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Hanson and de los Reyes. Adjunct Identity as “Compositionists.” Forum, Spr. 2019. Posted 05/27/2019.

Hanson, Gina, and Chloe de los Reyes. “Identity Crisis: Daring to Identify as More than ‘Just’ Adjunct Composition Instructors.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 22.2 (2019): A4-15. Print.

In the Spring 2019 Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, included in the March 2019 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College, Gina Hanson and Chloe de los Reyes discuss the disciplinary identification of adjunct composition instructors. Of concern is the question of which faculty members may call themselves “compositionists” (A4), and what restrictions on the use of this title mean for those who, in the authors’ view, are denied the authority it confers.

The authors are part-time lecturers teaching four first-year-writing courses per semester in the English Department of a large public university in southern California; their experience includes teaching across a range of institutions and programs (A7). They note that the reliance of higher education on contingent labor has long been a topic of discussion, but argue that despite decades of concern, little has changed (A5). While acknowledging the importance of economic issues to part-time teachers, Hanson and de los Reyes focus on the “alienation and isolation” they see as inherent in adjunct status as it is commonly defined (A5).

Quoting Jody Norton, the authors note discrepancies between situations in which composition professionals tell adjuncts that “you are us” and those in which they “remind [adjuncts], in unambiguous terms, that you are not us” (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A5). This distinction, Hanson and de los Reyes claim, derives from what Norton designates as the “uneasiness of what adjuncts represent to the future of higher education” (A5). Citing a 1989 document from the Conference on College Composition and Communication as well as one accessed in 2013 from the American Association of University Professors, the authors argue that a shared narrative casts the prevalence of part-time faculty as a threat to tenure, which is equated with academic freedom, and as a detriment to the “integrity of faculty work,” as the AAUP states (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A6).

They further quote James Sledd that “it is hard to argue that tenure is essential to academic freedom when half the faculty will never be tenured” (qtd. in Hanson and de los Reyes A6). This uneasiness with the presence of adjuncts, in the authors’ view, contributes to the tendency among tenured faculty to marginalize part-time instructors.

Hanson and de los Reyes focus on what they see as the devaluation of teaching as central to the identity discrepancy between “[r]eal compositionists” and part-time instructors (A8). Quoting a line from Chris Gallagher that poses teaching time as “an impoverished metric for either teaching commitment or teaching impact” (A9), the authors also quote Melissa Janetta’s recruiting post for a 2018 CCCC workshop that laments the “under-representation of classroom research” in the literature of the field (A9-10). In the authors’ view, this devaluation separates teachers into “workers” versus “thinkers,” with only those who theorize beyond classroom practice and participate in the development of programs and other work outside the classroom deserving of the title “compositionist” (A8).

For Hanson and de los Reyes, this distinction is concerning at several levels. They argue that counting on tenured faculty to sustain the vitality of composition puts that responsibility on “a dying breed” (A10). Further, ignoring the knowledge created by classroom practitioners who are charged to “enact” the theories will continue to impoverish the quality of teaching itself (A10). Finally, improving “working conditions” but not the “professional conditions” that exclude classroom instructors from knowledge-making within the profession will further alienate even those who have persisted in the field because they are committed to it and want to contribute, often sending them into “greener pastures in the private sector” (A11).

The authors contend that they do not want to eliminate distinctions between different kinds of research; rather, they argue for recognizing that the two approaches have equal merit (A12). In their view, the claim that adjuncts “don’t research” overlooks not only the research done to produce articles like theirs but also the importance of recognizing that “our classroom practices are often the most useful kind of research in our field” (A12). Stating that teaching is “our community’s defining practice” (A10), the authors write that overlooking this kind of research will divide researchers from teachers and exclude knowledge vital to the field’s success (A12).

They argue that the narrative that casts part-time instructors as detrimental to higher education uses these teachers as a “sacrificial lamb” in the fight to protect tenure. They maintain that characterizing adjuncts as underqualified even as they teach large segments of composition classes leaves the impression that “anyone can do it because some unqualified yahoo just did” (A13), thus undercutting arguments that base composition’s status as a discipline on its members’ expertise.

The authors argue that recognizing the authority and knowledge-making skills of the many committed part-time teachers, fully recognizing them as “compositionists,” will provide a much more sustainable future for the teaching of writing. They write that they have chosen “to see ourselves as compositionists even if others do not” (13), arguing that the label of “worker” who practices what others theorize is a limiting institutional definition based on rank rather than on commitment and ability. Such definitions, they argue, should not supersede

the identity of compositionist [that] can come to mean a person who shares in the give-and-take of a distinct body of knowledge and not merely one who engages in the push-and-pull of academic politics. (A13-14)