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Cox, Anicca. Full-Time Lecturers and Academic Freedom. Forum, Fall 2018. Posted 10/05/2018.

Cox, Anicca. “Collaboration and Resistance: Academic Freedom and Non-Tenured Labor.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 22.1 (2018): A4-A13. Web. 01 Oct. 2018.

Anicca Cox, in the Fall 2018 issue of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, discusses a case study of her institution’s decision to replace non-tenure-track part-time faculty (PTLs) with full-time, non-tenure-track lecturers (FTLs) on two-year contracts. She interviewed three of the ten new full-time hires and three part-time instructors who taught in the program (A6).

Noting that the percentages of FTLs in higher education is increasing, Cox reports that this change has entailed better working conditions, more access to benefits, and more job security, among other positive effects (A5, A7). She suggests that this trend may reflect institutions’ “response to the increasingly publicized problems of an outsized reliance” on contingent labor that constitutes a “seemingly altruistic move” (A5). She writes that the more stable teaching force provides institutions with more predictable costs than hiring based on shifting enrollments (A5).

Cox focuses on how the PhDs most likely to be preferred for such positions negotiate possible constraints on their academic freedom and professional identifications. The program she studied hired ten new FTLs, nine of which were either literature PhDs or were completing doctorates, as well as a new tenure-track writing program administrator (WPA) to implement a revised first-year writing program (A6). Part-time instructors who had previously taught at the institution were not hired for the new lines.

The new WPA “designed a heavily scripted curriculum” in which all components, including textbooks, were prescribed (A6). The full-time instructors were given office space and professional development specific to the program; they were evaluated much more broadly than the part-time faculty and often included ongoing research in the evaluation dossiers they prepared (A7).

Cox’s study asked how these instructors

perceived themselves fitting into the institution and department relative to their own sense of professional identity, and how those feelings shaped and otherwise intersected with their work as instructors both inside and outside classroom. (A6)

Her study, part of a larger analysis, emphasized both the effects on professional identity of the new context and the question of how collaboration among teaching professionals was impacted by the new alignment (A7).

Interviews with FTLs revealed that they “did not feel like hired mercenaries” but did not feel fully integrated into the department (A8). A focus of their concern was the sense that they were not considered “intellectual contributors” and were enlisted to perform a “role” that did not jibe with their professional preparation (A8). One respondent expressed concern about being issued a “teacher proof” curriculum dismissive of her scholarship and expertise (A8). In comparison, the PTLs, while accustomed to being given scripted curricula, expressed concern that the new program materials were not appropriate for the actual student population they were used to teaching (A9). These teachers felt less conflicted over identity issues because they saw themselves primarily as teachers, not researchers (A9-10).

Tensions in the FTL position also affected collaboration in that the new lecturers felt constrained from “simply asserting their purported academic freedom” and, rather than challenging the program structure, began devising ways to adjust the curriculum without “getting caught” (qtd. in Cox A10-11). Collaboration, in this study, became a way of “spread[ing] the blame” so that renewal at the end of the two-year contract would be less likely to be threatened (A11). Part-time lecturers, in contrast, relied on long-standing patterns of “informal collaborations,” sometimes making “radical changes” in the prescribed teaching materials (A11), despite having lost the opportunity to share practices with many of their colleagues in the new configuration. These teachers posited that the failure to hire from within their ranks reflected a desire on the part of administrators to eliminate “the baggage they carried over from previous iterations of the first-year writing program” (A11); Cox posits that they acted to modify the curriculum despite recognizing the precarity of their situation in the new program (A11).

Cox supports the shift toward more full-time positions but notes that the particulars of the arrangement she studied drove instructors to invest energy in sustaining a coherent professional identity rather than working together to improve student outcomes (A12). She writes that the benefits of the full-time jobs were “not enough to neutralize the frustrations” engendered by the lecturers’ compromised fit within the department (A12). She recommends that should these kinds of readjustments become more common, they be constructed

in a way that recognizes and honors the laboriously forged and deeply felt professional identities of workers by supporting continued professional development and encouraging autonomy in curricular design. (A12)


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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).