the president saying that he accepted my resignation. Just like that I was no longer an employee at Saint Augustine’s University. My 9 years of service to the institution were completed.
For me, what hit me when I sat around that table listening to the other scholars was that I didn’t have a “home” institution to return to. I wasn’t on loan to Harvard for the year. I was in a unique space that I don’t quite know how to explain. So many people in congratulating me on this opportunity have asked about me returning to Saint Augustine’s University. Initially I danced around the subject. I didn’t want to get into the details. I didn’t want it to sound bad or malicious and I wasn’t sure it was. I just knew how it felt opening that letter from the president.
Now that I have had a few months to think about. Now that I am here at Harvard amongst this cohort of scholars. Now that I have talked more about what happened with some of my close friend and mentors. I can say that for a moment, I felt that this wonderful thing I was about to accomplish didn’t mean that much to the place I had called “home” for 9 years. A place that was my alma mater. I felt cast away. That it wasn’t important for me to be going to do this on behalf of myself, the arts and Hip Hop community, and my “home” institution. That I will get over.
The reality is that my alma mater is going through changes. We have a new president who is dedicated to restoring the prestige and pride of the institution. That includes restructuring, cuts, shifts, etc. Maybe the challenges of the present outweighed the promise of the future. I don’t know.
For now, I am dedicated to getting the most from this opportunity and I will prepare to think about where to share my experiences and work next later. I will never be too far from my alma mater. I will always keep my ears open for ways to share with my alma mater. I just won’t be returning “home.”
We will see how it all turns out. I hope that tomorrow brings the best for both of us.
Damn this sounds like a post breakup reflection.
It definitely is a tipping point.