Revolution Lullabye

November 19, 2010

Cooper, et al, What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide

Cooper, Allene, et al. “What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide? Portfolio Assessment and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” In Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers: Scenarios in Effective Program Management. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: NCTE, 1999. 44-52. Print.

Cooper, the Writing Program Director at Boise States, explains in this case study how her program moved from a proficiency exam to portfolio assessment to evaluate students at the end of the required writing courses. This change in assessment method came at a difficult time for many of the adjuncts in the program: 1. the new president of the university called them, along with the other adjuncts at the university (who taught 40% of the courses) “a dime a dozen,” 2. the number of TAs teaching in the program quadrulpled (making the adjuncts feel like their jobs were threatened, and 3. the TAs formed a strong teaching community around a shared syllabus (making the adjuncts feel outside this new constituency and thinking that they too would have to teach around a shared syllabus.) There was obvious tension between the adjuncts and TAs, a tension that came out in a shared grading session of the portfolios, where instead of focusing on the students’ writing, the adjuncts and TAs began to attack one another’s assignments and teaching methods. There was hope that the portfolio assessment would help cultivate camaraderie, but it was apparent that there were deeper issues between the two discourse communities, who “ran aground on issues of theory, pedagogy, hegemony, and economics.” (48). Cooper describes the options a WPA has in this situation and the WPA’s conflicting responsibilities: running this student assessment, training TAs, cultivating morale.

Notes and Quotes

“Your adjunct faculty, like their counterparts at other colleges and universities, have traditionally faced problems of low pay, no job security, no benefits, and no upward mobility within their profession. In addition to these issues of professional insecurity, they have faced the more subtle problem of isolation. They teach at odd hours and odd sites. Many feel almost invisible – it’s not uncommon for other faculty members not even to recognize them as fellow teachers” (48).

suggests that replacing adjuncts with full-time instructors might be a solution (50)


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