Organizing, Advocacy, and Knowledge Work

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Get Uncomfortable

Posted by Amy LB on April 6, 2009

At the 2009 Conference on College Composition and Communication, I was fortunate to present on a panel with fellow Ink Work writers Seth and Kevin. Also with us were Rachel Reidner, Marcy Boland and (an honor) Eileen Schell.

Mary and I presented on similar themes. As full time faculty, we sincerely–even passionately– want to support adjunct and temporary employees, in part by fighting to improve working conditions and compensation. At the same time, we want to acknowledge how use of adjunct labor can be a detriment to curricular development. The dilemma,  I think, is obvious: I don’t want to diss the dedicated teaching of these folks, especially since I was adjunct labor for many years myself. They work hard on behalf of their students.  But my own experiences as an overworked adjunct, with limited knowledge of composition and rhetoric studies (in the early days of my career, pre-PhD) tell me that the current system of temporary labor does not support the best teaching (something Marc Bousquet discusses, too, in his latest book).

Sure,  I was a good temporary teacher (I’ve been a GA, and adjunct, and almost full time temp [read: three part-time contracts at a single school]). At the same time, I realize in retrospect that many of my pedagogical decisions were based on 1. what I could reasonably prep for in my seriously underpaid / overworked time, 2. the limited resources available to me as a temp (not much in the way of professional development or access to tech), and 3. the textbooks sold to me by publishing house reps.

So much of the work in comp / rhet labor reform  is grounded improving # 1. and 2.  I’m glad that people were working to improve the  conditions for temp labor when I was one of their ranks, and I believe that work should continue. At the same time, if we allow the labor system to continue as is, reforming only the way it treats temps, the problem of #3 remains.  Studies tell us that most folks teaching comp / rhet do so as a condition of their contracts, and not because they have studied the field or have a genuine disciplinary investment in it.

Of course, this is in part because of how most English education is structured: in MA and PhD programs, one chooses to study Literature, Composition / Rhetoric, or TESOL. That is slowly changing, of course, but right now, most of the temp employees and GAs who are teaching writing are paying their dues, working towards that gig teaching Literature. I don’t mean to disparage the folks taking these jobs–I did it! Rather, I am critical of a labor system that says master’s credits in English is all one needs to teach writing–that students get the same experience from a GA whose specialty and passion is, say, American Literature, as they do from a full time professor of Comp / Rhet.

We are often uncomforatble disussing this, I think because we don’t want it to be interpreted as fulltimers being unsupportive of GAs and temps. I think we need to get uncomfortable.

Posted in comp/rhet, Labor, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Faculty doing more administrative work?

Posted by sethkahn on April 6, 2008

I’ve only been back from Cs for about 20 hours, but I’m already thinking about next year’s panel proposal.  What I’m particularly interested in is the extent to which faculty go beyond our job descriptions to do administrative work, while administrative jobs grow (see the IHE essay I posted the other week).

In the context of InkWork, this phenomenon raises at least these questions I’d like to find answers to–

1.  How many comp/rhet faculty are hired to do administrative (WPA) work?  What kinds of job descriptions do they sign onto?

2.  How many comp/rhet faculty find themselves doing WPA work that they weren’t initially hired to do?  How do those responsibilities get assigned?  Evaluated?  Credited?

3.  How much of that responsibility crosses (or seems to cross) over into management territory?  In other words, how much of what we’re doing seems like it ought to be the purview of management instead of us?

4.  How and why do we take on that extra work?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

I’m a little bit professional, and a little bit angry.

Posted by Amy LB on March 13, 2008

I read Kevin’s post on Tony Scott’s article [see “The Cart, the Horse, and the Road Not Taken“] with glee. See, I’d just spent an afternoon reading up on university labor issues for a revision of my dissertation. Yes, unlike so many graduate students, I’ve been lucky enough to land a tenure-track gig while I complete the Big D. Everything I read today, however, including Kevin’s post, reminded me of how few compositionists will find full-time work after completing the PhD. And the trend seems to be addressing this labor problem not with thoughtful analysis of the skewed market-driven system in academia, but with “reforms” that give in to the market-system as an inevitability.

I read a piece by Scott Jaschik In Inside Higher Ed wherein he describes the movement to replace part-time, temporary or graduate workers with full-time positions with “multiple-year, renewable contracts” that have “better pay and benefits.” To me “renewable” still = temporary. Still means they are not considered professionals. Better pay is nice, but why not just commit to and invest in making a tenured comp faculty? As Marc Bousquet says, “what a large sector of composition labor…really wants is not to be treated as colleagues, but instead to be colleagues.”

Jaschik interview Doug Hesse, who has overseen the creation of a program at the University of Denver that uses such “renewable” labor. Hesse defends this system, noting the increased pay and benefits, as well as the benefits to students who are now taught by trained compositionists. Yet, he does admit to wondering if he’s made a “Vichy regime” of his program.

You know what? He has. I’ll say it. And I respect the man. I attended a session peopled by Hesse and other instructors in his program at the Writing Research Across Borders conference in Santa Barbara just a couple of weeks ago just to hear him speak. They reported on some fantastic research and teaching they are doing in U of D. But, when I asked what repercussions his results have for the rest of the field, where such great work is severely limited by labor conditions, he side-stepped the question. I think more of us have to hop on the Bousquet-Bandwagon and realize that we can’t make someone “a little more professional” or “a little less temporary” any more than we can be a little more or less pregnant.

Posted in contingent faculty, Labor, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »