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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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Leonard, Sandra. Plagiarism and Contingent Faculty. May TETYC, 2018. Posted 06/29/2018.

Leonard, Sandra M. “Plagiarism and Contingency: A Problem of Academic Freedom.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 21.2 (2018): A1-A13. Print.

Writing in the May 2018 Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, Sandra M. Leonard discusses the pressures placed on contingent writing faculty by the kinds of plagiarism policies she finds most commonly in place. Such policies, among them the approach endorsed by the 2016 Modern Language Association handbook, call for a no-tolerance approach to plagiarism, in Leonard’s view lumping a wide array of writing practices under “an all-inclusive definition” (A3). Leonard writes that while many full-time faculty may be empowered to revise such draconian definitions and develop teaching practices more in line with composition theory, contingent faculty are caught between their struggles to teach well and their need to observe institutional requirements (A4).

Leonard contests claims that plagiarism rarely occurs and that it can be handled with a standardized response. Citing the work of Rebecca Moore Howard and a New Zealand study reported by John Walker, Leonard notes that instances that meet strict definitions of plagiarism occur in a quarter to a third of sampled student work (A3). According to Leonard’s research, studies demonstrate that most instances involve “improper paraphrase,” designated as “patchwriting” by Howard (A3).

In this view, when inflexible policies fail to distinguish between such errors, which may be unintentional, and deliberate fraud, they risk punishing students for what Howard considers an important step in the learning process (A3-A4). Leonard contends that students who commit this infraction may not know they are using sources incorrectly and thus cannot be effectively deterred by blanket warnings and “integrity statements” (A4). She cites composition professionals who consider such missteps from students an opportunity to teach revision as well as to inculcate a deeper understanding of intellectual property issues (A9).

Leonard argues that inflexible language in institutional policies delivers mixed messages to contingent faculty, leaving them without resources to deal with such a complex pedagogical issue (A5). Required by policy to report all instances, faculty may find administrators bowing to concerns about students as “unhappy customers,” with the faculty member depicted as “harsh” for doing her job (A6-A7). Leonard cites cases of faculty whose careers were affected by addressing a plagiarism case (A6). She notes that contingent faculty are especially at risk because institutions are not required to explain why an instructor is not rehired (A6).

Leonard details the burdens imposed when contingent faculty attempt to address plagiarism, including the time to hold “highly sensitive” meetings, often without private office space, and fill out extensive paperwork (A5). She argues that charging a student with plagiarism results in stress and forces the faculty member to take on a “pseudo-legal” role as a “prosecutor,” positions far beyond either his expertise or level of compensation (A6). Moreover, Leonard writes, taking on a plagiarism charge can affect the mood of a class and lead to lower evaluations, which may then be used to justify “retaliation” (A6).

The author reports a number of effects on faculty agency as a result of plagiarism policies. A zero-tolerance policy removes teachers’ ability to make decisions about how to handle various levels of infractions (A7). Teachers may fall back on assignments they consider “plagiarism-proofing”: instructions so unique and precise that, ideally, students do not have a chance to plagiarize (A7). Leonard contends that students can still defeat these efforts; also, designing assignments for this purpose may preclude many of the pedagogical choices considered most valuable in process pedagogy, so that “preventing plagiarism” appears to be “more important than teaching course material” (A8). In such contexts, the option of  “low-stakes” assignments “has no meaning” if students can be punished for citation or paraphrase slips (A8). Further, she maintains that “plagiarism-proofing” in this way actually prevents students from learning how to negotiate intellectual property boundaries through practice and feedback (A8). In contrast to the ways other skills are taught, enacting zero-tolerance for paraphrase and citation errors means that students would have to demonstrate “perfection at every stage” despite being denied the learning inherent in making mistakes (A8).

Leonard notes that contingent faculty are especially likely to be “caught up in a fight of mixed messages” (A9) because so many of the issues involved occur in first-year writing, which is increasingly taught by part-time instructors (A10). In some cases, Leonard writes, instructors decide to ignore plagiarism altogether rather than risk the dangers involved (A8-A9). Others may rely on detection software despite opposition from scholars in the field; in some cases, institutional policy on the use of such software may leave faculty with no choice (A9).

In Leonard’s view, policies should specifically recognize faculty expertise and agency by granting the ability both to determine when a case merits punishment and to design a “successful in-house procedure for dealing with plagiarism that works for their class culture” (A10). Such policies would allow instructors to emulate creative solutions like those designed by Gerald Nelms and Kate Hagopian (A9, A10). Leonard stipulates that policies should ensure support for faculty who find that sanctions are in order as well as the legal and institutional guidance to manage such a complex and charged situation. This support, moreover, should “also incorporate plans . . . that do not draw on part-time faculty labor outside of contracted hours” (A10).

Leonard writes that, despite increasing awareness within composition of the challenges involved in dealing effectively with the many skills involved in successful use of outside material, institutional policies “haven’t caught up” (A10). She advocates for changes that will no longer “displace the stresses of academic dishonesty onto the most vulnerable faculty” (A10).


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

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).