Revolution Lullabye

December 9, 2010

Schell, What’s the Bottom Line

Schell, Eileen E. “What’s the Bottom Line? Literacy and Quality Education in the Twenty-First Century.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 324-340.

Schell, looking at the changing landscape of higher education that is increasingly corporate and reliant on part-time contingent faculty labor, argues that in order to provide quality writing instruction, the discipline needs to work toward four conditions – “compensation, contracts, conditions of work, and coalition building.” Schell argues that arguments about contingent labor need to be brought from the individual level (citing the problematic rhetorical shift that blames the people, not the institutions) to the systematic level, where employment policies and their effects can be critiqued and changed. She advocates moving from a “rhetoric of lack” to a “rhetoric of responsibility”: asking and working for what is required for part-time and NTT faculty to be successful in their work and also who is responsible for it: institutions, faculty, students.

Notes and Quotes

“How can we work around what I have come to call the ‘hidden economy’ of part-time work, the ways in which institutions often profit from the undercompensated emotional and material investments that non-tenure-track faculty make in their teaching?” (327) These investments “constitute a not-insignificant, hidden economy of part-time labor” (327) – these costs are hidden because part-time faculty compensate for that which they are not provided for (copying, office space, etc.)

This hidden economy has both a “gendered and classed nature” that cannot be ignored

“Why do institutions hire and then fail to provide part-time faculty with working conditions necessary for the provision of quality education? The bottom-line answer is simple: cost-savings” – but at what cost? (329)

Writing instruction is regarded as essential to a student’s undergraduate education, so why are those who teach not given the resources they need to teach it well?

There is a need to build coalitions and visible teaching communities – communities that nuture and sustain the development of both teachers and students (332)

need to connect quality education with quality teaching and working conditions.


1. compensation – wide range in salaries. Need to change the “piecework system” that persists (333).

2. contracts – get multi-year contracts that guarantee good salaries and benefits

3. conditions – value writing and teaching-intensive positions, work to get better working conditions

4. coalition-building – including unionization, collective bargaining initiatives

Peled et al, Same Struggle, Same Fight

Peled, Elana, et al. “Same Struggle, Same Fight: A Case Study of University Students and Faculty United in Labor Activism.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 233-244.

The authors explain how cuts to the English department budget – cutting needed composition classes and leaving 14 lecturers out of jobs in the spring semester – led to San Franscisco State University students joining forces with the lecturers to protest the university’s unfair employment practices. They use this case to argue for the importance of coalition building with students and the public.

Notes and Quotes

students are aware of the importance of their writing courses – and denying them enough sections puts them on an extended (expensive) degree plan.

Thompson, Faculty at the Crossroads

Thompson, Karen. “Faculty at the Crossroads: Making the Part-Time Problem a Full-Time Focus.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 185-195.

Thompson describes some of the solutions she thinks would help solve the adjunct labor problem, drawing on the lessons learned in the UPS Teamsters strike: along with pro rata  compensation, she argues that adjunct faculty need to identify each other and become visible inside and outside the university, that full-time faculty need to join with adjunct faculty to argue for better working conditions, and that the problem needs to be explained to parents, taxpayers, and legislators so they can be in alliance with faculty (coalition building). Thompson contends that full-time faculty need to begin to acknowledge how universities are increasingly run through cost-driven management instead of in the best interests of faculty and students. She argues that it’s not only the overproduction of PhDs (a buyer’s market for universities) that is creating the adjunct labor problem: it is an erosion of tenure and full-time faculty lines, as universities are increasingly relying on part-time adjunct labor to teach their courses, as evidenced by the high demand for last-minute adjunct jobs.

Notes and Quotes

compares higher ed labor situation to UPS strike

“Economic problems need economic solutions.” (187).

part-timers who accept their situation: “Where do they get the idea this is an apprenticeship or the Peace Corps?” (189).

leading to the problem: increased administrative costs, which can happen with increasing reliance on low-pay adjunct wages.

full-time faculty need to use their seniority and power to work for adjuncts.

“visibility, unity, and persistence” (194) – the keys to success.

December 7, 2010

Schell and Stock, Moving a Mountain

Schell, Eileen E. and Patricia L. Stock. Moving a Mountain: Transforming the Role of Contingent Faculty in Composition Studies and Higher Education. Urbana: NCTE, 2000.

This collection studies the role of contingent faculty in composition instruction, investigating local and disciplinary perspectives from a variety of stakeholders: administrators, faculty, part-time instructors, and policymakers. It includes a bibliography of scholarship on contingent labor both in composition specifically and in higher education more generally.

Introduction: Schell and Stock, “Working Contingent Faculty in[to] Higher Education.” 1-44

Schell and Stock, seeing the complextiy of the issue of contingent faculty labor, hope that this book will spark conversations among compositionists and others in higher education about the increasing use of contingent faculty to teach the vast majority of lower-division courses at American colleges and universities. Their hope is that these conversations will lead into changes in policies and practices surrounding contingent labor, which they believe is important for both the faculty and the students that they teach. Their introduction to the collection includes an extensive literature review of scholarship on contingent labor beyond composition, from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The collection is a response to the call in the CCCC Statement on Professional Standards for research and case studies on contingent labor conditions and solutions that could serve as guidelines to others in the field and in higher education. Their introduction explains the three sections of the book: 1. a series of personal and institutional case studies about contingent faculty and their working conditions and place in writing programs; 2. chapters that explain the move by contingent faculty toward collective bargaining and coalition building; and 3. a section that argues that it is often the non-tenure-track, contingent faculty that lead the way for innovative teaching practices in higher education (technology, service learning, distance education.)

Notes and Quotes

Increasing student enrollment between 1970 and 1985 (huge rise in underserved and minority populations) led to universities increasingly relying on part-time, contingent faculty to staff lower-division required courses. Why did this work? Also an increase in the number of master’s degree and PhD candidates who were looking for jobs, so universities had plenty of qualified candidates to fill non-tenure-track jobs, which were cheaper (no benefits, no tenure, no long-term contracts.)

Ernst Benjamin, Secretary of the AAUP, wrote in his 1997 paper that non-tenure-track faculty (not including graduate TAs) account for over half the teaching faculty in American colleges and universities (4-5).

The labor problem is an ethical problem. What are responsible and ethical solutions? Are you waiting for a Rosa Parks?

“The growing reliance on contingent employment is not unrelated to what many predict will be the erosion of the tenure and faculty governance system of higher education, the virtual absence of tenure-line faculty in lower-division teaching, and the transformation of a system of higher education that is generally regarded as the finest in the world into one which the long-term benefits of quality education will have been sacrificed for short-term economic gains” (6). 

composition is a good field to start this discussion – there have been contingent faculty working in composition for decades, it offers the most widely offered first-year required course, and the field has been working to improve the working conditions of its contingent faculty.

scholarship on contingent faculty isn’t just from composition; draws on higher education, social science, policy, economics, education, demography, sociology.

part-time faculty are a diverse bunch: those who have full-time careers and teach like consultants, those who want part-time positions, those who are trying to piece together several part-time positions and wait for a tenure-track job to open up, those without the PhD credentials who are still trying to scrap by a living, etc. Women are more often tracked into part-time positions.

scholarship draws a lot on personal narrative, statistics, broad institutional surveys and studies.

Wyoming Resolution: drafted in 1986 by full-time and contingent faculty at the summer Wyoming Conference in English Studies

contingent faculty tied into rising corporatization of the university

moves, rhetoric of unionization and coalition-building in the 1990s, questioning of the purpose of university faculty (where Boyer’s work comes out of)

Blog at