Adjunct Prof. Leleua Loupe’s office: the trunk of her car

At the beginning of the semester,” explains historian and lecturer Leleua Loupe, “students don’t know history or understand the world around them. Some even get angry when I challenge what they believe.  But by the end, they become aware of our history, of discrimination, and begin to understand what they themselves have experienced. 
“I love every aspect of teaching,” she continues. “The interaction with students, the research in my own field.  I feel I’m contributing to creating a better world.”
It’s that love of her profession that keeps her going, despite the obstacles she faces.  Hers is a familiar story – that of the freeway flyer.  Today she teaches on just two campuses — five classes a semester at Cal State Fullerton, and one class at Mount San Antonio College.  But there have been years where it was three campuses, and even more classes.
In the hierarchy of academia, lecturer positions are sometimes described as stepping stones to eventual tenure, and lecturers themselves denigrated as less experienced or knowledgeable faculty.  This clearly doesn’t fit Loupe’s professional profile.  Growing up between Seattle and Honolulu, she started in community college in Hawaii, did archeological field work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and then got bachelors, masters  and doctorate degrees at the University of California in Riverside, in public history resource management.  Since receiving her PhD in 2005 she’s written books and many journal and encyclopedia articles, recorded oral histories, and presented papers “all over,” she says.
That, however, didn’t get her tenure.  That’s no surprise, given that institutions of higher education now employ far more non-tenured faculty than tenured.  But in this environment it’s also easy for discrimination to thrive.  A decade ago Loupe started with a tenure track interview at Cal Poly Pomona.  But her interviewer questioned her about her marriage and children.  Instead of tenure, she got a one-year contract that wasn’t renewed.  “I didn’t know about the CFA then,” she says, “so when they wanted to get rid of me, I went quietly.” 
Loupe did then what most recent graduates do, and began picking up classes wherever she could get them.  Every year she taught 3-5 at Cal State Fullerton, 2-3 at Mount San Antonio, and 2-3 at Rancho Santiago – a total of 7-9 per semester.  At first she lived in Riverside.  From there it’s 30 miles to Mount San Antonio in Walnut, another 20 to Fullerton, and then 10 to Rancho Santiago in Orange.
Loupe was a single mom by the time she got her PhD, but her good fortune was that her mother, an artist and muralist, lived with her and her oldest daughter Alea.  Loupe’s family is Hawaiian, and many relatives have migrated to southern California.   Alea was surrounded by aunts and uncles.  “But my mom raised her because I was never home,” she remembers.  “She told Alea why I had to do what I was doing, and I made sure we got some quality time, but it was a big price to pay.”
Putting together all the classes, she was making $2000-2500 a month, paying $550 rent on a two-bedroom apartment, and putting a lot of miles on a worn-out car.  She and her partner then moved to Fullerton, and using her credit and his cash, were able to buy a house.  Even with both incomes, however, her debts piled up, and eventually they lost the home to foreclosure and bankruptcy.
That was when the recession began.  In the budget cuts she was reduced to one class each on two campuses.  “For a year I was desperate.  I still don’t know how we survived,” she shudders.  But things got better, and eventually she got her classes back – a blessing and a curse.
The curse is living in the car.  “I’m commuting sometimes eight hours a day,” Loupe says.  She’s been rear-ended three times, spending three years in therapy after the last one.  As an adjunct, she has no office of her own, sharing space and a copier at CSU Fullerton, but with nothing at the two community colleges.  “I have to think ahead all the time, and constantly make lists of things to do, and when.  I prepare for one campus at another, going to the cafeteria, or even Starbucks.  I get home at 10 and then stay up til one.”    
Her actual office is the trunk of her car – full of books, office supplies, changes of clothes, water and her laptop.
Finally she found a partner who could understand and accept the crazy lifestyle, got married again, and had two more children.  “I come from a large family, and I’m 39 now.  So it was take the risk and have kids now or I’d never be able to.  But,” she says, “I have colleagues who aren’t married and have no kids because they can’t afford it.  Some are still living at home with their parents.”  She herself now pays $1200-1600 a month for childcare, which would have been impossible when she was still single.
For the first few years of adjunct work she got tenure interviews every year, but never was offered the position.  “I began to ask myself, ‘Is it me?’  Finally, after the worst abuses, I got in touch with CFA.  That changed my life.  Being a freeway flyer means instability and isolation.  CFA gave me a sense of community.”
When she got active, her chapter in Fullerton wasn’t very responsive to lecturers, but with the efforts of Loupe and other adjuncts that began to change.  The chapter established a lecturers’ council, with a consistent membership of 4-5 people.  The bylaws were changed to create a permanent position on the executive board for a lecturer, which she now holds, and other lecturers were elected local vice-president, secretary and board member.
“We have input now on campus policy on evaluations and appointments,” she says.  “We’ve gotten some pay raises and restructured the salary schedule, and there’s more security in reappointment rights.” 
If only Loupe could get a tenured position she’d be able to envision a secure future.  “When I began I had this idea of being a professional and having a career.  Now I just have a job.  I see people given tenure with less experience or publications, while some of the most talented faculty are still untenured.  People say, ‘you have to pay your dues,’ or ‘you’re lucky to have a job.’  But really, we should all have tenure, especially after teaching ten years.  People should be lecturers only by choice, not because they’re forced into making a living this way.”
So, with no secure future in sight in California, Loupe is planning a return to her roots in Hawaii.  “It’s a huge risk – to take ten years to build up again what I have now,” she worries.  “But the way we’re living isn’t sustainable.”  She dreams of becoming active in the native Hawaiian homestead movement, helping people descended from the islands’ original inhabitants not just to reclaim land but to reestablish community.
For Loupe, community is where it’s at.  “It’s like what I found in CFA,” she explains.  “For the first time at work I felt that sense of community.  We feel isolated so much of the time, and now instead we are colleagues cooperating for the common good, working towards a common goal.”

Photo: Leleua Loupe.  |  David Bacon/PW


David Bacon
David Bacon

David Bacon is a California journalist covering farm labor and immigration. His latest book is In the Fields of the North (University of California, 2017).