College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Fox and Powers. Promotion for Part-Time Faculty. Forum, Fall 2017. Posted 09/24/2017.

Fox, Steve, and Mick Powers. “Half a Loaf? Hard Lessons When Promoting Adjunct Faculty.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 21.1 (2017): A3-A11. Web. 14 Sept. 2017.

Writing in the Fall 2017 issue of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, a twice-yearly publication of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Steve Fox and Mick Powers report on their efforts to improve working conditions for part-time contingent faculty at IUPUI. Noting that calls for increased equity for these faculty urge better pay, increased benefits, more control over assignments, and better hiring practices, among other changes, Fox and Powers contend that “less common is specific advocacy for some sort of promotion process” for these faculty (A4).

They find “professional advancement” listed among the seven goals of the New Faculty Majority and mention of professional development and promotion possibilities in both the “CCCC Statement on Working Conditions for Non-Tenure-Track Writing Faculty” and the MLA Professional Employment Practices for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Members (A4). Such calls, they argue, speak to the conditions under which part-time faculty may achieve excellence in teaching for many years without recognition or without rewards such as higher pay than less experienced or less accomplished colleagues (A4). They share their experience working to remedy this situation as a case study (A5).

Fox and Powers report that IUPUI practices “Responsibility-Centered Management” that generally provides programs with “considerable autonomy,” with the result that salaries, hiring practices, and course assignments vary across campus (A5). In the School of Arts and Letters (SLA), which houses English and the writing program, part-time “salaries remain low, increases are infrequently given, and when given are applied equally to all part-time faculty . . . with no recognition of years of service or professional excellence” (A5).

Efforts to improve conditions within the SLA were part of campus-wide initiatives including an “office for part-time faculty affairs” and the establishment of a “committee on part-time faculty matters,” which recommended that part-time faculty be given an opportunity and process to earn promotion (A5-A6). The authors see the fact that the school’s associate dean for faculty affairs had been chair of English and had worked with part-time faculty in other contexts as important to the SLA’s role in April 2014 as the first school on campus to take up the recommendation (A6). They also cite the existence of the “Associate Faculty Coalition,” of which Powers is president, as a motivating factor (A6).

Part-time (associate) faculty provided input to the draft document generated for the SLA initiative. The school’s goal was to make the process similar to promotion procedures “for full-time faculty, without making it onerous or intimidating” (A6). Associate faculty expressed some reservations during the drafting process, for example arguing that the “modest” 10% proposed raise did not reflect the value of their contributions as faculty (A7); “[s]ome wondered why they should have to go through an entire dossier process in order to get a raise they felt they deserved without having to apply at all” (A7).

Powers felt that the benefits accruing to the new process, including a small raise where there might not otherwise have been any raise, outweighed the concerns. For the first time, the university would be presented with “documented proof” of “a noteworthy degree of excellence” that could ground future efforts. Also, faculty promoted to “senior” level would receive priority in course assignments; finally, faculty who prepared the dossier would have experience in preparing such a document as well as evidence of a promotion that would work in their favor should they apply for other positions in the future (A7).

Components of the dossier were “a candidate statement, a teaching philosophy, a CV, and an optional appendix with supporting documentation” (A7). These materials were reviewed by three-full-time lecturers, with a senior associate faculty member to be added the second year.

The SLA supported faculty with workshops; faculty in other programs did not always receive active support and were not always even notified about the opportunity (A8). Twenty-two associate faculty were accepted for promotion the first year; nine of these were in English (A8).

Fox and Powers note “other factors” that ultimately affected implementation of the initiative (A10). Foremost among these was “a severe budget crisis” that led to the suspension of raises except for promotion, transferred oversight of the school’s budget to the campus administration, and forced Fox, as writing program administrator, and Powers to argue for the importance of providing promised raises to promoted part-time faculty (A8-A9).

Although the raises and promotions were finally approved, the process was suspended for 2016-2017 because of budget issues (A9). Fox and Powers note that faculty just reaching the eligibility requirement of at least four semesters at IUPUI or who had decided not to apply the first year were thus prevented from applying (A9).

The authors note concerns that their initiative serves as “only a pale imitation” of true promotion and recognition (A9). They cite Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth’s argument that faculty should be focusing on “the long term and work for tenure for all faculty” (A10) rather than being distracted by short-term changes. They do contend that “rewarding their part-time faculty” benefits the university by furthering teaching excellence (A10). They recommend continuing to work for systemic change, including “meaningful representation in faculty governance” for the part-time faculty who, Tony Scott states, “do most composition work” (qtd. in Fox and Powers A10).

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Daniel, James Rushing. Freshman Comp as “Precarity.” CE, Sept. 2017. Posted 09/14/2017.

Daniel, James Rushing. “Freshman Composition as a Precariat Enterprise.” College English 80.1 (2017): 63-85. Web. 6 Sept. 2017.

James Rushing Daniel explores the concept of “precarity” as a means of understanding and acting on the challenges engendered by a “new economy” characterized by “hypercapitalism and wealth polarization” (65).

Daniel takes as his starting point Lynn Z. Bloom’s 1996 article, “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise,” in which she represented college writing as engaged in the production of “good citizens” whose roles were characterized by “safety, order, cleanliness, efficiency,” thus providing then-dominant economic and social structures with the kind of well-disciplined bodies necessary for their sustenance (qtd. in Daniel 63). Agreeing with other scholars about the importance of Bloom’s article as a discussion of how class impacts writing instruction, Daniel argues that changes in economic and social configurations since its publication have called on compositionists to rethink class issues (63-64).

He cites scholars who have begun to question the homogeneity of entities like “the working class.” However, he contends that these critiques have not fully addressed the effects of recent upheavals in current economic realities (64). These include “the ascendancy of the market, the abrupt shifts of the 2008 economic collapse, and the unsteady transition to the so-called ‘knowledge economy’” (64). He turns to the theory of precarity, developed in the social sciences, as a more productive lens through which to view the impacts of these changes (64).

“Precarity” refers to the “dislocations and uncertainties faced by those relegated from stable, salaried labor” (64). Such uncertainties are partly driven by the “casualization” of labor Daniel sees taking place. He points to increasing assaults on higher education that threaten the stability of faculty authority and the well-being of students as evidence that universities are sites of precarity such that the “ordered, middle-class identity” described by Bloom no longer pertains (65).

In Daniel’s formulation, precarity refers to individuals’ loss of agency and the destruction of their sense that “they belong to an occupational community steeped in stable practices, codes of ethics and norms of behavior, reciprocity, and fraternity” (Guy Standing, qtd. in Daniel 66). Most pronounced among lower-income groups, this “alienation” from the forces that determine the quality of people’s lives, in Daniel’s view, permeates social and economic populations once considered belonging to clearly defined working- and middle-classes.

Daniel writes that the result has been to upend the possibility of demarcating classes as theorized by Marxist scholars. Unlike Marxism, which “assumes the coherence of the proletariat as a discrete and uniform class with apparent interests . . . and the reconciliation of its immediate economic ends and its long-term political goals,” the “precariat” comprises disparate individuals inhabiting many social and economic strata, “a fragmented and disconnected population” (67). These conditions of difference make collective action more difficult to initiate or sustain (67).

Daniel reviews a number of scholars who have challenged the notion of “deterministic and categorical notions of class” (68). He argues that these scholars tend to be divided into factions, with some arguing that class is a linguistic, rhetorical phenomenon characterized both by the loss of voice for individuals and processes of naming and demarcating that usurp people’s ability to define their social identities. As a rhetorical phenomenon, class becomes a matter of “discursive negotiation” (69) that is “tied to the ebbs and flows of public discourse” (70).

Another faction identified by Daniel focuses on material conditions (68). This critique sees insecurity and loss of agency as governed by hierarchical structures intended to stratify individuals and solidify the differences among social levels (71). In this view, material inequality and impediments to economic mobility lead to an insecurity that pervades all reaches of social and economic activity, so that, in fact, students and faculty in different strata of the university actually share the condition of precarity (71).

Other scholars call on theorists studying class to address both rhetorical and material sources of precarity. This view calls for “[a]knowledging the blurring of identities” (John Tassoni, qtd. in Daniel 72) and, as Daniels says in quoting Isabell Lorey, “view[ing] the economically marginalized as collectively gathered in “social positionings of insecurity” . . . rather than stratified by class” (72).

Daniel traces scholarship drawing on this recognition of collective insecurity and loss of agency to suggest that teachers and students share membership in the precariat regardless of the many differences in their lived experiences and the differences imposed upon them by the “institutional divides that artificially partition the various groups within higher education” (73). Working to bring students to critical consciousness might be augmented by teachers sharing their own sense of instability and dislocation (72).

However, theorists of precarity note that the divisive tactics of capitalism and the heterogeneity of the precariat itself make achieving productive solidarity difficult (73). Daniel notes the tensions between part-time and tenure-track faculty and the ways in which the “managerial work of writing administration” participates in imposing class division (74):

By way of precarity theory, we may understand that all faculty are variously dislocated by contemporary conditions. Such a position promotes the flattening of our professional hierarchies and the creation of collectivities of common cause among academic ranks. (76).

In Daniel’s view, precarity theory works pedagogically to provide students with an intellectual space in which to take part in an active political life (76-77). This effort includes even those students “who leave” and are usually considered failures; attention to their “daily working lives” allows the classroom to illuminate the potential of all students (77). Understanding the pervasiveness of the precariat state can mean precarity itself “can function as a site of solidarity and political action” (77).

Daniel advocates forms of critical pedagogy that equip students to recognize how current political rhetoric exacerbates divisions that preclude effective collective responses; in his view, such efforts can redirect anger from scapegoats and toward responsible entities like the “financial sector” (79). He argues that rather than hoping students will discover this redirection, teachers with the security to risk doing so must guide students to the recognition that they can acquire political agency through solidarity with others who share the effects of exclusion and can practice that agency through acts of “localized dissent” (78). A central tenet is the sustenance of individual identities and differences; alliances formed through shared precarity become a “pluralistic mode of resistance” (80).

Daniel provides examples of solidarity among disparate actors drawn together by common cause, for example, the resistance at the University of Missouri (78) and in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline (74). Although conceding that such actions and the pedagogies that foster them cannot completely counter “the decline in American opportunity and the dismantling of higher education,” he contends that an approach grounded in precarity theory “attempts to bring our practices into alignment with our values and to theorize a more collective negotiation of the insecurity of composition” (82).

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Jensen and Toth. Graduate Education for Two-Year College Professionals. July CE. Posted 08/10/2017.

Jensen, Darin L., and Christie Toth. “Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty.” College English 79.6 (2017): 561-92. Print.

In the July College English, Darin L. Jensen and Christie Toth follow up the latest update of the TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College with an examination “of the past and current status of graduate preparation for two-year college English faculty in order to imagine possible futures” (563). They include a current listing of institutions with graduate programs that prepare teachers for careers in two-year colleges.

The authors contend that “English studies graduate programs, . . . with some notable exceptions, do not yet meet their responsibility to prepare students to be two-year college professionals” (562). They contend that the “near-invisibility” of two-year colleges in English graduate education and the “institutional bias” some two-year faculty encounter (563) are “neither justifiable nor just” (562). They note that “more than 40 percent” of college English teachers teach in two-year colleges, which enroll “nearly half of all US undergraduates,” many of whom are from underrepresented groups (562). Jensen and Toth join Holly Hassel and Joanne Giordano in designating two-year college professionals as “the teaching majority” (qtd. in Jensen and Toth 563).

The authors contend that the field as a whole is unaware of the long history of two-year college teacher preparation. According to their research, the 1960s saw a proliferation of community colleges; a “damning portrait” of the teaching environment in these institutions from incoming NCTE president Alfred Kitzhaber, the authors write, led teachers in these colleges to begin to lay out the principles of their profession (565). Jensen and Toth note a number of important publications in the 1960s and early 1970s by two-year college teacher-scholars that enriched and documented an ongoing discussion in venues like major conferences (565).

The year 1971 saw the publication of the 1971 Guidelines for Junior College English Teacher Training Programs (564). Among the principles laid out in this document was the need to address the particular characteristics of the two-year student population, with an attention to the diversity of this population that, in the authors’ view, “anticipate[d] the 1974 document, Students’ Right to Their Own Language” (567).

Another important principle that emerged during this era was the mandate for actual classroom experience through internships under the guidance of experienced two-year college teachers (568). Jensen and Toth stress the document’s insistence that actual two-year college faculty are the appropriate authorities for designing suitable graduate training; moreover, the document asserted that two-year college professionals should be full-time members of all graduate faculties and that all constituents of such a program, including advisors, should be fully knowledgeable about the exigencies and opportunities of teaching at two-year institutions (568).

Another important document from this era was the 1978 “National Directory of Graduate Programs for Junior/Community College English Teachers,” compiled by Gregory Cowan and published in Teaching English in the Two-Year College (568, 569). This project located forty-three programs offering specific degrees. Many were “specialized master’s degrees, concentrations, or post-master’s specialist or certificate programs” (568). In addition, some institutions offered the new “Doctor of Arts” (DA) degree, meant as an equivalent to a PhD but with a stronger focus on teaching (569).

Twenty-seven other institutions billed their coursework as appropriate for teachers planning to teach at two-year colleges (569). The authors note that some of these programs indicated what “university faculty believed” was needed to teach at two-year colleges; in keeping with the principles articulated in 1971 Guidelines, the Directory noted which programs included input from actual faculty in two-year institutions and which required hands-on internships (570).

The authors report, however, that in ensuing years, most of these programs disappeared (570), partly because of a decline in the number of available jobs and the “adjunctification” of two-year colleges (570). They raise the possibility that the rise of rhetoric and composition as a legitimate scholarly career path may have affected the demand for specialized programs, but they contend that rhetoric and composition degrees do not necessarily meet the needs of two-year faculty (571).

Jensen and Toth find that during this period of “[r]etrenchment” (570), some community colleges undertook to design their own graduate programs. The authors identify three whose faculty published on their efforts (571). The programs reinforced principles highlighted earlier, such as the need for hands-on teaching and mentorship and the need for actual two-year faculty to lead in program design, but they also incorporated the need to prepare aspiring two-year faculty for the professional activities beyond teaching that the two-year college demands, such as attending department and committee meetings, becoming active in professional organizations, and pursuing a research agenda (572).

The 2004 Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges, which has been “circulated widely within TYCA [Two-Year College Association]” (573), responded to the “specter of mass faculty retirements” as well as the labor issues surrounding the use of contingent labor by asserting that the need for properly prepared faculty remained unmet (572). Confirming the importance of professionalization “beyond the classroom,” the document pressed hiring committees to attend to the specific qualifications appropriate to two-year college faculty, even among adjuncts (573). The authors note their own use of the 2004 Guidelines in their own professional development and program design, but contend that ongoing labor conditions made this document “an aspirational rather than descriptive articulation of TYCA’s vision” (573).

“The Current Landscape” features results of the authors’ survey of extant programs claiming to offer graduate work suitable for two-year college faculty (573-77). Programs provide a range of options including master’s degrees and certificates. The authors find that curricular information on websites is often inadequate for full assessment. Many of the programs are housed in departments of education (574); some offer DA degrees under the auspices of “higher education” programs, which the authors state may be more appropriate to training administrators than teachers (574-75).

The authors note that many DA offerings have been subsumed under rhetoric-and-composition PhDs. This section addresses in detail strong models at four institutions: Murray State University, Marymount University, City College of New York, and San Francisco State University (575-77).

As they “imagine possible futures,” Jensen and Toth reiterate their claim that few programs address the needs of two-year college faculty; moreover, respondents to some surveys they cite report being discouraged from pursuing a two-year college career (578, 580-81). For the authors, this continued invisibility of the two-year college option in English graduate studies has major implications for all branches of the discipline. They cite the 2014 Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature to note the “disjuncture between English studies graduate curricula and the actual postsecondary landscape” (579). They claim that as the job market grows tighter, most English studies graduates are not qualified to teach in half the institutions in the United States (578-79). In addition, they warn that increasing numbers of undergraduates are doing their first two years of coursework at these schools ().

They see this disjuncture as a “moral failing” (584; emphasis original) in that the institutions for which teachers are not being prepared house the underrepresented populations for whom English studies purports to advocate. They underscore this failure in noting that, despite the dismal working conditions often characterizing two-year colleges, the CCCC Labor Caucus’s 2015 Indianapolis Resolution

makes no specific mention of two-year colleges, nor does it include TYCA on its list of professional organizations that might enact and enforce the resolution’s recommendations. (586)

Acknowledging that recognizing the importance of the two-year college mission will vary depending on the individual contexts of specific institutions (580), Jensen and Toth call on all English studies professional organizations as well as programs to make the two-year college career option available and visible, with input from faculty specifically engaged in these institutions, ideally as full-time graduate faculty (584-85). Because “isolation is vulnerability,” they charge rhetoric and composition with pursuing an “integrative rather than separatist approach” (583) in order to fully embrace the needs of “the teaching majority” (586).

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Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. Service-Learning for Community College Students. May TETYC. Posted 06/09/2017.

Krzus-Shaw, Kassia. “Bridging Gaps and Creating Rich Service-Learning Experiences for Marginalized Students.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.4 (2017): 351-71. Web. 27 May 2017.

Kassia Krzus-Shaw argues that service-learning research has not adequately addressed the ways in which students from community colleges experience service-learning. Using her own practices teaching a service-learning component in a composition class at a two-year institution, Krzus-Shaw discusses how her students’ identities as members of the community they were expected to serve affected their learning and their engagement within an academic environment.

Previous research, Krzus-Shaw contends, generally addresses the “immersion” model in which privileged college students, usually white, enter very different cultural environments (353). Research that does consider students with different ethnic and cultural identities, she writes, has attempted to focus on individual identity groups, while in her experience, community-college students are likely to exhibit many different overlapping identities (352).

Krzus-Shaw presents her teaching model as an exploration of how these overlapping identities complicate service-learning when the culture the students serve is their own. She notes that her study must be considered “anecdotal” because, as contingent faculty, she had no “access to the IRB process, or other institutional supports” and thus could not present data such as student writing (355).

Within such community-college contexts, Krzus-Shaw argues, service learning can address marginalized students’ struggles with embracing an academic identity that confers authority and expertise, develops rhetorical awareness and agency, and encourages commitment to academic and professional contexts (353). This focus, Krzus-Shaw reports, differs from that of more traditional service-learning models in that traditionally, students are assumed to develop academic authority as a result of the service experience; in her class, students needed to begin embracing their identity as analysts and researchers before entering the service-learning environment (357). Unlike students in traditional service-learning courses, her students did not need time to become acquainted with the new culture but “already were experts on the lived social experience embodied by the service sites” (357). The new perspectives marginalized students encountered as they did service work within their communities were the views of themselves as scholar-researchers with “the academic identity to contextualize their experiences in a way that the academy recognizes as rhetorically exigent” (357).

Krzus-Shaw used a “bridge model” as “scaffolding” for her students’ service experiences (355-56). One element of this model in designing service-learning curricula is “flexibility,” for example as a criterion for the sites where the service will take place. Krzus-Shaw emphasizes that for these students, transportation and child care can prevent participation and commitment; her most effective site was within walking distance of the classroom, family-friendly, and bilingual (356).

Also central to the bridge model’s focus on agency, Krzus-Shaw writes, is the decision to make participation optional. She reports that her course outcomes and materials were pre-determined by her program, and that she was probably the only instructor to build a service-learning component into the preset course design (356). Making the service-learning unit optional made it easier for students to feel “ownership” of their choice to participate (357).

Krzus-Shaw writes that she found it possible to build her service-learning model on her department’s focus on “genre; the composition process; and rhetorical awareness” by assigning, first, a narrative “locating their rhetorical voice within their community” (357), followed by an analysis on some aspect of “community action” (357). The class moved on to writing “reports” about visits to the classroom by people active at the sites (357). These visits provided students with role models and mentors as well as contact points for the upcoming service component (358).

Students could then choose one of two tracks for their argument and research papers, either on issues related to the service site itself or on issues related to “community-based problems” to which they proposed solutions (358). Work by students writing for the service site was used to “create new public initiatives and to apply for new grants” (358). Krzus-Shaw writes that awareness that their writing would actually be used inspired students with an increased sense of audience, with subsequent effects on the amount and quality of revision as well as engagement both in the classroom and in the community (360).

Important components of the “pedagogical bridge” involved in service learning, in Krzus-Shaw’s view, are “observation and journaling” prior to developing formal research papers using secondary sources (359-60). In her view, it was during this process that students were able to “negotiate their personal identity with that of the organization, the community, and with the student-scholar role they’re being asked to engage” (359). This negotiation, she writes, contributes greatly to transfer, as students carry these identities forward into future academic, civic, and professional environments.

Krzus-Shaw reports that reflection further enhanced the identity transformation that resulted from becoming leaders and authorities within their own communities. Reflection allowed students to process “shock” at the level of problems faced by members of communities where they themselves were “living within those statistics” (361). Reflection, she contends, allowed them to recognize how systemic factors influence individual lives at the same time that it encouraged them to see how effective rhetorical action could make a difference (361) as they began “reaching for new ways of interacting with their world” (362).

Fifty percent of students in the last of the three semesters during which Krzus-Shaw taught the unit opted to participate, and two students in particular continued working with the participant organizations, noting that the experience “changed their life trajectory” with regard to career choices and confidence in their rhetorical agency (363).

Krzus-Shaw argues for more formal longitudinal studies of students from marginalized communities who undertook service-learning roles in those same communities (364). Such studies could validate her findings, which she contends were necessarily limited by her position as contingent faculty despite encouragement from her institution. First-year writing students, she maintains, are among those who would most benefit from the identity transformation that service-learning can enable (365), yet those students are most likely to be taught by part-time faculty who are burdened by their own economic status and workloads, as well as by being excluded from the formal support needed to design and implement service-learning initiatives (365-66).

She points to the “civic engagement statements” included in the mission statements of many two-year institutions as grounds for providing more support for service-learning in these environments. Meanwhile, she writes, instructors in these colleges can institute “small steps” in service-learning that, over time, can establish networks and practices that ease the workload involved (366-67). For students who become involved in service-learning within their communities, she states, “there is an aspect of service-learning on the student level that sustains itself well beyond our liminal role as professors” (367).

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Wooten et al. SETs in Writing Classes. WPA, Fall 2016. Posted 02/11/2016.

Wooten, Courtney Adams, Brian Ray, and Jacob Babb. “WPAs Reading SETs: Toward an Ethical and Effective Use of Teaching Evaluations.” Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators 40.1 (2016): 50-66. Print.

Courtney Adams Wooten, Brian Ray, and Jacob Babb report on a survey examining the use of Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) by writing program administrators (WPAs).

According to Wooten et al., although WPAs appear to be dissatisfied with the way SETs are generally used and have often attempted to modify the form and implementation of these tools for evaluating teaching, they have done so without the benefit of a robust professional conversation on the issue (50). Noting that much of the research they found on the topic came from areas outside of writing studies (63), the authors cite a single collection on using SETs in writing programs by Amy Dayton that recommends using SETs formatively and as one of several measures to assess teaching. Beyond this source, they cite “the absence of research on SETs in our discipline” as grounds for the more extensive study they conducted (51).

The authors generated a list of WPA contact information at more than 270 institutions, ranging from two-year colleges to private and parochial schools to flagship public universities, and solicited participation via listservs and emails to WPAs (51). Sixty-two institutions responded in summer 2014 for a response rate of 23%; 90% of the responding institutions were four-year institutions.

Despite this low response rate, the authors found the data informative (52). They note that the difficulty in recruiting faculty responses from two-year colleges may have resulted from problems in identifying responsible WPAs in programs where no specific individual directed a designated writing program (52).

Their survey, which they provide, asked demographic and logistical questions to establish current practice regarding SETs at the responding institutions as well as questions intended to elicit WPAs’ attitudes toward the ways SETs affected their programs (52). Open-ended questions allowed elaboration on Likert-scale queries (52).

An important recurring theme in the responses involved the kinds of authority WPAs could assert over the type and use of SETs at their schools. Responses indicated that the degree to which WPAs could access student responses and could use them to make hiring decisions varied greatly. Although 76% of the WPAs could read SETS, a similar number indicated that department chairs and other administrators also examined the student responses (53). For example, in one case, the director of a first-year-experience program took primary charge of the evaluations (53). The authors note that WPAs are held accountable for student outcomes but, in many cases, cannot make personnel decisions affecting these outcomes (54).

Wooten et al. report other tensions revolving around WPAs’ authority over tenured and tenure-track faculty; in these cases, surveyed WPAs often noted that they could not influence either curricula nor course assignments for such faculty (54). Many WPAs saw their role as “mentoring” rather than “hiring/firing.” The WPAs were obliged to respond to requests from external authorities to deal with poor SETs (54); the authors note a “tacit assumption . . . that the WPA is not capable of interpreting SET data, only carrying out the will of the university” (54). They argue that “struggles over departmental governance and authority” deprive WPAs of the “decision-making power” necessary to do the work required of them (55).

The survey “revealed widespread dissatisfaction” about the ways in which SETs were administered and used (56). Only 13% reported implementing a form specific to writing; more commonly, writing programs used “generic” forms that asked broad questions about the teacher’s apparent preparation, use of materials, and expertise (56). The authors contend that these “indirect” measures do not ask about practices specific to writing and may elicit negative comments from students who do not understand what kinds of activities writing professionals consider most beneficial (56).

Other issues of concern include the use of online evaluations, which provide data that can be easily analyzed but result in lower participation rates (57). Moreover, the authors note, WPAs often distrust numerical data without the context provided by narrative responses, to which they may or may not have access (58).

Respondents also noted confusion or uncertainty about how an institution determines what constitutes a “good” or “poor” score. Many of these decisions are determined by comparing an individual teacher’s score to a departmental or university-wide average, with scores below the average signaling the need for intervention. The authors found evidence that even WPAs may fail to recognize that lower scores can be influenced not just by the grade the student expects but also by gender, ethnicity, and age, as well as whether the course is required (58-59).

Wooten et al. distinguish between “teaching effectiveness,” a basic measure of competence, and “teaching excellence,” practices and outcomes that can serve as benchmarks for other educators (60). They note that at many institutions, SETs appear to have little influence over recognition of excellence, for example through awards or commendations; classroom observations and teaching portfolios appear to be used more often for these determinations. SETs, in contrast, appear to have a more “punitive” function (61), used more often to single out teachers who purportedly fall short in effectiveness (60).

The authors note the vulnerability of contingent and non-tenure-track faculty to poorly implemented SETs and argue that a climate of fear occasioned by such practices can lead to “lenient grading and lowered demands” (61). They urge WPAs to consider the ethical implications of the use of SETs in their institutions.

Recommendations include “ensuring high response rates” through procedures and incentives; clarifying and standardizing designations of good and poor performance and ensuring transparency in the procedures for addressing low scores; and developing forms specific to local conditions and programs (61-62). Several of the recommendations concern increasing WPA authority over hiring and mentoring teachers, including tenure-track and tenured faculty. Wooten et al. recommend that all teachers assigned to writing courses administer writing-specific evaluations and be required to act on the information these forms provide; the annual-report process can allow tenured faculty to demonstrate their responsiveness (62).

The authors hope that these recommendations will lead to a ‘disciplinary discussion” among WPAs that will guide “the creation of locally appropriate evaluation forms that balance the needs of all stakeholders—students, teachers, and administrators” (63).

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Fels et al. Issues with Contingent Writing Center Workers. Forum, Fall 2016. Posted 12/9/2016.

Fels, Dawn, Clint Gardner, Maggie M. Herb, and Liliana M. Naydan. “Toward an Investigation into the Working Conditions of Non-Tenure Line, Contingent Writing Center Workers.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 20.1 (2016): A10-A16. Print.

Dawn Fels, Clint Gardner, Maggie M. Herb, and Liliana M. Naydan published in Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, a section included twice yearly in College Composition and Communication. The authors provide preliminary findings from a study in progress on working conditions in writing centers. Specifically, they ask: “What are the personal, professional, and programmatic risks and benefits of contingent writing center positions?” (A12).

Their interest derives in part from recent data showing that the number of writing center personnel with tenured or tenure-line positions has declined during the recent decade. A 2001-2002 survey by the Writing Centers Research Project indicated that about 42% of writing center directors were tenured or on tenure-line tracks. In contrast, a 2014 study by Emily Isaacs and Melinda Knight found that only 29% of directors now held such positions. Moreover, Isaacs and Knight found that peer tutors staffed 81% of the centers studied (A10). Fels et al. cite as well 2011 data from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that finds that the use of contingent labor has increased across all academic fields (A10).

Fels et al. write that they hope to address the underrepresentation of writing center labor issues in composition scholarship. Data from the National Census of Writing Database, they state, address “the status of writing center director positions” but do not draw the information from these faculty themselves, nor does its report on peer tutors enlist responses from the tutors (A10). In contrast, Fels et al. are surveying and interviewing “all levels of contingent writing center workers” (A11).

With a grant from the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA), an Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English, Fels et al. began their study in Fall 2015 by recruiting participants who were at least 18 years old who had worked in a contingent writing center capacity within the last five years (A12). They publicized their call on social media, on relevant web sites and listservs, and via word of mouth (A12-A13). More than 100 participants who took the preliminary survey agreed to interviews (A13). The researchers will also examine various documents such as “contracts, job descriptions, and policy statements” (A13).

To ground their project, Fels et al. sought out current position statements that specifically address labor issues in writing centers. At the IWCA web site, they found only a thirty-year-old article from the Writing Center Journal by Jeanne Simpson; this article, which was listed as a “Resource,” culminated in a statement advocating “clear job descriptions” and supplying guidelines for directors, while advising against the use of contingent faculty and staff (A11). The researchers note that the 2015 Indianapolis Resolution on issues with contingent labor in writing programs “does make mention of contingency in the writing center field, but only in the first paragraph” (A11).

Fels et al. hope to revise Simpson’s statement and encourage the use of their data throughout the field of composition (A12). They report “preliminary observations” (A13), including a range of participant comments, including one from an interviewee who finds that his part-time job “benefits his family” and supplies him with “considerable autonomy and healthy, collaborative, supportive relationships” on the job despite his recognition that he is “grossly underpaid” (A13). In contrast, other interviewees speak about diminished or non-existent academic freedom and lack of respect from colleagues (A13).

The researchers focus on a participant who was concerned not about her own job situation but rather about the effects of widespread use of contingent faculty on students, for example because of its effect on the “consistency” of the services involved (A13-A14). Issues of student welfare, the authors state, are related to what Seth Kahn calls “the emotional wages argument,” which claims that the intrinsic satisfaction of serving students should be adequate compensation for low wages in the teaching profession (qtd. in Fels et al. A14).

Fels et al. argue that this argument is a version of the tendency to blame poorly paid educators for their own plight because they are willing to work for less than adequate compensation (A14). However, Fels et al. contend that educators’ ability to serve students diminishes if their own needs are not met. They write that “educators . . . need to learn how to articulate their own value” and to understand and express the degree to which “they are integral to institutions of higher education” (A14).

The authors note that many of their interviewees expressed a sense that their own situation must be “unique” because, as one participant indicated, “it was hard to imagine other writing center administrators facing a similar set of challenges” (A15). One result of their study, they hope, will be to alleviate the feeling of isolation that many in the writing-center field report (A15).

Fels et al. estimate that it may take two years to complete the interviews and analysis they envision (A15). They hope to increase awareness of such issues as the replacement of experienced personnel with “less experienced and qualified candidates,” the lack of long-term contracts, the exploitation of staff who “work well beyond their contractual duties,” and the overreliance on student workers (A16). This study, they state, “will fill a void in the current scholarship” (A16).




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Scott, Tony. “Unseeing” political economies in composition. CCC, Sept. 2016. Posted 10/27/2016.

Scott, Tony. “Subverting Crisis in the Political Economy of Composition.” College Composition and Communication 68.1 (2016): 10-37. Print.

In a special issue of College Composition and Communication on the impact of economics on writing education, Tony Scott examines the impact on composition studies of a disconnect between scholarship and practice. Scott argues that this disconnect has its roots in the prevalence in the current culture of “neoliberalism,” a mindset in which economic forces promote a permanent climate of fear and crisis. This climate relies on fear to facilitate the privatization of areas of daily life that were once part of the social and political domain.

To understand how norms of fear and crisis influence writing education, Scott recommends the use of “political economics study” (12). This methodology “examine[s] dynamic relationships between political processes, institutions, work, affordances, and everyday assumptions, relations, and behaviors” (12). It seeks to understand “how particulars relate to whole ecologies” (12).

As an illustration of how political economics influences relations between the particular and the whole, Scott adopts the metaphor of “unseeing” from China Mieville’s novel The City and the City, which depicts two populations living in immediate proximity to each other without “seeing” each other and recognizing the differences that define them (11). In Scott’s view, scholarship in composition “unsee[s]” the material conditions on which it depends and with which it co-exists (29).

Scott cites sociologist William Davies, for whom neoliberalism functions through “the pursuit of disenchantment of politics by economics” (15; emphasis original). This disenchantment takes the form of “direct, government-facilitated, private sector intervention into public services and social domains” (13). In such an economic environment, “market logics” and the view that markets can recognize and facilitate the most effective measures in all areas of daily life become the norm (14). Scott cites composition scholarship dating back to arguments by John Trimbur in 1991 that writing education risks succumbing to privatization because of factors like its reliance on powerless contingent labor and the size of the market it offers to for-profit enterprise (14).

According to Scott, neoliberalism promotes crisis in order to suggest that only the technocratic expertise of market experts and economists can re-establish stability. He contrasts the “classically modern model” of economic cycles, in which periods of stability rotate with downturns that will be corrected through innovation and critique (27), with neoliberalism’s need for a “perpetual” sense of “competitive uncertainty” in which “precarity” imposed by the elimination of various social support systems guarantees that individuals will see themselves as isolated, beset, and in need of a competitive edge, especially in monetary terms (28).

In this view, the resulting constant call for austerity attenuates social structures while empowering technocrats who argue that market forces are best positioned to control crises (28). An overall effect, Scott contends, is that neoliberal solutions to crisis supersede “more fundamental critique and change” that might challenge “status quo free market capitalism” (28).

Scott contends that composition studies has accepted the pervasiveness of crisis, citing its prominence in recent conference agendas, for example, the theme of “Risk and Reward” at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Scott argues, however, that such agendas provide “no explicit identification of what people fear or why” (20; emphasis original). Crisis begins to look like “its own exigency” (20).

Through an examination of arguments by scholars like Bruce Horner and Elizabeth Wardle, Scott locates the power of this mindset in debates about the role and value of disciplinarity. In his 1991 discussion, Trimbur worried that professionalization and academic status would lead compositionists to become “deeply implicated in the reward system, division of labor, and meritocratic order that have privatized literacy” (qtd. in Scott 13). Scott sees Trimbur’s concern borne out in the ongoing “exchange value” of publication and research (19). In Scott’s view, this meritocratic impulse has increasingly led to the isolation and disempowerment of scholars and experts in writing education, whose authority, Scott maintains, threatens the incursion of private forces into public domains (21). Although graduate students continue to receive the “official” curriculum that promotes ideas, theory, and theory-driven research, this work constructs scholars as “self-entrepreneurs” (18) at the same time that, in Horner’s words, they are

increasingly losing control over the means to the production of knowledge—now accomplished in ‘partnership’ with business and industry—and its circulation, in publications and in teaching” (qtd. in Scott 21).

Scott argues that graduate students simultaneously receive an “‘unofficial’ education” as they experience teaching as TAs and contingent faculty (18-19). The importance of this distinction, for Scott, is that the scholarship that provides exchange value in composition does not “see” the material landscape in which teaching actually occurs. This dissociation leaves the everyday practice of teaching open to the introduction of more and more commercial influence as technocratic ways of providing and measuring learning, for example through competency-based assessment, steadily remove teachers from the learning equation (17).

Scott’s premise is that scholarly conversations about the direction of composition often do not recognize how the material circumstances in which the scholarly ideas must be enacted are not configured to accommodate those ideas. For example, while characterizing Byron Hawk’s proposal that composition studies should “recover vitalism” in order to create “new ways of seeing invention and pedagogy,” Scott expresses concern that Hawk’s “study makes almost no mention of composition’s institutional contexts or terms of labor” (23).

Similarly, he sees in Sidney I. Dobrin’s proposal that writing studies divest itself of responsibility for pedagogy a path toward irrelevance. Scott contends that composition’s connection to pedagogy provides the support apparatus for research like Dobrin’s, which, without grounding in a realistic view of political economy, would appeal only to “a small, cloistered realm of rhetorical scholars” (24). Scott cites Wardle to point out that composition further endangers its authority through the use of non-credentialed teachers like graduate students, suggesting to policy makers that expertise is not needed to teach writing (21, 22).

Thus, Scott argues, composition scholars seem preoccupied with the crisis embodied by austerity and precarity but have not adequately come to grips with what is happening in classrooms as market forces take over teaching.

Composition does need disruptive new ideas, and those ideas can be fundamentally transforming when they engage composition work at the ground-level economies where it is actually being performed. (29)

Scott recommends more research on the effects of commercial software like plagiarism-detection programs and attention to the outsourcing attendant on increasing globalization, but he also advocates the development of pedagogies that unite teachers and scholars not only in promoting innovative ideas but also in implementing “the just, ethical work and learning environments that would need to be in place for them to be realized” (33).