Third in the series of NFM Executive member profiles.
Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D., is Executive Secretary of the New Faculty Majority Foundation’s Board of Directors and has served as an NFM Board member since 2012. She is a Senior Instructor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where she teaches courses in composition and literature and advises honors majors. Karen is the immediate past-Chair of MLA’s CLIP Committee (Contingent Labor in the Profession). While president of College English Association (the first adjunct president), her focus was on contingent faculty issues, and CEA’s Karen Lentz Madison Award for Scholarship for a non-tenure track faculty conference paper was created in her honor. Her current advocacy project is the establishment of a standing CEA NTT caucus session: Coffee on the Commons (Speakers: Anne McLeer-2014, Maria Maisto-2015, and Sue Doe-2016.). In 2014, CEA awarded Karen its Joe D Thomas Distinguished Service to the Profession Award for her non-tenure track advocacy—the first non-tenured recipient since its inception in 1945.
On her involvement with NFM, Karen says, “I have been a contingent faculty member since 1989 when I began teaching as a graduate student to pay for my master’s degree and continued to do so as I earned my doctorate in English. From that point on, I have been a part-time or a full-time contingent faculty member at my alma mater (a Carnegie research institution), four-year colleges—public and private—and community colleges in Arkansas, Missouri, and Maryland. I also have an understanding of the diversity of student experiences, expectations, and needs, having graduated from a community college, attended a four-year college, and graduated from a university.
“I draw on these experiences in regard to policy insights and in relating to our geographically, culturally, and politically distinct NFM membership base. And those last nine words really are significant. Since I’ve become active in a national advocacy venue, I find that the most dangerous element in our movement is not ‘badmin’ but, rather, a divide-and-conquer distrust of one another within the movement.
“As a ‘full timer,’ I do understand why many of my similarly appointed colleagues are too busy and worried to sympathize with, or even recognize, those who have it even worse. But I have been there and done that. I never can forget what it means to ‘adjunct’: teach six classes at two schools (minimum) and still have to work in a clothing store on the weekend (grading papers between customers) and tutor for the athletic department for minimum wage in any ‘spare’ time to feed three growing boys and keep a roof over our heads—and that’s in a ‘good’ semester.
“Fast forward to today—besides teaching in-coming freshmen and transfer students, I teach graduate students and sit on their theses and dissertation committees. I am a character in Limbo vacillating between being infuriated and distraught by their “graduating” into the poverty of our condition.
“Because I see all of us (students, graduate students, adjunct, full-time) as part of the means for improvement, I recognize the necessity for solidarity, despite the siren call of discord that undermines our efforts. Collaborating—working towards unity of purpose—in order to achieve equity for and improvement in the working lives of contingent faculty is my goal as a member of NFM and as a member of its Board of Directors.
“And while I am an advocate of working with fellow precariat support groups, I do recognize that NFM has a unique purpose and particular design that others may not be aware of for a variety of valid reasons. Therefore, for all of us who have had to depend on the ‘kindness’ of truly strange corporate-ed administrations, I support NFM and work to insure that its agenda can retain its cutting edge for reform.”