Revolution Lullabye

December 30, 2010

Phelps, A Different Ideal and Its Practical Results

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “A Different Ideal – and Its Practical Results.” Modern Language Association, San Francisco, December 1991.

This MLA conference presentation is written in response to the CCCC Statement on Professional Standards, and Phelps questions the ideal teaching community and writing program structure that seems implied by the Statement – one in which the program is staffed entirely of tenured or tenurable teacher-scholars. Arguing (like others) that this homogeneous teaching faculty solution is an impossible fantasy, Phelps uses the Syracuse Writing Program to argue for a different kind of practical solution – one that relies on a heterogeneous teaching community. Phelps points out that the Statement “set off an internal class conflict” within the field, one that the field has largely ignored, between the teacher-practicioners, who make up the majority of those who teach college composition, and the tenured faculty and administrators who oversee writing programs. This divide parallels the “theory/practice” divide pervasive in the field and in English in general. Phelps also points out that the idea that the academy (except for the adjunct professors) is a homogeneous community is a complete myth -the academy is extremely hierarchal, with vast differences in prestige and pay that vary according to discipline, gender, etc. Phelps argues that arguing for a heterogenous teaching community, one where there is a position and value to part-time, non-tenured teaching force, is a practical and ethical goal at the university, one that could value diversity.

Notes and Quotes

“First, I want to object to the principle of solving problems by considering desires independent of realities. This approach strikes me as irresponsible and quixotic. I propose instead that, like engineers and architects, we design workable solutions as a relationship between our goals and reality constraints” (2).

“But my point is that the 4Cs Statement errs in trying to impose a universal answer when what is needed is imagination, flexibility, and fresh thinking about goals as well as means.” (3)

Syracuse Writing Program: creating a hybrid, heterogenous community isn’t easy. There are “difficult moral dilemmas of differential status and rewards” that the Program must deal with, and developed principles to guide decisions. They are:

  • “to distinguish the person and the respect due his or her contributions and personal dignity from level of pay, responsibilities, status, authority, ambition, or influence. These are often mixed in unexpected ways in a given individual.”
  • “to cultivate options for all members through a vigorous program of professional development. Employment is exploitation only where people have no choices. Also, professional development is an intrinsic reward that increases individuals’ marketability and variety of options.”
  • “to make merit rewards of all kinds (beyond decent, fair treatment and support for professional development) commensurate with our community values, which ultimately derive from the aim to offer our undergraduate students the best possible program.” (6)

These rewards include leadership positions, release time, merit pay, summer stipends

It is all about design, working in reality: “combining very hard work with a strategy of turning liabilities into assets to maximize good results in a realistic framework. There is no end point in such a design, only frameworks for progress.” (7)

November 22, 2010

CCCC Executive Committee, Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing

CCCC Excecutive Committee. “Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 40.3 (1989): 329-336. Print.

This statement, which links the importance of teaching students valuable critical reading and writing skills to fair and ethical treatment of teachers, outlines the unfair and unethical labor practices at the university toward the teaching of writing and recommends strategies to correct these practices. They argue that teachers of writing be tenure-track faculty members and those who supervise writing programs be specialists in rhetoric and composition, and these faculty members should be evaluated for tenure on discipline-specific standards, which recognize pedagogical and administrative publication as scholarship. They also argue for better treatment of graduate teaching assistants, which includes training and support for teaching writing, better pay and loads, and access to benefits. The committee insists that universities should only hire part-time instructors for two reasons: to teach specialized courses (where the instructor may be a professional in another field) or to meet unexpected rises in enrollment. Part-time instructors should be given training, office space, adequate professional pay and benefits, and a voice in the department they teach in about the courses they teach and how the courses and they are evaluated. The statement also outlines conditions for good writing instruction: no more than 20 students a section (15 for basic writing), no more than 60 students per instructor per term, support through a writing center, and adequate access to scholarship and conferences in rhetoric and composition.

Notes and Quotes

part-time, graduate assistant teachers: “enormous academic underclass.” (330)

“Moreover, the excessive reliance on marginalized faculty damages the quality of education. Even when, as it often the case, these faculty bring to their academic appointments the appropriate credentials and commitments to good teaching, their low salaries, poor working conditions, and uncertain futures mar their effectiveness and reduce the possibilities for loyalty to the institution’s educational goals. All lose: teachers, students, schools, and ultimately a democratic society that cannot be without citizens whose education empowers them to read and write with critical sophistication” (330).

argue against full-time temporary faculty.

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, A Progress Report

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards. “A Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 330-344.

In response to the 1987 Wyoming Resolution (which provisions were adopted unanimously by CCCC), CCCC established a Committee on Professional Standards, whose job was to circulate and oversee implementation of the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards in the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing (passed in 1989 in response to the Wyoming Resolution.) This statement has been controversial, and this progress report is intended to clarify the CCCC’s position on professional standards for the postsecondary teaching of writing for the purpose of both discussion among members of the field and help in implementing the provisions of the statement and the Wyoming Resolution. This progress report outlines three recommendations to the field: 1. that CCCC follow case studies of faculty, administrators, and instructors trying to implement the Statement at their own institution; 2. that noncompliance be understood as actual resistance to change proposed at institutions; 3. that CCCC authorized a raise in dues to pay for an attorney/administrator to track the implementation of the statement. The CCCC Committee links good working conditions for teachers to good teaching and quality student education. The report argues that the treatment of writing teachers – who are denied time for research, scholarship, and pedagogical invention – is linked to the erosion of tenure, the disappearance of faculty governance, and the corporatization of the university. Thus, the poor treatment of writing instructors at many institutions should be of concern to all faculty. They argue that all teachers of writing should have access to full-time, tenured positions, and that untenured full-time positions or part-time positions should only be used as stop-gap measures as the university is working toward the conversion to tenure lines. They point out that it is the field’s job to argue for the importance of writing and good writing teachers at the university, citing that the field remains invisible to those in English departments and higher administation because the discipline doesn’t often overtly argue for its critical place in student education and many of the freshman English courses in higher education have little to no intellectual, scholarly grounding.

Notes and Quotes

problem: the unfair labor practices in the teaching of college writing are tied to 1. the position of the field at the university 2. the large percentage of women and minorities teaching writing: “the unjust class lines in the academy reproduce those of the culture at large. We do not think it is too far-fetched to describe most teachers of composition as professionally homeless persons” (336).

argues for all writing to be taught by full-time, tenure-track faculty (their ideal)

part-time positions should only constitute 10% of a institution’s writing faculty (336).

What did the Wyoming Resolution (1987) do? “The Wyoming Resolution contained three provisions: it asked for a definition of the minimum standards under which postsecondary writing teachers should be employed; it asked for the creation of some mechanism that would help teachers implement the standards on their campuses; and it asked that some means be found to enforce institutional compliance
with the standards. The Resolution called upon professional organizations to provide support for those who sought changes or reforms relevant to the teaching of writing at individual institutions.” (330).

Institutions (liberal arts, state universities, research universities, two-year colleges, etc) are funded and structured differently, and changes to the position of writing instructors must reflect the local context. But, conversations about the position of untenured and untenurable teaching assistants and part-time instructors must be had (in a way that does not jepordize their employment) with the entire teaching force, not just those who are tenured or who are tenurable.

Universities are increasingly relying on part-time instructors: tenure is drying up because the university is responding to market forces, drawing a larger percentage of their teaching labor from the pool of underpaid part-time instructors and graduate TAs.

The poor treatment of writing instructors is tied to the low regard of the field of composition and rhetoric.

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