Revolution Lullabye

June 12, 2013

Halpern, The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of Undisciplined Writing on Disciplined Instructors

Halpern, Faye. “The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of ‘Undisciplined Writing’ on Disciplined Instructors.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 10-26.

Halpern uses her experience as a preceptor (full-time instructor) in the Harvard Expository Writing Program, an independent writing program that hires instructors from across the disciplines to teach an ‘undisciplined’ approach to academic writing, to discuss the effects of programmatic philosophies on the professional development and disciplinary identity of their instructors. Much of the scholarship on independent writing programs have focused on how stand-alone programs affect the identity and working conditions/relationships of the full-time faculty; Halpern’s article provides an in-depth look at how administrative decisions like the creation of independent writing programs or the adoption of particular writing curriculum affect instructors both while they are teaching in the program and after they leave and teach or work elsewhere.

Halpern argues that there is a problem with freestanding/independent writing programs like Harvard’s or Duke’s because the transdisciplinary nature of the programs leaves instructors without a solid disciplinary identity. Halpern points out that these independent writing programs often function as happy intellectual islands, developing their own theories, terms, and language. When instructors (whose positions are really not meant to be permanent positions but rather post-doc-like instructorships) leave, they are not well-prepared to enter into the disciplinary conversations and debates that characterize most academic departments. Halpern argues that WPAs and full-time faculty at independent writing programs need to consider the professional development needs and disciplinary identities of their instructors, preparing them not just to be successful teachers in that particular environment but also at other institutions.

Notable Notes

transdisciplinarity (11) – what writing shares across disciplines instead of what makes each discipline’s writing distinct

the effect of liberation, freedom, and independence on all stakeholders

the many ways it is difficult for an instructor to move from an instructorship to a tenure-track position (16-17)

characteristic of American colleges/universities/academic departments; thinking in terms of disciplinarity (20-21)

important effect: your graduate school training and early jobs have a profound effect on how you view yourself as a teacher and and academic, where you place yourself in the field (22-23)

connection to Duke (in article), possible connection to Syracuse and the Writing Program’s effect on the professional development and identity of the instructors

list of terms used by the Harvard Expos program – creation of a discourse community (13)

Quotable Quotes

“Academic expertise usually involves learning a discipline, but that is precisely not what I learned at Expos: I learned how to move beyond my discipline” (15).

“Perhaps one of the hardest things for a program to do is to acknowledge its own partiality. I mean ‘partiality’ in two senses: programs are partial to their own methods, and their methods constitute only one approach, an approach that intersects inevitably with the work of others” (23).



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

November 15, 2010

O’Neill and Schendel, Locating Writing Programs in Research Universities

O’Neill, Peggy and Ellen Schendel. “Locating Writing Programs in Research Universities.” In A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Ed. Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 186-211. Print.

The authors, after describing the results from a survey of AAU writing programs, focus on two independent programs: Harvard’s Expository Writing Program, which has always been an independent program since its founding in 1872, and Syracuse’s Writing Program. Through their description of these two programs, O’Neill and Schendel point out some conclusions about the implications of independent writing programs and departments. The independence of the programs – especially those without departmental status – does not solve the labor issue, as most are still staffed with contingent labor and are placed outside the knowledge-making structure that is so highly valued by the university. They draw on Richard Miller’s and Kurt Spellmeyer’s arguments – that instead of working to departmentalize composition and insist that all composition courses be taught by tenure-track faculty (an impossible demand), composition should work on improving the lives of its instructors by embracing the realities of the emerging corporate structure of the university and focusing on its service role.

Notes and Quotes

“If the university is changing, as many people argue, focusing on traditional academic rewards may not best serve compositionists or their students” (209).

The Harvard program has recently been overhauled by its director Nancy Sommers, who has 1. improved the position and pay of the instructors, now called preceptors and considered experts of academic writing, 2. introduced a WAC program with a WID emphasis, 3. strengthened the research orientation of the program, and 4. moved to its own building in the center of campus.  The Writing Program at Harvard has its own budget, several endowments, including an endowed directorship (though the director is not a faculty member with tenure.)

Syracuse description is placed in other notes. Focus on the role of full-time faculty with tenure in the program, full-time administrative staff, flexibility of program/departmental status, how the CCR program affects the identity of the program.

At large universities, writing programs are usually housed in English, directed by an English faculty member, and staffed by English grad students and adjunct instructors.

Found these independent programs: Columbia (mid-1990s), Cornell (1982), Duke (1994, 2000), Harvard (1872), Princeton (1991), University of Colorado (1987), University of Rochester (1997), Yale (1977). Found these independent departments (maybe not in name, but because of status, tenured faculty, etc.): University of Iowa Dept. of Rhetoric (1988), Michigan State Dept. of American Thought and Language (1946), University of Minnesota St. Paul Dept. of Rhetoric, Syracuse University Writing Program (1986). There are others who did not respond to the survey.

All have different reasons, institutional histories of why they are independent programs, but many are to centralize writing instruction, build interdisciplinary support for WAC, need a bigger administrative structure than can usually be allowed within a program.

“What ‘counts’ as a writing program is very different from institution to institution” (193).

Composition research/administration seems to be much more valued than composition teaching (hire tenure-track to administer; adjuncts to teach.)

“Tenure, although it is under attack and revision at many institutions, still confers privilege, status, resources, and benefits on those who receive it. Not having tenure clearly marks writing instructors, administrators, and scholars as somehow outside the academic mainstream of the university hierarchy” (194).

May 6, 2009

Ohmann, English in America

Ohmann, Richard. English in America: A Radical View of the Profession. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP, 1976.

This educational critique that focuses on higher education English departments, arguing that they are implicit in forwarding the capitalist, military, industrial agendas of the institutions in power (government, military, big business.) Ohmann argues against New Criticism for a return to the humanist, moralistic study of literature, one grounded in people and culture, not science. English departments, he claims, act to sort and sanction undergraduate and graduate students, assimilating them into an elite class. He draws his critique from an economic history of American industry (and its effect on education) and by looking at the MLA organization, the structure of English departments, freshman composition textbooks, the AP system, and institutional writings like The Pentagon Papers. His critique is profoundly affected by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, and the students’ rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and he wants English departments to adopt Marxist, revolutionary agendas, to shed their apolitical stance and work for societal change.

Quotable Quotes

“Ther is just no sense in pondering the function of literature without relating it to the actual society that uses it, to the centers of power within that society, and to the institutions that mediate between literature and people. In other words, the function of literature and the role of English teachers cannot be understood except within the context of a given society and politics” (303) – texts do not exist and cannot be understood in isolation

“Meetings and memoranda are main instruments in planning, prime media of discourse in a complicated technological society” (191)

Composition arose “when the modern university was being grafted onto the old aristocratic college” (134).

“writing was no longer mainly a private and public art, but a tool of production and management” (93).

“I found it harder to believe that Humanity was being served well by the academic humanities, as our official dogma held, or that the professional apparatus we had invented was a rational structure and not a Rube Goldberg machine” (5)

Notable Notes

wants what is done by English departments and professors to matter, not just be contained in some specialist world that doesn’t communicate with reality.

looks at composition and its connection with gatekeeping. Chapter by Wallace Douglas about the Boylston Professorship at Harvard – move from classical, rhetoric as art to training for the professions, a hurdle to overcome

problem with emphasis on apolitical, childish, decontextualized, solitary, individual, private themes and attitudes towards students in freshman comp – we need to look at what kinds of writing actually are written, valued, and enact policy in the world, like the memos of the Pentagon Papers.

Pentagon Papers – the memos set an official argument, framed action, was a point (evidence) for future reference. THe memo kept policy makers in a particular frame of mind, following the warrants of the genre because the purpose behind it, the human costs of war, were never questioned or considered.  Connection to teaching professional writing, ethics

what does it mean to be a professional? independence, jurisdiction to allow others in, to train, assertion that your knowledge is special, needed, and only attained through long training in schools

industrial society values are tied up in the history of English and comp: efficiency, centralization, measurement, capitalism, management (261)

the shift to the knowledge economy raised the importance of universities to corporations, the college degree became the mark of socialization and training

professional, intellectual choices are political choices (304-305)

February 16, 2009

Strickland, How to Compose a Capitalist

Strickland, Donna. “How to Compose a Capitalist: The Predicament of Required Writing in a Free Market Curriculum.” Composition Forum 9:1 (Spring 1998) 25-38.

Composition’s low status in the academy is not due to its pedagogical orientation. Rather, composition’s status is a result of the fact that it is the sole required course in a university designed around the concept of liberalism and free choice, a concept that indoctrinates students in the ideologies of individualism and competition that are necessary for a capitalist society. Strickland traces composition’s contradictory place in the academy to the pedagogical reform movements at Harvard under Charles Eliot, who instated the modern liberal arts elective curriculum. Composition served as required cultural capital that students must secure before moving on to become independent capitalist men, ready to interact with their instructors in a business relationship and become a free-thinking man able to own himself and his own choices. Thus, modern progressive composition pedagogies that attempt to subvert the system by giving students the freedom to choose their own topics are actually just making composition like the rest of the university, where student choice through the major and elective system dictates the curriculum.

Quotable Quotes

Progressive composition pedagogies are really “reinscribing rather than resisting the dominant discourse of the university, that of the free capitalist individual” (36).

“The new university set itself up as a place to construct free, self-motivated, white male subjects, the very subjects necessary for the logic of American industrial capitalism” (26).

Notable Notes

choice is self-regulation, free students, self-governing, competition-driven

good English is necessary cultural capital for which to enter the system to have wealth, power, and the language of capitalism

women are not fit nor strong enough for the rigors of the capitalist liberal arts curriculum

teacher serves as a “model of masculine ability” (33)

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