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Larson, Holly. Epistemic Authority in Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Dec. 2018. Posted 02/13/2019.

Larson, Holly. “Epistemic Authority in Composition Studies: Tenuous Relationship between Two-Year English Faculty and Knowledge Production.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.2 (2018): 109-36. Web. 9 Feb. 2019.

Holly Larson questions the relationship between community-college faculty and the larger field of composition studies. Based on data showing that in 2016, 49% of first-year college students attended a two-year institution, Larson argues that community-college exigencies should be “central” to the field’s mission (111). Larson builds on Howard Tinberg ‘s designation of community-college faculty as “border crossers” or “mestizas” (109) to claim that these faculty do not function as “thirteenth- and fourteenth-grade” high-school teachers, yet, despite their centrality to composition’s mission, are not recognized as full members of the university community (111).

Larson draws on “standpoint theory” to note with Marianne Janack that two-year faculty are not granted “epistemic authority” by their university-level counterparts (111). This theory, which she characterizes as growing out of feminist scholarship,

examines how a group of people with socially constructed identities views and experiences the world differently and highlights the social conditions a group encounters in power relations, thus emphasizing its shared common experiences. (112)

In this view, dominant groups look down from a standpoint above, a position that makes it impossible for them to recognize the complexities below them and thus allows them to shut these complexities out. In contrast, groups lower in the hierarchy, looking up, see the many different points of view and confront the necessity of interacting with them (112-13). The standpoints thus constructed are not “objective and universal” (112); rather, they are the partial views of those who occupy the relevant spaces. For Larson, composition faculty in the traditional university culture claim the dominant standpoint and therefore fail at the kind of inclusive vision necessary to understand standpoints below them (113).

Larson argues that this failure manifests in both graduate preparation and in scholarship and publishing. She cites her own experience in assimilating theory during her preparation and then, as she moved into her first professional position at a community college, “spen[ding] the semester constantly translating the theory into a practice that is realistic and achievable for my students” (118). What she calls “canonical literature,” while providing rich insights into the history of the field and its guiding ideology, turned out to be “tone deaf to my students’ reality” (118).

Larson cites other compositionists calling for the inclusion of preparation for teaching at a two-year institution (116) and notes that the TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College emphasize how “notions of professionalism are distinct at community colleges, with teaching, service, and scholarship valued in different configurations than at most four-year institutions” (qtd. in Larson 119; emphasis Larson’s). In this view, theory derives from a “pedagogical imperative” that serves students’ needs (119).

Mainstream scholars in the field, Larson argues, do not recognize community-college practice as making knowledge (120). Meanwhile, constraints of time and energy prevent faculty like her from “disciplin[ing] our teaching experiences into theory” (119), as the exigencies experienced by writing teachers in general are exacerbated in a community-college environment (120). Not only do these faculty have limited time to develop standard academic essays, their time constraints make it difficult for them to cite widely and demonstrate deep acquaintance with the theory and research that scholarly reviewers expect (121).

In fact, Larson writes, she and her colleagues do not necessarily have degrees in rhetoric and composition (121-22). While acknowledging the pressure on composition to establish itself as an academic field with a “common body of knowledge” (122), Larson notes that scholarship grounded in practice will not be accepted into this body of knowledge if it is seen as “too general or anecdotal” (121) or unoriginal (123). She contends that the kind of knowledge produced in two-year settings fits Gloria Anzaldùa’s definition of “kitchen-table conversations,” a form of knowledge that is “devalued in academia unless some critical theorist validates it” (121).

To argue for the value of these conversations, Larson cites an approach in social science in which theory and practice are more firmly integrated (122). She questions why community-college faculty must follow the standard academic form for their work to be valued (124). Sharing their knowledge through course materials and accounts of classroom experience, she argues, should be a way for these faculty to enter the larger conversation (125). In addition, she suggests that programs can build in important concepts from the larger body of theory in order to make them useful and meaningful in the specific settings of the community-college classroom (125).

Larson sees this grounding in actual classroom practice as especially important because, for the many students who inhabit these classrooms, the community-college setting is “the only academic space they belong to” (125-26). The two-year institution, in this view, functions as a “third space” that can encourage a sense of “belonging and investment” that students will not get in any other place (126). Community-college faculty, Larson writes, are the only faculty who will “see [these students] on a regular basis”; therefore, the field must commit to the “diverse ways of knowing” that will welcome both these students and non-traditional knowledge-making based in their classrooms (126).

Larson lists venues where community-college faculty can “submit all these diverse ways of knowing intimately about the third space” (127). Contending that these are “still limited,” she proposes two specific actions that she believes will facilitate the efforts of two-year faculty to enter the field’s scholarly conversation. “Acknowledging Alternative Knowledge” includes adjusting the “hierarchical professional ladder” from “vertical to horizontal” so that it allows for more inclusive formats (130). Part of this adjustment for Larson would be the recognition that “lore,” as described by Stephen North, is more than an assertion about “what works for me” but is rather the result of ongoing conversations in which theory is collaboratively built from practical experience in ways that are endorsed within feminist thought (130).

Second, Larson recommends “Shifting Peer Reviewers’ Role from the Gatekeeper to the Gateway” (130). She envisions a relationship between a four-year faculty member and a community-college faculty member in which the mentor would shift from the “punitive and judgmental” practice Larson attributes to the usual review process to an effort to provide an “entry point into the theoretical conversation on the topic” (131; emphasis original) as well as an incentive to two-year faculty to invest their limited time in scholarship. Larson asks that work of this sort on the part of the mentor be valued and rewarded; she quotes Lisa A. Costello in calling for “a radical revision of the institution itself to include different kinds of knowledges and ways of being” so that theory and practice can become symbiotic components of the field (qtd. in Larson 131).

 


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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).