Wootton, Lacey. “The Affordances of Governance Structures for the Non-Tenure-Track Parrhesiastes.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 24.1 (2020): A10-A16. Print.
Writing in the Fall 2020 Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, Lacey Wootton argues that non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty should consider the rhetorical practice parrhesia, “speaking frankly,” especially in contexts of unequal power. She writes that parrhesia can be grounded in existing institutional structures where it can enhance faculty’s ability to foreground important and often unwelcome truths.
Wootton explores three different interpretations of parrhesia. In that of Michel Foucault, the parrhesiaste’s first allegiance is to the truth, a stance that may lead to risk and lost relationships but which is necessary if speaking truth can play its “disruptive and critical” role (A12). Kristen Kennedy’s interpretation, Wootton writes, draws on Cynic rhetoric; in this manifestation, the use of parrhesia is linked to kairos and context in that it can be an effective move if its “ethical imperative to speak” signals the inequity of the spaces it disrupts (qtd. in Wootton A12). Not only the speech itself but also the rhetor’s visibility in the particular setting calls out the exclusionary nature of the setting on which it intrudes.
Wootton also cites Arthur E. Walzer, for whom the truth enacted by parrhesia can be delivered with “artifice and guile . . . that allow the truth to be heard and the relationship to be maintained” (A12).
Wootton contends that institutional structures in academia can provide a context in which parrhesia is appropriate and in fact invited. When NTT faculty hold positions, often appointed ones, on committees and other institutionalized bodies, parrhesia becomes a manifestation of their acknowledged role (A13). These positions within an institution’s accepted hierarchy can constitute the “standing” necessary for effective intervention, in Foucault’s formulation (A13).
A risk for parrhesiastes who adopt this strategy is that of losing “one’s allegiance to the outsider agenda” and instead settling into “business as usual” (A13). In Wootton’s view, a commitment to parrhesia’s role as truth-telling can undergird the courage necessary to disrupt norms.
Wootton accentuates a need for “political intelligence and structural understanding” for NTT faculty working to move within an institution’s governance environment (A14). She advises that finding pathways into the structural spaces that supply standing requires attention to local conditions; although structural opportunities for participation are often embedded in faculty manuals and other written policies, Wootton writes that “one can’t fully understand local politics” through such documents alone (A14). NTT faculty must work through a “long, incremental process” that may begin with filling in gaps in committees at the department level, “not displacing tenure-line faculty, but rather supplementing their work” (A15).
Such persistence, she argues, foregrounds the power of parrhesia as “presence”: In itself, the figure of the truth-teller confronting risk for the sake of the greater good through the “expected rhetorical behaviors” (A 13) of “codified structures” can disrupt oppressive norms (A 14).
October 27, 2020 at 4:09 pm
Thank you for featuring my article! I appreciate the summary. I want to underscore how lengthy a process it was to gain access to faculty governance and any measure of structural power. It took diligence, patience, and a strong measure of political awareness and cultivation of relationships. But it’s been worth it, not only in the participation but in the outcomes of the participation, which have included increased compensation, a voice in policy-making, and more multi-year contracts for term faculty.
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October 27, 2020 at 6:35 pm
Hi, Lacey! Thanks so much for underscoring an important point from your article. Several readers have liked the summary, so it seems clear that your message resonates with faculty. Where I taught, NTT full-time faculty were often asked to participate in faculty governance but may not have always fully appreciated your point that this access is an opportunity to speak frankly and accomplish goals that are otherwise elusive. In some contexts, even part-time faculty can benefit from becoming part of governance if the extra work can be compensated adequately–not always the case, though. Thanks for a thought-provoking piece.