Revolution Lullabye

December 16, 2010

Schell, Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers

Schell, Eileen E. Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.

Schell argues that there is a deliberate connection between the low status of women in the academy and in the workforce in general, the devaluing of the teaching of writing, and the part-time contingent status of those who teach college composition (who are overwhelmingly female.) She draws on feminist methodology and uses interviews, surveys, published narratives, and studies to try to represent the many perspectives of women who hold contingent faculty positions, to explain the social phenomenon of why so many women get tracked into contingent faculty positions, and to argue for collective feminist change, one that is grounded into modern economic, political, and historical realities. Schell argues that the thrust of change, which has been led and conducted in a “pragmatic professional context” through national organizations like AAUP, CCCC, and MLA, needs to be transformed to a strategy that specifically addresses the needs of women teaching in contingent faculty positions (81-82). In her final chapter, she identifies, through her research in the field’s literature and through her surveys, four of the popular solutions to the contingent labor problem and then explores their benefits and consequences: 1. the conversionist solution (converting part-time to full-time tenure-line positions); 2. the reformist solution (reforming the working conditions of non-tenure-line faculty); 3. the unionist/collectivist solution (organizing unions and building coalitions through professional organizations); and 4. the abolitionist solution (getting rid of the first-year course, which relies on exploitive contingent labor. Schell contends that change will only come from a deeper understanding of the forces that affect higher education – that the solutions batted about by those in the field and others outside will not work if the field’s higher education illiteracy – a responsibility to be aware academic citizens, literate in discourse and practices of higher education administration – is not addressed.

Notes and Quotes

teaching was one of the first acceptable professions for women – 19th century

naming: “Composition instructors are often described in gendered terms as handmaids, wives, mothers, and midwives, thus making women’s work as composition teachers a biological and social extension of unpaid, undervalued domestic labor” (62).

culled from her interviews of part-time instructors themes that many implied or talked about in reference to their contingent labor positions, teaching writing, and being a woman in a male-centered university system.

1995 Feminist Workshop at CCCC: “Women in the Academy: Can a Feminist Agenda Transform the Illusion of Equity into Reality” – to investigate the unique challenges of women juggling their professional and personal lives (82).

Other CCCC organizations that attended to women’s working lives and conditions: The Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (1997) and the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (1990, a caucus): goals to network, encourage mentorship, research the professional status of women in the field. (83-84)

Draws on Hansen’s “Face to Face with Part-Timers” to again argue that one way that WPAs can work towards improving the professional status and working conditions of women part-timers is by offering professional development and encouraging these part-timers to pursue professional and research opportunities (87)

need to challege, redefine the motherly caretaker teacher role that puts women at a professional disadvantage in the academy

“imperfect solutions to imperfect problems”: Schell’s subtitle to Chapter 5 (90).

“Fundamentally, though, a lack of knowledge of current labor trends and higher education management and economic policies is a form of crippling illiteracy” (119).


December 1, 2010

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group, 1999

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group 03.1. Insert in College Composition and Communication 50.1 (1999): Print.  

Forum  publishes articles, essays, and reflections written by non-tenure-track faculty members and pieces written in support of improving the working conditions of these contingent faculty. There is a focus on organizing, unionizing, and collective bargaining.

This edition of Forum commented on the activities surrounding the Non-Tenure-Track SIG at CCCC in Atlanta (March 1999), which was one of the most well-attended NTT SIGs. After the SIG meeting, Eileen Schell (co-chair of the Task Force on Improving the Working Conditions of Part-time/Adjunct Faculty) helped lead a rally focused on NTT faculty with invited speakers like Ira Shor, Karen Thompson, Leo Parascondola, and Steve Robinson. Forum and the NTT SIG and the Task Force are all working on a Press Kit for contingent faculty groups to gather support across their campuses and communities.

Bobbi Kirby-Werner is still the editor of Forum

Teresa M. Purvis, “Creating Equity for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?” – Purvis is a past editor of Forum and past chair of the Part-Time Faculty Forum at CCCC.
NTT faculty cannot rely on the actions of large professional organizations to improve their lot (MLA, CCCC): “The solution, if any is to be found, must originate with the institutions themselves and with the individuals who accept non-tenure-track appointments, whether full- or part-time” (A3). Discusses responsibility on the part of professional organizations, colleges and institutions (to their students), department and program administrators, full-time tenure-track faculty, and NTT faculty themselves.

Mike Evces, “Review of Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction by Eileen Schell”
Schell’s book argues that labor issues in teaching and administering composition (contingent labor) need to be taken up more widely and seriously by the field because to not do so is to be illiterate about higher education’s professional and institutional world. We, as a discipline, understand the importance of teaching our students to be literate in multiple ways – we, too, need to be literate about the constraints and structures of our own working environments. Schell’s book also shows how composition is a field that exploits women and looks at the shortcomings of feminist theory and pedagogy in composition. She argues for the adoption of collectivism, unionization as social feminist principles and gives concrete ideas for change: full-time positions, professionalizing working conditions, organizing unions, and restructuring the first-year composition requirement.

Patrick Kavanagh, “Creating a More Perfect Union: Cultivating Academic Citizenship in the Face of Higher Education Restructuring.”
The move to a corporate university involves restructuring the university to both improve productivity and cut costs. This has led to, in part, a move to rely more on part-time labor and graduate students to teach undergraduate students. Kavanagh argues that the best way to correct some of the workplace problems in the corporate university is collective bargaining. Shows that the problem is beyond composition – calls for an effort for writing teachers to join the ranks of other non-tenure-track faculty across the university through organizations like AAUP.

Thomas J. Ernster, “Restoring the Spirit in Academe.”
Ernster argues that the only way to start solving the labor problem in the academy (and in composition) is for tenured and tenure-track faculty and NTT faculty to join ranks as “co-participants.” The rise in PhDs in rhetoric and composition has squeezed out jobs for those with MAs.

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