College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals

Essays from Forum: Contingent Faculty Issues, in CCC, Sept. 2015. Posted 10/06/2015.

2 Comments

Pytleski, Patricia Davies. “Contact Zones and Contingent Faculty: An Argument for Conversion.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 19.1 (2015): A4-A8. Print.

Patricia Davies Pytleski argues that the relationship between contingent faculty and tenure-track/tenured faculty functions as an example of what Mary Louise Pratt described as a “contact zone,” a space governed by “highly asymmetrical relations of power” (Pratt, qtd. in Ptyleski A5). In Pytleski’s view, these relations affect the material conditions in which contingent faculty function, for example with regard to “office space, meeting inclusion, voting privileges, and program development” (A5). These power differentials, she writes, affect what institutions are able to offer students. Her article explores conversion of part-time positions to tenure-line positions as a solution in some cases and presents her own experiences as an example of how such a conversion can enhance curriculum.

She notes national data showing the degree to which institutions respond to economic pressure by increasing their dependence on contingent faculty (A4). She stresses the “irony within the definition” of contingent, quoting Dictionary.com, in which the term denotes something “dependent for existence . . . on something not yet certain; conditional” when in fact, it is the universities that are dependent on their part-time instructors (A8). Of the two solutions she sees generally offered to redress the problems faced by temporary faculty, long-term security versus conversion to tenure track, Pytleski argues for conversion because exclusion from the tenure-track community affects faculty practice in negative ways: “Only possible advancement or conversion to tenure-track lines would improve the asymmetrical power relations” (A6).

Pytleski discusses how, throughout her five years as contingent faculty, she contributed to the program at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania via her special credentials as a rhetoric and composition specialist with secondary certification and teaching experience (A6). She recounts her generally positive experiences at Kutztown while detailing the degree to which her contingent role created material impediments to serving students fully, for example her lack of regular office space (A7), and noting also how the uncertainty of her status resulted in her awareness, each year as her standing was re-evaluated, of “my placement within the power relations of this contact zone” (A7).

Pennsylvania, she writes, provides for the conversion to tenure track of part-time faculty who have worked in the same department for five consecutive years and who receive the approval of their programs (A6). Only such provisions, she contends, can alleviate the degree to which contingent faculty remain burdened by their status within a contact zone.

Dorfeld, Natalie M. “National Adjunct Walkout Day: Now What?” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 19.1 (2015): A8-A13. Print.

Natalie M. Dorfeld details the events of the National Adjunct Walkout Day (#NAWD), which took place on February 25, 2015. Inspired by “an unassuming suggestion from Leah Griesmann, a lecturer at San Jose University in California,” the event provided a number of opportunities nationwide for instructors and students to call attention to the working conditions of part-time university teachers (A9).

Dorfeld recounts events at three institutions, Seattle University, San Francisco Art Institute, and the University of Arizona, at which groups numbering in the hundreds publicly advocated for greater job security, better pay, participation in faculty governance, and benefits (A9-A10). Dorfeld notes the contributions of students, such as speaking at the rallies or producing a YouTube video (A9-A10). Many students had not known of the plight of their instructors and voiced their awareness that the working conditions these teachers face affects the quality of education the institutions are able to offer (A10).

Dorfeld notes the alternative options open to faculty who could not walk out of class due to contract provisions or state right-to-work laws. Some instructors made academic labor issues the topic of class discussion, while others participated in “grade-ins,” publicly grading papers to emphasize their lack of office space. Information tables or “day-in-the-life reenactments” also gave advocates a way to draw attention to their claims (A11).

Dorfeld notes the range of administration responses to adjunct concerns and the NAWD events. Seattle University is battling unionization on the grounds that it should be allowed a “religious exemption from labor law” (Alex Garland, qtd. in Dorfeld A9). At the University of Arizona, the vice provost of faculty affairs, Tom Miller, noted that “we can expect that we’re going to need these people, and we should be thinking long-term how we’re going to support their development” (qtd. in Dorfeld A10). Dorfeld cites the emergence of more than thirty adjunct unions and reports increased solidarity over labor issues across the higher-education landscape (A12).

She frames her article with the tragic death of Duquesne University French instructor Margaret Mary Vojtko, who passed away penniless after teaching at the institution for 25 years (A9, A12). She credits this event, which earned widespread media coverage, with “sparking an outcry both in and out of academia” (A12); such publicity, for example, may have contributed to efforts like “the Service Employees International Union’s . . . goal of securing adjuncts $15,000 per course in pay and benefits” (Peter Schmidt, qtd. in Dorfeld A12).

LaFrance, Michelle. “Making Visible Labor Issues in Writing Across the Curriculum: A Call for Research.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 19.1 (2015): A13-A16. Print.

Michelle LaFrance is concerned that research in rhetoric and composition has paid inadequate attention to labor issues connected to the increasing reliance on contingent faculty in writing across the curriculum (WAC ) programs. She cites a range of topics that have been investigated by composition scholars examining working conditions, including “the impact of contingency upon pedagogy” (A13), but argues that “few researchers have explicitly addressed the special issues of contingency that subtend WAC programs” (A15).

After illustrating the rise in the use of contingent faculty at George Mason University, where she directs the WAC program, La France supports her claim about the dearth of research specifically directed at WAC labor concerns by reviewing extant studies that discuss questions of enrollment and urge “recognizing faculty’s professional development efforts” (A15) but give short shrift to the particular problems that face adjunct instructors. Among the documents she reviews is the “Statement of WAC Principles and Practices,” a position paper endorsed by the International Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs. This document, LaFrance writes, “completely elides” specific issues faced by part-time faculty working to meet the unique demands of a WAC appointment (A15).

Thus, LaFrance calls upon rhetoric and composition as a whole to address more concretely how the challenges facing contingent faculty play out in WAC environments. She expresses particular concern that the attention paid to “the institutional investment, infrastructure, and planning necessary to ensure the sustainability of these often decentralized and highly localized programs” will go for naught if the factors associated with increasing “adjunctification” are not included in the growing body of research meant to support WAC as a vital subfield of composition (A15).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

2 thoughts on “Essays from Forum: Contingent Faculty Issues, in CCC, Sept. 2015. Posted 10/06/2015.

  1. How can I snag a copy? Thank you. — Natalie

    Like

    • Hi Natalie,
      Do yoou mean a copy of the summary or of the article?

      If of the article, this piece appeared in the same issue of CCC (College Composition and Communication) as yours this past year. I would hope you got copies of the journal when you published! If not, if you go to NCTE.org, you may be able to access the archive. You generally have to be a member and subscribed to the journal to access the archives for free. Alternatively, university libraries usually have a database that indexes journals like CCC. You might check with the research librarian.

      I may be misunderstanding what you’d like. Just let me know. Feel free to use the “contact” form to email me directly.

      Like

Leave a Reply. Entering a name or email address in the fields below is completely optional--but feel free to do so!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s