Revolution Lullabye

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).

December 7, 2010

Schell and Stock, Moving a Mountain

Schell, Eileen E. and Patricia L. Stock. Moving a Mountain: Transforming the Role of Contingent Faculty in Composition Studies and Higher Education. Urbana: NCTE, 2000.

This collection studies the role of contingent faculty in composition instruction, investigating local and disciplinary perspectives from a variety of stakeholders: administrators, faculty, part-time instructors, and policymakers. It includes a bibliography of scholarship on contingent labor both in composition specifically and in higher education more generally.

Introduction: Schell and Stock, “Working Contingent Faculty in[to] Higher Education.” 1-44

Schell and Stock, seeing the complextiy of the issue of contingent faculty labor, hope that this book will spark conversations among compositionists and others in higher education about the increasing use of contingent faculty to teach the vast majority of lower-division courses at American colleges and universities. Their hope is that these conversations will lead into changes in policies and practices surrounding contingent labor, which they believe is important for both the faculty and the students that they teach. Their introduction to the collection includes an extensive literature review of scholarship on contingent labor beyond composition, from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. The collection is a response to the call in the CCCC Statement on Professional Standards for research and case studies on contingent labor conditions and solutions that could serve as guidelines to others in the field and in higher education. Their introduction explains the three sections of the book: 1. a series of personal and institutional case studies about contingent faculty and their working conditions and place in writing programs; 2. chapters that explain the move by contingent faculty toward collective bargaining and coalition building; and 3. a section that argues that it is often the non-tenure-track, contingent faculty that lead the way for innovative teaching practices in higher education (technology, service learning, distance education.)

Notes and Quotes

Increasing student enrollment between 1970 and 1985 (huge rise in underserved and minority populations) led to universities increasingly relying on part-time, contingent faculty to staff lower-division required courses. Why did this work? Also an increase in the number of master’s degree and PhD candidates who were looking for jobs, so universities had plenty of qualified candidates to fill non-tenure-track jobs, which were cheaper (no benefits, no tenure, no long-term contracts.)

Ernst Benjamin, Secretary of the AAUP, wrote in his 1997 paper that non-tenure-track faculty (not including graduate TAs) account for over half the teaching faculty in American colleges and universities (4-5).

The labor problem is an ethical problem. What are responsible and ethical solutions? Are you waiting for a Rosa Parks?

“The growing reliance on contingent employment is not unrelated to what many predict will be the erosion of the tenure and faculty governance system of higher education, the virtual absence of tenure-line faculty in lower-division teaching, and the transformation of a system of higher education that is generally regarded as the finest in the world into one which the long-term benefits of quality education will have been sacrificed for short-term economic gains” (6). 

composition is a good field to start this discussion – there have been contingent faculty working in composition for decades, it offers the most widely offered first-year required course, and the field has been working to improve the working conditions of its contingent faculty.

scholarship on contingent faculty isn’t just from composition; draws on higher education, social science, policy, economics, education, demography, sociology.

part-time faculty are a diverse bunch: those who have full-time careers and teach like consultants, those who want part-time positions, those who are trying to piece together several part-time positions and wait for a tenure-track job to open up, those without the PhD credentials who are still trying to scrap by a living, etc. Women are more often tracked into part-time positions.

scholarship draws a lot on personal narrative, statistics, broad institutional surveys and studies.

Wyoming Resolution: drafted in 1986 by full-time and contingent faculty at the summer Wyoming Conference in English Studies

contingent faculty tied into rising corporatization of the university

moves, rhetoric of unionization and coalition-building in the 1990s, questioning of the purpose of university faculty (where Boyer’s work comes out of)

Wyche-Smith and Rose, One Hundred Ways to Make the Wyoming Resolution a Reality

Wyche-Smith, Susan and Shirley K Rose. “One Hundred Ways to Make the Wyoming Resolution a Reality: A Guide to Personal and Political Action.” College Composition and Communication 41.3 (1990): 318-325. Print.

Wyche-Smith and Rose, recognizing that the conditions outlined by the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing and the actual working conditions of writing teachers at American colleges and universities seem far apart and almost incompatible, list one hundred local, institutional ways writing teachers, tenured professors, non-tenured instructors, and WPAs can work to make the Wyoming Resolution a reality. The list is organized by actor: first things students can do; then things composition instructors can do; then things a part-time faculty member can do; things a graduate teaching assistant can do; then things a writing-program and writing-center administrator can do; things department heads can do; things deans can do; things professional organizations can do; things editors of professional journals can do.

Notes and Quotes

Wyoming Resolution drafted by writing teachers at a conference in Laramie, Wyoming. It addressed the working conditions of writing teachers in college and argued that their unprofessional treatment had an impact on students’ education. The resolution was endorsed by CCCC in 1987, which appointed the Committee on Professional Standards for Quality Education, which then issued the Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing in 1989.

What’s interesting to me is the organization of this hierarchy: it assumes a writing program model built with WPAs managing TAs and part-time instructors. There’s no departmental structure, full-time faculty roles here.

December 3, 2010

Tuman, Unfinished Business

Tuman, Myron C. “Unfinished Business: Coming to Terms with the Wyoming Resolution.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 356-365. Print.

Tuman points to three unresolved issues in the Wyoming Resolution: 1. How do you both help those who currently teach composition – often without training or scholarly preparation – and increase the professionalism of the discipline and its teaching positions? 2. What constitutes professionalism for college writing teachers?(an academic or a practicioner model) and 3. How can vague promises of reform be made concrete into actual, doable systems and processes? He argues that the Wyoming Resolution “has been to place us on a headlong course toward becoming a two-tiered profession” – one with academic faculty managers and practicioner-teachers – because it will be far easier for the academy to improve the working conditions of the practicioners than change the entrenched academic tenure system. Not accepting the second-tier practicioner instructors means restructuring how writing is taught at the university, including perhaps giving up the first-year writing requirement because TAs and full-time faculty cannot possibly teach the numerous sections required.

Notes and Quotes

requiring composition instructors to have advanced training or degrees does not always work in the interest of the often local instructors who work in these part-time positions who do not and cannot compete nationally for tenure-line jobs.

“Thus, an unexpected outcome of reform has been the prospect of current instructors losing their positions, a far cry in the minds of many instructors from the better treatment they seemed originally promised” (357).

What does it mean to be a professional college writing teacher – do they need to do scholarship and research like faculty or are they practicioner-specialists, attending conferences like those in law and other practicioner fields but not do a lot of research. There needs to be a decision and then a structure put into place that adequately rewards and evaluates these positions – perhaps a “parallel but fully-equal pat of promotion and professional standing for practitioners” (359).

The practicioner idea is appealing because it will allow these teachers to continue teaching multiple sections of composition, whereas converting them to academic faculty positions would result in lower teaching loads, needing to hire more people to teach.

“As a result of these first two conditions [a need to staff small sections of lower-division courses and a desire by faculty to teach upper-division courses and have lower course loads], research institutions are under constant pressure to create (and, if eliminated, to re-create) a second-tier, ad hoc teaching faculty, one not protected by normal tenure provisions – in other words, the very situation the Wyoming Resolution is trying to redress (359-360).

November 30, 2010

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.

November 22, 2010

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, A Progress Report

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards. “A Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 330-344.

In response to the 1987 Wyoming Resolution (which provisions were adopted unanimously by CCCC), CCCC established a Committee on Professional Standards, whose job was to circulate and oversee implementation of the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards in the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing (passed in 1989 in response to the Wyoming Resolution.) This statement has been controversial, and this progress report is intended to clarify the CCCC’s position on professional standards for the postsecondary teaching of writing for the purpose of both discussion among members of the field and help in implementing the provisions of the statement and the Wyoming Resolution. This progress report outlines three recommendations to the field: 1. that CCCC follow case studies of faculty, administrators, and instructors trying to implement the Statement at their own institution; 2. that noncompliance be understood as actual resistance to change proposed at institutions; 3. that CCCC authorized a raise in dues to pay for an attorney/administrator to track the implementation of the statement. The CCCC Committee links good working conditions for teachers to good teaching and quality student education. The report argues that the treatment of writing teachers – who are denied time for research, scholarship, and pedagogical invention – is linked to the erosion of tenure, the disappearance of faculty governance, and the corporatization of the university. Thus, the poor treatment of writing instructors at many institutions should be of concern to all faculty. They argue that all teachers of writing should have access to full-time, tenured positions, and that untenured full-time positions or part-time positions should only be used as stop-gap measures as the university is working toward the conversion to tenure lines. They point out that it is the field’s job to argue for the importance of writing and good writing teachers at the university, citing that the field remains invisible to those in English departments and higher administation because the discipline doesn’t often overtly argue for its critical place in student education and many of the freshman English courses in higher education have little to no intellectual, scholarly grounding.

Notes and Quotes

problem: the unfair labor practices in the teaching of college writing are tied to 1. the position of the field at the university 2. the large percentage of women and minorities teaching writing: “the unjust class lines in the academy reproduce those of the culture at large. We do not think it is too far-fetched to describe most teachers of composition as professionally homeless persons” (336).

argues for all writing to be taught by full-time, tenure-track faculty (their ideal)

part-time positions should only constitute 10% of a institution’s writing faculty (336).

What did the Wyoming Resolution (1987) do? “The Wyoming Resolution contained three provisions: it asked for a definition of the minimum standards under which postsecondary writing teachers should be employed; it asked for the creation of some mechanism that would help teachers implement the standards on their campuses; and it asked that some means be found to enforce institutional compliance
with the standards. The Resolution called upon professional organizations to provide support for those who sought changes or reforms relevant to the teaching of writing at individual institutions.” (330).

Institutions (liberal arts, state universities, research universities, two-year colleges, etc) are funded and structured differently, and changes to the position of writing instructors must reflect the local context. But, conversations about the position of untenured and untenurable teaching assistants and part-time instructors must be had (in a way that does not jepordize their employment) with the entire teaching force, not just those who are tenured or who are tenurable.

Universities are increasingly relying on part-time instructors: tenure is drying up because the university is responding to market forces, drawing a larger percentage of their teaching labor from the pool of underpaid part-time instructors and graduate TAs.

The poor treatment of writing instructors is tied to the low regard of the field of composition and rhetoric.

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