Revolution Lullabye

October 22, 2013

Toth, Griffiths, and Thirolf, Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty

Toth, Christina M., Brett M. Griffiths, and Kathryn Thirolf. “‘Distinct and Significant’: Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 90-116.

This article brings together three separate studies that investigate the professional identities of two-year college English faculty. Together, the studies assert that two-year college English faculty members have a distinct identity and specific professional challenges and opportunities unique to their institutional positions. The authors call for more inclusivity and attention to the needs of two-year college faculty in the discipline’s main professional organizations (CCCC, NCTE, etc.); better graduate student training to prepare two-year college faculty for their particular profession; and more disciplinary action directed at the contingent labor issue, which is one reason why two-year college English faculty feel marginalized and lack professional autonomy.

Notable Notes

The three studies (all use interviews, coding of transcripts as main methodology)

1. “Professional Organizations and Transdiciplinary Cosmopolitanism” – looks at the professional organizations that two-year college English faculty belong to. Findings: many belong to several (national/regional/local) and many two-year college English faculty members more readily identify with the professional organizations that focus on the needs of two-year college faculty and students (like TYCA or developmental education organizations) than disciplinary ones like CCCC because two-year college issues seem marginalized in the discipline-specific organizations.

2. “Positioning and Footing of Two-Year College English Faculty” – examines how two-year college English faculty assert their professional identity and autonomy at their own institutions. Findings: participation in professional organizations or in professional activities like research/textbook writing increases faculty members’ ability to enact change at the departmental level of their institution (things like curriculum, assessment, placement.) Many faculty members at two-year institutions feel constrained by outdated departmental policies and curriculum – these faculty members have more autonomy in the classroom rather than the department.

3. “Organizational Socialization of Part-TIme English Faculty” – looks at how beginning two-year college English faculty (3 years or less) are socialized in the profession by their local institution and department. Findings: departments/programs need to make an effort to introduce new faculty into the institutional and disciplinary norms and values of teaching English at a two-year college, but this is best done through informal connections/mentoring that encourages the professional identity of two-year college faculty instead of more patronizing, forced workshops or mentoring.

70% of two-year college faculty are contingent (106)

50% of all college composition courses are taught at two-year schools (93)

Quotable Quotes

“[The studies] demonstrate that two-year college English faculty face distinct constraints – as well as opportunities – in enacting their professional identities” (111).

“Activities that positioned incoming adjunct faculty as professoinals and colleagues fostered professionalization more than mandatory trainings and required mentoring” (110).

“Together, these studies suggest that professional autonomy is a compex construction derived not only from professional expertise, but also from shared recognition of that expertise by departmental colleagues, administrators, and policymakers” (112).

“Even though faculty drew on disciplinary knowledge within their classrooms, they often did not perceive themselves to have the authority- the footing – to assert their understanding of those norms and goals to effect departmental change” (104-105).

“This cosmopolitan translation from national disciplinary conversations to local context reflects the distinctive professional profile of two-year college English faculty: the kinds of pedagogical and administrative knowledge required in the two-year college English profession are often highly situated and context-specific” (98).

January 13, 2009

Birnbaum, How Colleges Work

Birnbaum, Robert. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988.

The purpose of this book is to encourage and guide college administrators towards improving what they do by thinking about their work from multiple, complex perspectives. Birnbaum does this by providing case studies of higher education administration (through five fictitious institutions) and by showing how multidisciplinary management theories either do or do not answer the unique challenges of a university. Fundamentally, a well-run university is managed by administrators who can identify the organizational patterns (like a pattern language), follow them in their administration, and create new ones when situations arise where there are no appropriate patterns. The book is divided into three parts: the first explains the elements and concepts that define universities and colleges; the second presents the models used to explain higher education organization and management (collegial, bureaucracy, political system); the third combines those models and argues that a college or university is always being developed and reinvented through all these (as possibly more) patterns.

Chapter 1, “Problems of Governance, Management, and Leadership in Academic Institutions,” addresses the challenges to leadership because of the very nature of academic institutions. It centers around governanace, since a university has three different foci of control (duality of control): the board of trustees, the administration, and the faculty. Other problems include different, conflicting goals and missions (teaching, research, service), a disagreement in the type of power and control that works to sway administraiton and faculty, inflexible resources (personnel due to tenure), decentralization of authority among faculty due to academic specialization, and the conflicting goals of cosmopolitan and local faculty. Birnbaum suggests a model based on social exchange leadership theory – that the faculty and the administration are interdependent – should be considered in the development of an administrative plan.

Chapter 2, “Thinking in Systems and Circles: The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Organizations,” explains the difference between closed and open systems and argues that the university is anĀ  open, nonlinear, and dynamic system (which can seem chaotic), since it is comprised of so many subsystems whose intersections are so distant that a major change or failure in one area would not affect the entire system very much and other subsystems not at all. This is called loose coupling, and it allows for a greater sensitivity to the environment and the needs of each subsystem, which would not happen in a centrally-controlled, tight coupling system. Birnbaum advocates nonlinear thinking in circles and subsystems for administrators, arguing that an effective administrator is more interested in understanding the system than ruling over it with an iron fist.

Quotable Quotes

“Administrators with linear perspectives are likely to emphasize making rational decisions; administrators with nonlinear perspectives are likely to be concerned with making sense. Linear administrators think they know how the system works and how to change it; nonlinear administrators are more modest in their assumptions and expectations” (55)

“Effective administration may depend not on overcoming it [the chaos of an open system] but on accepting and understanding it” (41)

“The beliefs held by administrators and others who influence institutional life affect how they behave, how they interpret their experiences, and even what they ‘see'” (xiv)

Notable Notes

the symbolic president of university

Administration is organized around “the control and coordination of activities by superiors”; faculty around “autonomy and individual knowledge” (10) This is duality of controls. “These two sources are not only different but in mutual disagreement” (10)

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