With love and regret, I am saying farewell to Georgetown after 21 wonderful years on the faculty of the women’s and gender studies program and a recent, shiny Silver Vicennial Medal for my two decades of service. I will miss you all and, in particular, my beloved Hoya athletes, so many of whom took my popular “Athletics and Gender” class or my “Intro to Women’s Studies” class. Yet, the women’s and gender studies program remains in the good hands of its devoted chair, You-Me Park, to whom I owe so many teaching years here at Georgetown — years rich in culture, community, the love and respect of co-workers and the pleasure of campus life.
So, at the top of my game, with 15 books published and a recent exhibit at the Library of Congress, why leave the Hilltop? The answer is painful: Like many non-tenured faculty, I can no longer afford to live in Washington, D.C. Since 1996, I have cheerfully combined two half-time appointments, at both Georgetown and The George Washington University. Neither school offers tenure or promotion for faculty in women’s studies, which at both institutions is an underfunded program, rather than a department. For almost a decade now, to make ends meet, I have taught a load of eight courses per year, paid either per course or half of what I would earn in a tenure-track position. Now, thanks to budget cuts, I have no benefits at either institution and pay out of pocket for medical expenses at age 55.
Stories like mine are common among adjunct professors: We love what we do, you love us and we energetically work at two or three jobs until we wear ourselves out. The moral dilemma is that in the underfunded area of women’s studies, I teach the history of equal pay for equal work, while not receiving it myself. By continuing to accept a pay rate that is not on par with those who teach less and publish less, I can no longer call myself a good feminist role model to the young women who constitute the majority of Georgetown undergraduates. As an underpaid adjunct in an underfunded program, I can no longer sit idly by.
I have sought solutions and sent proposals, but we simply are not seeing the financial dedication to the women’s history field that I assumed would be the case by 2017. Now, with my mother growing older, I have an invitation to come live and write at my family home in California, where I can continue to be a consultant archivist to the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress while lecturing part time in the University of California system. My 79-year-old mother, my 21-year-old niece and I will be three generations, in one house, committed to the production of art and activism around women’s lives. With my all-too-common story in mind, I invite you to consider the need for change in our institutions, so that a living wage is within the reach of all teaching faculty who gave up safer career choices to inspire future generations.
Bonnie J. Morris is an adjunct assistant professor in the women’s and gender studies program.