June 22, 2017
It was a blessing in disguise. My paternity leave from Portland State University was involuntarily extended thanks to a bizarre collaboration between a clinically psychotic felon and a couple of administrators with a clear agenda. That time away from full-time work has allowed be to help my daughter transition from a baby into a little person. It’s also allowed me to publish a book, teach on a tropical island, write this weekly blog, start a podcast, and “man” the homefront while my wife advances in the work world. And I got to be home with Cozy from the first gurgle to her saying things like “Let’s check it out,” and “I ran like a cheetah.” It’s been a beautiful experience filled with art, adventure, and great love.
And now it’s time for it to end.
The truth is I’ve been looking for work ever since I jumped off the gangplank at PSU. But I had a nice cushion made up of a settlement, savings, some publishing money, and a perfect collection of rare Avengers and Hulk comic books that now (sadly) belong to someone else. A $50,000 loan from my retirement was going to get us through to my next gig. Now, suddenly, I can see the bottom of the well. The money is about gone. Invest the last bucket in Powerball tickets?
Two years ago I thought I could just make a local lateral transition. There was a visiting professorship at Reed College (they wanted a quantitative methods teacher and I’m a qualitative schmoe) and a tenure-track gig at the University of Portland (they could have me but only with my tenure). I was sad but not shocked when those didn’t pan out. (They must not have known how awesome I was.) So I branched out and got an interview at CUNY in Manhattan and then a second interview with the provost. (I must have asked for too much money for that one.) What seemed like it would be a relatively smooth “mid-career” move looked increasingly more and more difficult. On top of the fact that universities are replacing tenure-line professorships with the academic slave-labor known as “adjuncts” and “on-line education,” the person that was applying was me, and, according the rumor mill, I have baggage.
What started off as a few disheartening roadblocks became dozens of rejections. Some positions I was a stretch to qualify for. (I would have made an awesome dean at Eastern Oregon University.) Some positions I was definitely an over-qualified candidate. (After my great interview, nobody could tell me why I didn’t get the job teaching Intro Sociology at Green River Community College.) Some jobs would have pushed me out of my comfort zone. (Oh, how I wanted to be the new executive director of Caldera Arts.) And some jobs were tailor-made for my experience and skills. (Whoever ends up being the new Diversity Program Specialist for the Portland Police, I challenge you to an equity duel.)
Why am I not getting these jobs? You’d think people would want an award-winning professor, published in his field, with a long record of community service, who is likely quoted in your copy of the New York Times or making points on CNN while you’re on the treadmill. Are all the other candidates that much better? Or is something else going on?
I left PSU under a cloud of suspicion. It’s no secret that there were a few higher-ups that had it in for me. They were fueled by the rumor and innuendo that I was some type of campus playboy. A old bogus post on an internet gossip site that had a picture of me with my girlfriend of almost three years and the assertion that she “slept with me for an A” gave them additional ammo. There was never anything of the sort ever in my academic career. No human can say they got any special treatment in any of my classes for anything. But when gossip rules, you can’t win. (Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain.)
Then a “former racist skinhead” named Steven Stroud decided he was going to try everything he could think of to attack me for some perceived slight that existed in his psychotic mind. He began writing numerous letters from his prison cell to the university, accusing me of everything under the sun. Out of pure luck, he finally hit on one thing these powerful few could use.
My crime: My wife was a former student.
That’s all it took. Forget that Andrea and I were consenting adults. Forget that she was the one who first asked me me out (after the class had ended). That was it. I had signed an agreement five years earlier that I would never date a PSU student after a stalker went all Basic Instinct on me and it was a quick way to resolve the matter. Now the torches were relit. They even traveled out to Eastern Oregon to visit this guy in prison to see if there were any more salacious details he could add to their “case.” They were giddy.
I have zero regrets about my relationship with Andrea. We are incredibly happy and more in love every day. And that love produced our beautiful daughter. Cozy is the sun my little planet was destined to revolve around. She will change history. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. My only regret is that I quickly settled my lawsuit against the university. I had the moral high ground and could have won, especially if I took the story to my colleagues, students, and the general public. But we had a new baby and I was scared I would burn up our nest egg on lawyer fees while they used tuition and taxpayer dollars to fund their highly skilled legal team. I settled and thought I could just leave my academic home of twenty years and move on.
Now over two years later it feels like I have been blacklisted; that the rumor-mongers are still waging their campaign against me. I need to work. The loan has to be repaid, the mortgage is due, and my daughter deserves the life I waited 50 years to give her. (I was one of those people who said, for decades, “I can’t have children, I’m not financially stable enough!”) She is so excited to exist in this world, I should be able to give her some security (although I will be eternally grateful to WIC for making sure my child at least had $8 worth of fruits and vegetables each month). This kid already deserves more than I will be able to give her.
So here’s the deal: I’m a passionate worker with a PhD. from Emory University and a long employment record. My last full time salary was $82,000 for a 9-month contract. I will work for less than that, but it’s gotta cover the bills. And I need benefits. Republicans have made it clear they want to kill the Affordable Care Act which, at the moment, provides health care to my family. We’d like to stay in Portland but for a decent job we’ll move to Arkansas and just annoy the locals by playing Bikini Kill and drawing Hitler mustaches on Trump posters.
I was an awesome professor. There’s plenty of people who will tell you that my classes at Portland State changed lives. I’d like a job that makes the world a better place. If you can convince me that selling vacuum cleaners can do that, I’ll listen. But it’s time for me to get back to work. My family is depending on me.
Please share this with anyone who might be able to help. References and my mother’s secret cheesecake recipe available on request. Email: email@example.com
9 thoughts on “The Need to Work”
wish i could help. i need more money than i get from social security . i have medicare and medical. cover most medical needs . in other words i am in the same boat as you. don’t give up, their is a place for you in the work world. you are so talented and smart. something good has to happen. bet you wouldn’t trade the time with your little girl for all the money in the world. you have helped to create a wonderful little person. priceless. my days in the working world are over unless basket weaving becomes all the rage again. i am 79 you are young still with the world before you. some thing wonderful will come your way.
LikeLiked by 2 people
So sad to read your story. My ex-wife was a student of yours at PSU many years ago and you became something of a legend in our house (in a good way).
Hopefully this season of dismay will pass soon and lead to greater things in the future.
Just know that a lot of us are out here rooting for you!
LikeLiked by 1 person
This whole thing saddens me. Maybe not the emotion you were exactly trying to invoke (I don’t think of you as some one who wants peoples pity) but it is what it is. I wish you nothing but positive thoughts and good luck.
I appreciate your candor and honesty. Green River clearly figured you would not be sticking around! The academic job market is brutal, but you clearly deserve to get snatched up.
LikeLiked by 1 person
As a former student of yours, I know there was and had been topics we disagreed on. However, with the topics we were able to agree on, it has helped in a tremendous way. Not only have I been able to work with veterans, but it might help as I am considering going into ministry (that’s if I’m being called to it).
With that being said, I know it’s important for you to not only be there for your wife, but your child. You were a valuable asset at PSU. I’m sorry they ousted you like that after 20 years of dedicated service to the institution. I may be a Republican, but I also believe everyone has the right for opportunity. I’ll keep you in my prayers my friend.
I know you’re not a religious person, but I thought I’d share this with you.
5) Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6) in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Brian, that really means a lot. I believe something great is coming.
I had the pleasure of having Dr. Blazak as a faculty member and expert trainer at The Isla Mujeres Ethnographic Field School, where we train students of all levels (from undergrads to those who already have their Ph.D.) oh how to conduct important, applied, qualitative research in a meaningful and ethical manner. Randy was a HUGE asset for two summers and was a vital source of information to our students. Having his family on the island only added to the experience for myself and the students. It is high time that the “Ivory Tower” of “Academia” recognizes the need for such professionals. It’s a sad time in the United States when the value of a basketball or football coach is worth more than great minds that shape the future of the American youth. Dr. Blazak is a TRUE scientist and deserves the respect of the academic community that he has served for decades. We humbly await his return to the island, where young minds are transformed into serious ethnographers under the guidance of experts like Dr. Randy Blazak.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This means the world, Dr. Pierce. Your program is so expertly run and gives students such a meaningful. applied research experience, it been an absolute honor to drop in to it. And believe me, it’s been more than tempting to think about moving to Isla full time to help grow your school. You are a true scholar and gentleman (and innovator in academia).