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 Many faculty members at two-year institutions feel constrained by outdated departmental policies and curriculum – these faculty members have more autonomy in the classroom rather than the department.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).

October 15, 2013

Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier, Directing First-Year Writing

Rose, Shirley K, Lisa S. Mastrangelo, and Barbara L’Eplattenier. “Directing First-Year Writing: The New Limits of Authority.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 43-66.

The authors repeated and expanded a study conducted by Gary A. Olson and Joseph M. Moxley in 1989 on the responsibilities, power, influence, and authority held by directors of first-year writing programs. The study is based on 312 responses to an online survey distributed through the WPA-L listserv and a direct-email list of department chairs, and respondents included WPAs, chairs of English or independent writing programs, directors of college writing programs or writing centers, and those who report to directors of first-year writing. In this article, the authors focus on two trends in their results: 1. the perceptions of the most important roles and responsibilities of the first-year composition director and 2. how administrative responsibilities differ among WPAs with tenure, WPAs without tenure but on the tenure track, and those WPAs who hold non-tenure-track administrative lines. What Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier note in their results is that, compared to Olson and Moxley’s 1989 study, the responsibilities that WPAs take on – hiring and training teaching staff, determining curriculum, developing assessment models, writing policy statements, and managing student/grade/personnel issues – are more often shared and negotiated among several people (most notably the chair and other members of a faculty council) depending the particular contexts of the institution, department, and the WPA herself (especially in regards to whether or not the WPA has tenure.) The authors argue that the WPA is not a powerless position (as Olson and Moxley contend); rather, through both new articulations of WPA theory through postmodern and feminist lenses as well as the growth of the discipline in the past 25 years, the WPA position has become more situated, negotiated, and nuanced.

Notable Notes

NTT WPAs (those not on the tenure track) are often given roles “related to management and supervision” like supervision and hiring of teaching staff, scheduling and staffing, establishing common syllabi, handling disputes and political problems (61-62)

not-yet-tenured WPAs are often given responsibilities that are “clearly pedagogical rather than political in focus,” probably out of a desire to protect new faculty pre-tenure and because many are fresh out of graduate school with a current understanding of comp theory and pedagogy (60).

as compared to the 1989 Olson and Moxley survey, many respondents noted curriculum and assessment as WPA responsibilities, probably due to pressures on higher education and accreditation (55)

most important responsibility of the first-year writing director (as noted by chairs in the 1989 survey, chairs in the 2012 survey, and 2012 directors of first-year writing) is communicating well (which includes staying in touch with the chair, being accessible, etc.) (53)

explains definitions of power, authority, and influence described by David V.J. Bell and used by Thomas Ambrose in his article “WPA Work at the Small College or University.” (51)

interesting power dynamic present in many of the responses: female WPA/male chair

limitations – very few (5) responses from two-year schools, which further emphasizes the invisibility of the 2-year college WPA in our scholarship (47)

WPAs as “middle management” (45).

Quotable Quotes

“Although Olson and Moxley defined power in the duties of a writing program director and concluded that composition directors were relatively powerless, respondents to our survey suggest that our understanding of the situated and strategic negotiation of WPA agency has become more nuanced, accounting for the agency of others with whom we work as well as our own” (63).

“Our discipline’s understanding of power, especially as it relates to writing program administration, and how it functions has shifted dramatically in the last quarter of a century due to feminist, Foucauldian, and post-Foucauldian theory, as well as our own maturing as a discipline. THe power of writing program directors, whether they are first-year program directors or other program directors, continues to be a topic of interest to composition studies scholars because power itself is so fluid and complicated” (63).

“The WPA’s job is now recognized as collaborative and inter relational, with the WPA observing and interacting daily with constituencies who have multiple – and sometimes contradictory – agendas” (50).

“We draw from the survey results, respondents free-text comments, and the literature to suggest that a more useful method of thinking about WPA’s agency is to recognize that these different political instruments are always negotiated, that they are consistently and constantly changing, and that the rhetorical situation in all of its complexity always impacts a WPA’s ability to make change. A rhetorically and politically astute WPA can examine which political instrument – influence, power, or authority – would have the greatest impact, as well as the compromises and negotiations she or he is willing to make to accomplish his or her long- and short-term goals” (51-52).

“A WPA’s activities create cultural capital that determines his or her role within the institution” (45).

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