Revolution Lullabye

August 24, 2012

A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs

“A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs.” WPA 35.1 (Fall/Winter 2011): 148-166.

The symposium, which features five short essays, is presented in response to “The CWPA Mentoring Project and Survey Report” published in the fall/winter 2010 issue of WPA. This particular symposium focuses on the mentoring needs and experiences of new or beginning WPAs at non-R1 institutions, demonstrating the range of challenges faced by WPAs at American colleges and universities.

Joyce Olewski Inman, “Reflections on Year One as an Almost-WPA” 149-152

Inman is completing her PhD and simultaneously serving as a WPA at that institution, against the advice of her mentors. She points out how difficult it is to seek mentorship in her role as an “illigitimate” WPA, citing the rhetoric of CWPA resolutions that call for WPAs with terminal, specialized-in-composition degrees.

“I am hopeful it will lead to additional reflection on how our field might become more accepting of the fact that ideal circumstances rarely exist and more conscious of the ways our own rhetoric may be dismissive, not supportive, of WPAs who find themselves in these less than ideal situations” (152).

Kathryn Johnson Gindlesparger, “Snapshot of a Tenure Decision” 152-155

Gindlesparger is a full-time WPA in an admininistrative, not tenure-track faculty, line, and she writes about the benefits and consequences of converting her line into a faculty one. She specificately cites the relative freedom and safety of an administrative position and describes how the culture of a writing program is changed when its control moves from a full-time administrator to multiple faculty members taking on small administrative roles. She calls on CWPA to expand their mentoring to WPAs who are not on the tenure track.

Darci L. Thoune, “The Pleasures and Perils of Being First” 156-159

Thoune explains her position as the first-ever WPA at her institution, describing the challenge of creating a centralized program in a formerly decentralized non-tenure-track instructor system. She explains how one of her primary objectives was to learn about the culture of the department and program, something she did in part by observing classes. She explains how many of her early initiatives at professional development failed, but through those and attending the WPA conference, she decided to implement different, more successful ways to create commonality in the program and manage the many decisions she had to make as a WPA.

Collie Fulford, “Hit the Ground Listening: An Ethnographic Approach to New WPA Learning” 159-162

Fulford discusses how she used ethnographic approaches (especially listening and observing) to learn about the culture of her new department, a HBCU.  She explains, though, that there came a time where she had to stop listening and start speaking, start participating as a member, not just an observer, in the department and college community.

Tim McCormack, “Boss of Me: When the Former Adjunct Runs the Writing Shop”  163-166

McCormack discusses the difficulty in transitioning from an outspoken advocate of adjunct rights to becoming the WPA who did not always have to the power to do the things he thought as an adjunct a WPA should do.  He discusses how he has learned the complex context a WPA works in, and although he has been able to come to terms with some of the decisions he has had to make, he’s uncomfortable with the dissonance with the progressive stance our scholarship often takes about contingent labor and the day-to-day administrative decisions about contingent faculty WPAs need to make.

“My WPA role at the college has evolved from my unquestioning righteousness in support of adjunct faculty to a more nuanced understanding that includes making decisions based on what is good for the writing program and our students.”

January 14, 2011

Slevin, Depoliticizing and Politicizing Composition Studies

Slevin, James F. “Depoliticizing and Politicizing Composition Studies.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary.” Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991. 1-21. Print.

Slevin argues that the unethical labor practices in composition (primarily the reliance on underpaid part-time adjuncts to teach most required college writing courses) is a major problem for the field. He contends that part-time instructor’s low pay, poor working conditions, absent contracts, and lack of benefits contribute to low morale, which in turn affects students, departments, and the university at large (3). He rejects the argument that the hiring of part-time instructors is a result of poor economic times and downturn in student enrollment; instead, he claims employing marginal faculty is a choice universities make in part because of the literature/composition split in English department history, which makes the academic field of composition – and in turn those who teach it – the underclass in powerful English departments. Slevin maintains that the labor situation and the perception of composition in the academy will not change because those in the field think it should, say that it should, or write that it should. Instead, he argues that the field take up professional activitism and work towards these goals in the institution (15).

Notes and Quotes

problem with course catalogues – they detail the number of courses but not the sections. So first-year writing is just one course, but we overlook that it could be 70% of the sections taught in the department.

composition textbooks – how a lot of knowledge about writing and writing instruction is published to the field – is not looked as scholarship by the rest of the academy.

“We should no longer hide from ourselves or from others that our profession, as it is now practiced in this country, rests on, is based on, a foundation of despicable inequality…It is not a peripheral, temporary problem that is somehow going to go away by itself” (2).

Bullock and Trimbur, Preface

Bullock, Richard and John Trimbur, eds. “Preface.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1991. xvii-xx. Print.

In their preface to their edited collection, Bullock and Trimbur explain the history of the collection, which came from the NCTE’s Commission on Composition’s charge to understand the teaching of writing in all American classrooms, K-university. Their collection focuses on the state of the field of composition and rhetoric circa 1990, addressing questions about the identity of the field, the social, cultural, political, and economic implications of teaching writing, the history of teaching writing and its effect on current practices, and how writing instruction can be improved. They explain their own values and what they privilege in writing instruction: collaboration, critical thinking, multidisciplinary writing, democratic values, and making the political in writing overt.

Notes and Quotes

“Writing is value-ful, and all teaching built on and through a set of values is inherently and inevitably political” (xviii)

Their goals for this collection: 1. raise awareness among comp/rhet scholars about some of the political, social, cultural, and economic issues as a way toward working for change 2. provide graduate students with a portrait of the challenges in the field and 3. argue that “politics drives curriculum” and is a necessary part of all institutions, even the academy, and argue that those in comp/rhet need to embrace that fact in order to move ahead and work in the system.

Ohmann, Foreword

Ohmann, Richard. “Foreword.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction Postsecondary. Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991. ix-xvi. Print.

Through juxtaposing his personal journey as a writing scholar and teacher during the civil rights and anti-war events of the 1960s and the social and political turn in composition in the late 1980s, Ohmann, in this foreword to the edited collection of The Politics of Writing Instruction Postsecondary argues for the politicizing of composition. Ohmann reflects on the essays included in the collection, which include arguments about the economics of writing instruction, the labor practices in college composition, the social justice work done in the writing classroom, and the professionalization of the field within the academy. Ohmann argues that writing is always value-laden and therefore political; what has happened in the field is that scholars have overtly pointed out how it is so. He points out the revolutionary rhetoric in the current comp/rhet literature and asks how such global revolution is possible while comp/rhet and writing instructors are part of a larger and entrenched capitalist, patriarchal, and hierarchal administrative structure in the university. He does contend that keeping the revolutionary spirit and ideas alive is an essential part of being intellectuals and teachers of rhetoric.

Notes and Quotes

In the 1960s, 1970s: “Writing instructors didn’t have to politicize the field, though some did: politics flowed into the classroom, and only then did we begin to ntoice that politics had always been there” (xi)

“Surely the politicization of writing instruction must be in part understood as the insurgency of an underpaid, overworked, and disrespectd occupational group” (xi)

“With professionalization came more organizations, more meetings, more seminars, more journals – an arena within which the writing instructoriate could consolidate its anger as well as share discoveries about rhetoric” (xi)

January 10, 2011

Connors, Overwork/Underpay

Connors, Robert J. “Overwork/Underpay: Labor and Status of Composition Teachers since 1880.” Rhetoric Review 9.1 (Fall 1990): 108-125.

Connors looks at the change in the institutional position of composition teachers from 1880 to the present (1980), tying composition’s current low status to broader changes in society and American higher. Connors explains how the structure of the composition course in the late 1800s – which most often contained the entire freshman class, not split into sections, and which was based on frequent essay-writing and individual attention to students – butted up against the rise in American university student population. Professors of rhetoric were overworked, often moved on to another less laborous field, and rhetoric was not considered a desirable field for a scholar to enter. The growing graduate student population provided a large pool of cheap labor, which extended after the graduate students graduated and became poorly-paid instructors (disproportionalty more women than men compared to other fields) in order to have a foot in the door for a more well-paying assistant professor position. Connors uses historical documents and reports to construct his history, including reflections written by and about the Boylston Chair at Harvard, the Hopkins Report of 1913 (which published the results of a nationwide survey of over 600 composition teachers about their working conditions and expectations), and the NCTE “English and the PhD” report from 1925 (which argued that literature PhDs were not trained to teach composition)

Notes and Quotes

“Rhetoric has changed in a hundred years from an academic desideratum to a grim apprenticeship, to be escaped as soon as practical” (108).

Connors explained the first American college literacy crisis, which originated at Harvard in 1874 and resulted in the institution of hte required basic freshman writing course.

late 1800s: coeducation (men felt more comfortable writing arguments to women than debating them); rise of business and industry that demanded consistent written communication; larger debates of linguistic correctness; university student population growing rapidly and the emerging notion of writing instruction that should be individualistic (and hence labor-intensive.)

Hopkins Report estimated that, given how fast a teacher could read (2200 words an hour, 10 hours a week), a composition teacher could only effectively teach 61 writing students.

“While teachers in other fields were dealing successfully with the larger numbers in their classes by evolving techniques of discussion and lecture, composition teachers were tied to the reading of thousands of themes” (115).

mismatch between the work required to get a PhD (investigation, research) and what the TAs were then expected to do (teach, often sections of freshman composition.) TAs were assigned multiple sections of labor-intensive composition while trying to complete their dissertations, and they hated rhetoric andcomposition as a result.

Why did people agree to be part of the composition underclass? 1. “Surplus” PhDs who wanted to stay doing something academic in the hopes of getting a better job 2. Women who did not have a fair shake in competing with fellow male PhDs for academic jobs 3. Women who had the added burden of raising children and couldn’t compete in scholarly production 4. Women who needed part-time jobs to raise children. 5. People who wanted part-time flexibility

“Unless and until teaching and studying writing can be made work the entire English faculty wants to share in, irresistable social forces will maintain the underclass and all of the unhappiness and poisonous inequality that have always followed in its train.” (one solution – give extra credit to faculty who agree to teach writing)

uses late-19th and early-20th century reports, articles in English Journal, monographs, surveys on the teaching of English and composition

December 8, 2010

Maid, Non-Tenure-Track Instructors at UALR

Maid, Barry M. “Non-Tenure-Track Instructors at UALR: Breaking Rules, Splitting Departments.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000. 76-90.

Maid explains how the creation of full-time non-tenure-track faculty members at University of Arkansas-Little Rock in 1990 played a key role in the split of the English Department in 1993 and the creation of a new stand-alone Department of Rhetoric and Writing. He asks and explores whether it is possible to integrate the labor practices, purpose, and values of a writing program (university-wide teaching done primarily by untenured teachers) into a traditional English department, and he argues that the solution for many colleges and universities can only be independence from English departments.  Maid explains the problems of a faculty made primarily of full-time non-tenure-track faculty: though hired to teach, they begin to up the ante on themselves and push toward presenting and publishing, becoming in essence like tenure-track assistant professors without the benefits or guarantees of a tenured position. He argues for clear job descriptions and evaluation expectations.

Notes and Quotes

Model of a full-time instructor: one-year renewable contract, attendance at one professional conference a year, 4/4 with benefits, pay equivelent to a public school teacher, some departmental service, expect some departmental continuity.

department split largely because of a fear from tenured literature professors that the untenured full time instructors, who had voting rights, would outnumber them and begin dictating how the department was run.

those who espouse leftest ideas or embrace difference in their scholarship or pedagogy sometimes seem like hypocrites: “Yet, when it comes to those issues that are closest to them, labor issues and the governance of the academy, some are aristocrats of the first degree. Once a group sets itself up as being inherently superior to another group – whether that group is defined by academic degree, gender, or race – the first group cannot value or respect the different skills of the second group” (86).

different should not mean less than

December 7, 2010

Wallace, A One-Time Part-Timer’s Response

Wallace, M. Elizabeth. “A One-Time Part-Timer’s Response to the CCCC Statement of Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (Oct. 1991): 350-354.

Wallace argues for the legitimacy of part-time faculty positions as a viable alternative to the traditional (male-centered) full-time academic model. Part-time positions, she argues, are good for the academy because they allow for positions for those people who cannot work full-time (due to child care or family structure obligations) or who are professionals in another field and have expertise to lend, part-time, to building writing programs. She also suggests three appendices to the statement: 1. a list of books that hinted at the broad range of theory and research regarding writing and writing pedagogy (what the field is); 2. a plea to part-time faculty to carefully consider the political implications of accepting low-paying adjunct jobs; 3. a ballad (the “I’m Just a Poor Part-timin'”) – the statement, she argues, lacks affect.

December 1, 2010

Lloyd-Jones, What We May Become

Lloyd-Jones, Richard. “What We May Become.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (1982): 202-207. Print.

Lloyd-Jones, looking at the emerging scholarship in the discipline, argues that composition should find its home in humanistic study, study that values and celebrates language, rhetoric, and writing not for the marketable skills it has but because it is how human beings create and cultivate meaning. He argues that composition should stay with literature because they are natural counterparts in the understanding of language. He hopes that composition and writing will become a reinvigorated part of the college curriculum.

Notes and Quotes

“What we may become is what we will to become.” (202)

“But we have given the philosopher kings of the electorate very little sense of what might be learned from close instruction in writing, or why such instruction might both be expensive and be worth the cost” (205)

“Yet writing and reading, literature and rhetoric, aesthetics and politics, form and function, theory and practice, social need and intellectual rigor, must be constantly interacting within the human frame. Efficiency – even peace – may require compartmentalization, but it comes at the price of distorting our sense of the whole…We belong with the humanists, not with the social workers.” (207).

November 30, 2010

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group Fall 1998

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group 01.2. Insert in College Composition and Communication 50.1 (1998): Print.  

The Forum, first published in CCC as a special insert in early 1998, before the CCCC in Chicago, is a newsletter dedicated to representing the voices and concerns of non-tenure-track writing faculty members. The notes and quotes below address some of the reflections and articles in the newsletter.

Notes and Quotes

“The tide has finally begun to turn, I think, toward greater awareness and more productive action in support of the profession’s non-tenure-track ranks, so it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit more hopefuland revitalized than in times past” (Roberta Kirby-Werner, editor of Forum, A1).

Cynthia Selfe, CCCC Chair, noted in the 1998 CCCC Chair’s Report that the publication of Forum as a special insert in CCC for the first time before the conference was one of the most significant things of the year for the field (A1)

At the 1998 CCCC, CCCC resolved to support the printing and distribution of Forum and to compensate the editor (first editor is Kirby-Werner of the Syracuse Writing Program)

Susan Griffin, “Speaking from the Middle”: speaks about the shift that happened at CCCC this year. Instead of just sessions about the poor working conditions for non-tenure-track facutly, there were sessions about what to do: build coalitions, collective bargaining. She talks about her position in the middle – not tenured, but full-time with multiple year contracts, no time for publishing but some support for conferences, representation with a union but no say in faculty governance. She argues that this kind of position comes at a cost for the university and the students – it denies her academic freedom, equal standing in the academy, and the power to uphold academic integrity standards.

 “My own non-tenured position – which had always seeemd so marginal, so different, such a deviation from the traditional academic path – is after all average. In fact, for thsoe who teach writing courses in higher ed, it’s typical” (A4). 

Scott Hendrix, “Talking to Janitors, Working with Students: What’s Next for (Contingent) Academics?” Hendrix argues that non-tenure-track writing faculty should expand their networks for coaltion-buidling beyond other adjunct teachers at the university and include “other contingent academic workers, as well as our undergraduate students, other campus and community groups, and organized labor,” using janitors as an example. (A6). He argues that unionized labor will make workplaces more democratic, and argues for more activism by both full-time and part-time faculty to improve the academic workplace. He explains the outcomes of the CCCC collective bargaining, coalition-building, and organizing strategies workshop: goals for educating 1. contingent faculty; 2. full-time faculty; and 3. the public and the press about university working conditions. He gives examples about how the graduate TA union at his institution started to build this kind of cross-university and cross-community coalition.

We are teachers of language, of rhetoric. Now we need to use what we know for this new purpose – social action, public rhetoric.

Sample “Who pays?” ad to give the press to explain how poor working conditions for adjuncts affect everyone.

“Our starting point, though, should be the same – to make academic work (teaching and learning) less continent, more visible and more valued, both financially and professionally” (A6).

Susan Crowley: “While we are doing all of that [organizing a system in CCCC to address contingent labor issues], I ask you to remember who it is that puts the bread on our table: the absent multitudes whose labor we exploit, whose labor allows us to enjoy positions as WPAs, researchers, and scholars. Those folks are the heart of composition instruction in America. They always have been. It is time we remembered that, and it is time that we put them at the center of our organizational efforts” (A14).

Francis Fletcher, Jamey Nye, and Steve O’Donnell “The Adjunct Faculty Manifesto” – drawing on Marx and Freire. Class system at the academy, oppression, deflecting responsibility, exclusion, fragmentation

Crain, A Comment on ‘The Wyoming Conference Resolution’

Crain, Jeanie C. “A Comment on ‘The Wyoming Conference Resolution: Opposing Unfair Salaries and Working Conditions for Post-Secondary Teachers of Writing.’” College English 50.1 (1988): 96-99. Print.

Crain gives her personal account of a part-time instructor: teaching multiple sections at multiple institutions for little pay and no job security. Her narrative shows how the problems addressed in the Wyoming Resolution are enacted in one person’s life.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.