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How The University Works » MLA http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.19 Will Skype Kill the MLA? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/279 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/279#comments Tue, 04 Jan 2011 07:35:59 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/279 By my count of positions discussed on the essential Academic Jobs Wiki: Seven of forty-three positions in French with “interviews scheduled” were interviewing by Skype and bypassing the MLA convention in Los Angeles this week. (More fools them: The rains are ending and the forecast is lovely.) Five of the seven were tenure track positions. In German three of 27 tenure track and three of 18 nontenurable positions are bypassing MLA. Traditional English literature fields aren’t Skyping much as yet (just one or two in most fields), but among writing specialists at least seven tenure-track jobs of the 150 or so discussed are bypassing MLA.

Given that most MLA cities aren’t as desirable in early January as Los Angeles (Toronto, you know I’m talking about you!), will the cost savings of $5,000 to $10,000 per search lead to more Skyping and less flying of three to seven socially deficient individuals across the country to imprison them in their hotel rooms for most of three days? Um, yeah, duh.

The question is: How far will this trend go? It’s leading in writing and the foreign languages, where money is tightest and allegiance to the MLA is lowest. Let’s say most of the English literature and cultural studies fields follow suit—with spikes during years of conventions scheduled for, say, Philadelphia.

Remember that the profession’s hiring class is aging faster than a horse on crack, and try to imagine the fading appeal of long flights and long days listening to the young folks (“Wah wah wah Zizek blah blah blah three manuscripts under consideration”) followed by toddling over ice-filled sidewalks for stale cheddar soup and an oxidized chardonnay. So much more comfy to tune out in front of your video screen and read your email while pretending to listen.

Indeed: No need to interview at the lousy times chosen by MLA at all. Heck, why not interview at your own convenience? Not six interviews in a row, but three interviews every Friday afternoon in December. Or November. Or January.

So what’s the impact on MLA? With fields at the leading edge of adoption at 10 percent of interviews already, let’s pick a number for a near-term plateau, a conservative number like 25 percent of all interviews bypassing MLA—probably higher in writing and foreign languages. Let’s say in five years, roughly five hundred interviews might bypass the convention. That’s roughly two thousand interviewers who might not otherwise come, and at least a couple of hundred interviewees, those whose only interviews are Skyped.

MLA’s budget is several million a year, so losing a fraction of convention income isn’t going to bankrupt it. But let’s say conservatively they collect $200 a head per attendee. That’s a hit of almost a half-million a year right there. It’s probably more, because many folks renew their dues just to attend the convention, and there’s the rake from booksellers, some of whom might no longer come, hotel bookings, etc. And half a million pays five to seven staffers, without whom MLA can offer fewer services, thus diminishing the luster of the whole operation, making credible eventual future bypassings. Chances are excellent that 50 percent or more of writing jobs alone will bypass MLA, given the deservedly poor reputation of the organization in the field. If I were doing MLA resource allocation, I’d be thinking of a likely half-million dollar hit, and praying that it wasn’t a full million.

This question and others will be discussed at the panel “New Tools, Hard Times: Social Networking and the Academic Crisis.” This Thursday January 6, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 406A, L.A. Convention Center. A special session. Presiding: Meredith L. McGill, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick Speakers: Rosemary G. Feal, MLA, Marc Bousquet, Santa Clara Univ., Brian Croxall, Emory Univ., Christopher John Newfield, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, Marilee Lindemann, Univ. of Maryland, College Park. Format: eight-minute presentations, discussion.

Also see the two offerings by the Division on Teaching as a Profession (yours truly on the executive committee): Deprofessionalized? and Governance Matters.

Deprofessionalized? Friday, 07 January. 8:30–9:45 a.m. Modern Language Association Convention 2011, Los Angeles. Plaza 3, Marriott.

Format: published discussion materials; 5-minute prepared remarks; discussion between panelists and audience.

1. A Split in the PMC? Rising Managers, Falling Professionals.Marc Bousquet, presiding. Tenure and Teaching Intensive Appointments Occupy and Escalate We Work

2. Solidarity v. Professionalism: Abetting Wayward Labor. Kim Emery, University of Florida. Deprofessionalization requires a more radical solution than re-professionalization. Academic Freedom Requires Constant Vigilance The University and the Undercommons Professionalism as the Basis

3. Precarity, Itinerancy, and Professionalism. Lisa Jeanne Fluet, Boston College. Precarious faculty professionalize themselves without many of the usual compensations. What are You Going to Do With That? The Ph.D. Problem Things I Learned From Grading AP Essays

4. What Rolls Down Hill: ‘Professionalization’ and Graduate Student Administrators. Monica F. Jacobe, Princeton University. Consequences for graduate students who provide or even donate administrative labor. Play Ph.D. Casino! Graduate Students Hearing Voices Higher Exploitation

5. Busting Faculty Labor For Fun and Profit. William Lyne, Western Washington University. Faculty work is being devalued to cut costs, increase profits and reinforce class barriers for students. Power Concedes Nothing Without Demand Public Benefits, Private Costs

6. Internal Stratifications. Jeffrey J. Williams, Carnegie Mellon Univ. As doctors farm out some tasks to nurses, practitioners and physicians’ assistants, the professoriate is shifting some tasks to sub- or tertiary professions. Remaking the University The System of Professions

7. Untitled. Bruce W. Robbins, Columbia University. Secular Vocations

Can’t make the MLA?

Join Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Dick Ohmann and many others at Left Forum 2011 (March 18-20), Pace University, N.Y.C.

Interested in joining Ohmann for a panel on working in commercialized higher ed? Drop him or Susan O’Malley a line by January 5, 2011. Have an article for Radical Teacher’s issue of the same theme? Send a proposal by May 15, 2011.

Fish Does It Again
It happens roughly once a year, usually around the holidays: Just when you’re sure that you can safely ignore everything under his byline, Stanley Fish takes notice of something worthwhile and doesn’t entirely butcher it: Carvalho and Downing’s very important but absurdly priced Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era. (Yes, Virginia, full disclosure: I have a piece in it. OMG, so does Ward Churchill.) Unquestionably the must-have academic freedom book of the first decade of the millenium—ask your library to buy it.

RIP David Noble

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When “English” Isn’t Literature http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/271 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/271#comments Tue, 26 Oct 2010 20:26:15 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/271 This video is going around under the title of “So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities?” It probably has some relevance across the liberal arts, but the piece is more narrowly about the declining role of traditional literary scholarship in English studies, a topic I’ve written about before.

I’m particularly interested because I’m heading my (English) department’s curriculum committee this year and surveying student reaction to concentrations we’re considering. We haven’t even finished collecting responses, but it seems clear that many students from a wide variety of majors remain interested in at least some areas of traditional literary study for personal interest, or to fulfill a distribution requirement.

But when you ask what interests might lead students to make the larger commitment to a minor in English, or a major, the picture tilts. So far, science, business and other humanities majors say they are most likely to consider a minor in English in a diverse set of fields that I would characterize as either a) involving the production of texts, ie, writing or b) the intersection of disciplines.

I think we often miss the forest for the trees when we look at student interests: unless they’re an English major, we see our other students under labels that seem to clearly parcel them out into different camps: creative writer, business communications student, first-year student in composition.

But when we strand those various interests together under a single heading–writing or textual production, we start to see that these groups are often the same people–just with a writerly orientation to English, rather than a readerly one.

It’s actually quite common for non-majors, including business and science students, to take creative writing classes. But what offerings would lead them toward the further commitment of a minor in English?

As it turns out, these generally also involve textual production: writing in digital environments; business, scientific, legal, and medical writing; communication for advocacy, public discourse and social change.

Not surprisingly: students whose primary interests are science, business, or another humanities field are less likely to name literature and cultural studies concentrations as an incentive to consider an English minor or major.

When they do, however, so far in this limited study, the most popular seem to involve interdisciplinary subjects: film, women’s studies, spirituality and literature, digital culture.

I’m just starting to think through this particular survey and what it might mean for just one department.

One working hypothesis might be that we can count on a certain, slowly declining level of enrollments in individual classes and the major based on the love of literature. Students still find literature interesting, some passionately enough to major in it, pursue graduate study, etc–only fewer and fewer every year.

One strategy to build enrollments might be, as the MLA has–in my view, rather ridiculously–to sell literary studies as a nostrum for all that ails you. My guess would be that this approach won’t work (because it’s been tried, and usually fails, except where it serves as the justification for a set of requirements). In any event, it lacks intellectual credibility, at least in the form MLA has tried.

A better approach might begin by acknowledging that “literature” is an increasingly poor description of the interests of faculty and students in English.

Much of the most interesting faculty work for decades has been on writing that doesn’t easily fit within the traditional meaning of literary studies per se. As I wrote in the earlier piece, some of the most interesting work in my own department is being done on economic writers; Pacific revolutionary discourse; nineteenth-century elocution and reform; contemporary management theory; self-help, leadership, and spirituality; eighteenth-century sermons and other religious speech, and headmistress memoir—and evidently headmistresses with the souls of accountants, not poets.

In practical terms, this could mean that the figure of writing plays a larger role in the way we present and organize our curriculum, with less and less privileging of a specifically literary history.

Getting to the point where an English department can comfortably say “we’re all interested in writers and writing” might make a big difference in how we value each other, how we distribute resources, and in our reception on campus and beyond.

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MLA Confidential, Part 1 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/243 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/243#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2010 19:40:39 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/243 Slow dissolve: Manhattan, fifteen years ago. I walk a few blocks from my place on Third Street– next to an anarchist squat, across from the NuYorican Poets Cafe–to the headquarters of the Modern Language Association (MLA), then in Astor Place.

I explain the agenda of the Graduate Student Caucus (GSC) to the director of the association, Phyllis Franklin. We want MLA to educate the public about the majority contingent workforce.

Inspired by a California law that set 75% as a minimum standard for classes that should be taught by a full-time stable faculty, even in its community colleges, we want MLA to establish educationally sound full-time/part-time ratios in the disciplines it represents.

We want the association to lobby for those standards with accreditation agencies and to urge the other big state governments like New York and Texas to follow California’s lead.

We want MLA to help California fulfill the promise of that law by lobbying for federal money to help fully fund it.

We want graduate-student representation on the governing committees of the association.

In short, we want MLA to stop promoting “alternate careers” for PhD holders, and to get busy doing the political work necessary to rebuild professorial jobs out of what’s been converted to shabby part-time work.

Franklin just stares at me. “But all of that is AAUP’s job,” she finally says.

Jump cut to grainy historical footage: a decade farther back, 1984. The MLA has traditionally been directed for a short term by a distinguished tenured faculty person, but the Executive Council now feels that the staffing crisis in the humanities–of which it has been aware since 1970–requires a full-time staffer at the helm.

A significant element in hiring Franklin for the job of director is the desire to have someone willing to devote their career to addressing the professional crisis represented by the accelerating permatemping of the faculty. Franklin represents herself as eagerly willing to do so.

Next: We Occupy the MLA

Related posts:

Occupy the AHA!
At the AHA: Huh?

Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA?
History ‘Job Czar’ Shuts Down PhD Production
(Oversupply Continues for Two Decades)

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At the AHA: Huh? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/237 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/237#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2010 20:08:28 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/237 A funny thing happened on the way to the AHA this year — American Historical Association staffer Robert B. Townsend issued his annual report on tenure-track employment in the field. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that holders of freshly minted doctorates face grim prospects. What raised my eyebrows — and those of many others doing scholarship in academic labor — was his insistence that the labor market for faculty in history is a matter of an “oversupply” of persons holding doctorates, and that the profession needs to control “the supply side of the market,” i.e., “cut the number of students” in doctoral programs.

This is the sort of thing that used to get said all the time by disciplinary-association staffers — as what I call part of a “second wave” of thinking about academic labor, emerging out of discredited supply-side thought dating back to the Reagan administration. Thanks to the third wave of thought arising from graduate students and contingent faculty in the academic labor movement, you just don’t hear so much of this sort of thing anymore. In most fields, it’s pretty well understood that the real issue is an undersupply of tenure-track jobs, i.e., that the issue needs to be addressed from the “demand side.” There’s no real oversupply of folks holding the Ph.D. because what’s happened is an aggressive, intentional restructuring of demand by administrators — in many fields, work that used to be done by persons holding the Ph.D. and on the tenure track is now done by persons without the terminal degree and contingently. Increasingly, even undergraduates are playing a role in this restructured “demand” for faculty work, participating in the instruction of other undergraduates.

In this context, it was a bit unsettling to read Townsend’s 2010 analysis:

The near perpetual sense of crisis in history employment over the past 20 years had very little to do with a diminishing number of jobs, or even the growing use of part-time and contingent faculty. … The primary problem today, as it was a decade ago, seems to lie on the supply side of the market — in the number of doctoral students being trained, and in the skills and expectations those students develop in the course of their training.

Red flag, bull, etc.

Now, before I unpack this I want to say several nice things about Townsend. As a long-term staffer at the AHA, over the last couple of decades he’s produced over a hundred useful articles, reports, and analyses on the employment prospects of persons holding the Ph.D. in history. He is also himself the holder of a newly-minted Ph.D. in history from George Mason (2009), where they do fantastic work in the digital humanities (another topic on which Townsend has also written prolifically and well), thanks to Townsend’s late thesis advisor, the brilliant Roy Rosenzweig. The thesis (not yet listed in DAI or the GMU library) is on the early professionalization of history, and apparently overlaps a bit with his staff work. He’s especially to be congratulated for his continuing presentation of disquieting data on the low proportion of women and ethnic minorities amongst historians and history majors, and on the role of privileged backgrounds in shaping interest in history, including careers in the field. Many of the concerns that Rob has expressed in print as a staffer are the same concerns that have shaped my own career, and if he’s job-hunting with that new Ph.D., I’d be thrilled to see him land a job and raise the same questions from a faculty position.

I also want to offer some caveats: Circumstances differ from field to field, and I willingly acknowledge that my own perspective on academic labor is shaped by my more intimate understanding of working conditions in English. I sometimes make erroneous assumptions on the basis of that more intimate understanding. History is different, perhaps very different, and I’ve made no special study of it — and really would like a chance to see Townsend’s dissertation (hint). History is a smallish field, hence more volatile, and has recently seen growth in the undergraduate major and hiring.

Caveats and compliments out of the way, I want to say, though:

I’m confused. I wish some really smart folks  in history — who I happen to know think about these issues — would help me out. Historiann? Jonathan Rees? (Both folks I’d love to see added to Ye Olde Brainstorm’s lineup, btw.)

I think I get what Townsend is driving at. Is it something like this? “In our particular discipline, history, we’ve had a bunch of relatively good years in recent memory, and whatever’s going on out there with casualization in other disciplines, our issue is more straightforward: We wouldn’t have all this stress if we shrunk our doctoral programs.” That would be the “obvious solution,” as Townsend puts it.

As I look at Townsend’s good work for AHA over the years, I believe I see the data driving his conclusion that what history needs is a good supply-side fix.

Looking at his graph of job ads vs new doctorates, 1970-present, a couple of things stand out: 1) in two periods of about a half-decade each, there were more job ads than doctorates awarded, and 2) the raw number of job ads, flirting with 700 annually in the 1970s, were more like 1,000 a year between 2000 and 2010. So one first-pass reading might be that there’s a market in jobs that has boom periods and bust periods, and — with rising interest in the history major, there has been growth in hiring for faculty. This leads Townsend to relative peace of mind about contingency, at least within history, and to further represent nontenurable appointments as “threshold” positions, way-stations to eventual stable employment (though he does note that some folks stay in the threshold, give up, drop out before running this gauntlet, etc.).

But it does seem there’s still a bunch of dots needing to be connected.

For starters, most disciplines have added raw numbers of tenure track lines in the past 15 years, English and sociology being notable exceptions. The percentage of faculty teaching nontenurably, however has soared. Rising raw numbers of job ads isn’t particularly meaningful.

So I’d like to know: What percentage of the history job ads were for nontenurable and senior positions in 1970 versus 2010? What percentage of the faculty in history were teaching nontenurably in 1970 versus today? What percentage of undergraduate sections are taught by graduate students and nontenurable faculty today vs. then? How many folks with doctorates pass through “threshold” positions into stable employment — after how long? How do those considerations relate to the disproportionate whiteness, masculinity, and privilege in tenure-track employment, interest in the field, etc? For that matter, how does AHA account for the labor of graduate students? They too are contingent faculty, when responsible for direct instruction, and also in leveraging the labor of tenure-stream faculty, when serving as teaching “assistants,” permitting larger and larger lecture enrollments, etc. (Related question: Is a lecture course ever too big? If the only function of the tenured is to deliver lectures and supervise subordinates who conduct discussions, why can’t we “scale up,” as our school-reform friends urge us, and have half of the lectures delivered by video? Why not 80 percent delivered by video?)

Which gets me to my second question: Why is the number of jobs “just enough” in this analysis, and the number of historians too many?

One major risk of supply-side analysis is the naturalization of demand — what the market wants is what the market wants.

But is that how professions, and professional associations like the AHA ought to be thinking about professional work? A traditional characteristic of professions is regulating who is qualified to do the work of the profession. And in this case, the word “market” is a heavily loaded abstraction for an actual group: administrators. The “market” is what administrators permit faculty to hire. But what administrators want (or allow) isn’t neutral, or connected to student needs, preferences, etc. in any natural or obvious way; it’s enormously activist, and intentional movement, with the overt intention of changing the faculty workplace. Perhaps a more useful analytical frame is one that captures the struggle between faculty and administrators.

In the end, even if all the history grad programs affiliated with AHA made someone on the AHA staff into a jobs czar — Stalin of the profession! — and allowed her to say how many each could graduate, would that  fix the problem?

If AHA shrunk graduate-student assistantships, what would keep administrations from hiring talented undergraduates or volunteer history enthusiasts lead the discussion sections? Don’t you still have to answer the tough questions: Who should teach, on what terms?

It’s well understood by most folks doing serious work on academic labor that regardless of how one analyzes the problem, most “supply-side” solutions are doomed to fail so long as administrators have so much control over the contours of demand that they can put staff, permatemps, and students — including undergraduates — to work at activities that were formerly done by persons holding doctorates.

Also, overall the AHA data seem gappy. The AHA 2004-05 analysis couldn’t account for the employment of two-thirds of persons with history Ph.D.’s over the preceding 15 years!

Wow. When I went looking at the method, which involved searching history departments in the AHA directory, though, I didn’t see any discussion of community colleges. Which led me to look at the directory, which doesn’t seem to list too many community colleges (unless I was using it wrong). And a lot of other departments don’t seem to maintain membership.

So, again, hard question kinda passed by: If AHA is truly “the professional association for all historians,” as the slogan has it, why aren’t you counting all the folks working in community colleges with their Ph.D.’s? Are they “historians”? Could community colleges use more folks with Ph.D.’s teaching? (Perhaps with some rethinking of the doctoral training?) If the answer is yes, then why talk about shrinking “production” of doctorates when you could be talking about the community college as a center for public history?

Even if Townsend is right that history is different from some other disciplines, I’d like to know just how different, and to have a lot more information before I could get on board with this analysis. This is just a blog post, trying to get some thought started, without a detailed review of Townsend’s overall work (again, which I’d be happy to do), but it strikes me that this report is running some risks — of minimizing the constructedness and gappiness of the data, naturalizing the “market” as force in history as opposed to seeing it as actual relations between persons in organized groups (faculty associations, administrative bureaucracies and college associations, etc.); simplifying a complex labor system by selectively looking at some sectors (tenure-track jobs) and ignoring others…

Update: part 2, Who’s a ‘Historian’ to the AHA? and part 3, History ‘Job Czar Shuts Down PhD Production (“Oversupply” Continues for Two Decades).  All of this with more commentary x-posted to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Brainstorm group blog, where I’m currently the token left-of-liberal and academic-labor person.

See Townsend’s latest report and the 2004-05 analysis, as well as my introduction (pdf) to How the University Works (NYU, 2008), which analyzes the failings of “job-market theory.” (The final chapter of the book addresses how job-market theory shaped the professional-association discourse over at the Modern Language Association.)”

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The Figure of Writing and the Future of English Studies http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/201 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/201#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2009 14:51:27 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/201 A short piece forthcoming in the tenth anniversary issue of Pedagogy (Duke UP).

For me the most compelling question in English studies today is the tension between the figure of reading and the figure of writing, especially as it plays out in what David Downing calls managed disciplinarity, the disciplinary division of labor between writing and literature.

Nearly everyone thinking about this question acknowledges that it’s a distinction serving to justify the division of resources and rewards—time, salary, prestige, power—rather than a coherent intellectual division. This wasn’t always the case, but it was for much of the twentieth century. So long as the literature curriculum remained central to sustaining nationalist and imperial projects, faculty working under the sign of “literature” were steadily more likely to be associated with research-intensive, or at least tenurable, appointments; to control institutional resources; shape the disciplinary agenda of the field; receive funding and media recognition, etc.

As James Berlin, Robert Connors, Sharon Crowley, Bruce McComiskey, Stephen North and many others have observed: the emergence of “literature” as a synecdoche for the many concerns of English sometimes came at a heavy price for faculty whose research or teaching encompassed such concerns as rhetoric, composition, philology, english education, creative writing, even critical theory and cultural studies. Many faculty with these concerns simply abandoned English departments, joining schools of education or departments of linguistics, communications, or philosophy; others seceded en masse, forming departments, programs or even new disciplines of their own. Where faculty with these concerns remained under the administration of English, many were relegated to teaching-intensive, generally nontenurable appointments.

By the late twentieth century, however, a “long-term decline in the cultural capital of literature” was spectacularly in evidence, as part of a larger decline in the role of the humanities in reproducing the professonal-managerial class for whom, as John Guillory bluntly observes, “technical and professional knowledge have replaced the literary curriculum.”(139)

At its most basic, this shift means that members of the educated classes are today far less likely to hail each other at cocktail parties, tennis matches and job interviews by using such forms of call and response as dropping a book title—say, Moby-Dick—in order to elicit such appropriate responses as “Ah, Melville,” “Call me Ishmael,” or “Oh, I never finished that!”

Today the circuit of recognition—sign, countersign; challenge, password—is completed for the majority of professionals and managers just as efficiently by class-specific tastes in music, television, film, or the massive discourse of management theory (“’Management by objectives’? Ah, Drucker.”) One could easily argue that increasingly the management curriculum is “the” undergraduate curriculum, except for the vocational and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforces, while the liberal arts generally have been redefined as, effectively, extracurricular. (Or at best peripherally preprofessional for such fields such as communications, law, and teaching.)

Even from the bleak perspective of the arts and humanities as a whole, the outlook for literary study per se is especially grim. Along with half a dozen other figures in English studies, I’ve previously written about broad changes in the academic workforce, especially the shifting of employment away from tenured faculty to a contingent workforce.

As of Fall 2007, contingent faculty outnumber the tenure stream by at least 3 to 1, roughly the inverse of the proportions forty years earlier. Across the profession, this trend line will drive the percentage of tenure-stream faculty into single digits within twenty years. It is hard to imagine that the trend line for English could be worse–but it is– and the outlook for literature is worse yet. A 2008 MLA analysis of federal IPEDS data (Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System) shows that between 1993 and 2004, the hiring of nontenurable faculty continued to dramatically outpace tenure-track hiring in the profession as a whole.

However, in terms of absolute numbers most disciplines actually gained a modest number of tenure-track lines, or at least held steady. Political science gained 2.5 percent new lines; philosophy and religion packed on 43 percent. English, however, lost over 3,000 tenure-track lines, an average annual loss of 300 positions. This amounted to slightly more than one in every 10 tenurable positions in English — literally a decimation. If that trend proves to have continued — and all indications are that it has — by early 2010 English will have shed another 1,500 lines.

The decimation-or-more of the field hardly begins to tell the story of the losses to literary study in particular, however, since there’s been notable growth in tenure-track hiring in some of the subordinated fields, especially rhetoric and composition. (Though as I’ve observed before, to less than universal acclaim in the rhet-comp discourse, much of this growth has to do with the need for low-level administration of a vast army of the nontenurable: while only a minority of the research produced by rhet-comp specialists is about program administration, I’ve argued that the lower-managerial subjectivity shapes the discourse of the field.)

In addition to the continuing trend of rhet-comp specialists doing more and more administration—in institution-spanning positions across the curriculum, in digital media labs, writing programs, writing majors and minors, and offering new graduate degrees–there is quite substantial new tenure-track hiring in all writing-related fields–creative, technical, and professional writing, including scriptwriting, creative nonfiction, and composing for digital media. Some of the most interesting new hiring addresses the growing support for civic engagement in pedagogy by fostering socially engaged writing and rhetoric.

In the limited space of this forum, I’d like to zero in on the question begged by that last observation: with all of these new justifications for hiring, why isn’t the story of English more optimistic? From a macro perspective, or an outsider’s standpoint, what’s the fuss? So literature is less interesting, but old standbys like rhetoric and writing have unprecedented traction along fascinating new paths of inquiry and practice, and many research scholars under the sign of “literature” have rapidly and willingly shifted their research objects to nonliterary texts (often in close relationship with cultural studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies).

Reasonable observers from other disciplines or professions can fairly shrug and ask, what’s the big deal? With stunning new justifications for its activities that far outnumber the reasons to shrink, English should be experiencing a renaissance (at least relative to other disciplines), not a collapse.

There’s no single answer to this question. A big part of the problem is structural, as I’ve suggested, so that new hiring in all fields is overwhelmingly nontenurable. But English has experienced this structural change with particular ferocity in connection with a crisis of dominance internal to the discipline—a crisis of dominance that’s at least twofold.

From the declining node of dominance we see an anxious response by the research faculty still operating under the sign of “literature,” to whom a recent disturbing MLA report speaks. Under the sign of literary studies, this faculty still maintains administrative control over most departments and the more prominent disciplinary channels: the result, in many departments, has been a growing flight to the reactionary postures exemplified by the MLA/Teagle report—a willingness to trade almost anything (tenure, wages, courseload, especially when they are someone else’s) in defense of a vision of English studies that peaked in the 1960s.

At the the same time, the rising rhet-comp mainstream has invested heavily in what Richard Miller memorably dubs “the arts of complicity,” or the world view of education administration. Rhet-comp’s “complicity” is in accepting a majority nontenurable workforce in exchange for gains that have steadily built a new discipline within English studies. Some of these gains have been impressive—new programs, degrees, and departments, and it is increasingly clear that rhet-comp has opened productive, often healthy relationships with communities, disciplines, and institutions over the past four decades.

On the other hand, a less palatable element of rhet-comp’s bargain with power, including some of its most dramatic institutional successes, is that it is granting doctorates structurally similar in some ways to doctorates in education, producing a tenured class of lower administration—as well a graduate faculty producing both the PhD-holding supervisory class and at least some of the subdoctorally-degreed teachers. (Though many of the latter are trained in literary studies and creative writing; rhet-comp supervisors commonly function to provide on-the-job training to persons with literature degrees who have been trained to have contempt for rhetoric and composition).

As I’ve previously written, from the point of view of large trends in higher education employment, rhet-comp’s successes are too often and too complacently the avant-garde of the administrative imaginary, with as little tenure for non-administrators as possible: at its worst, it resembles the worst form of K-12 teaching, in which a stratum of administrator-researchers sets the curriculum and mission for a subordinated teaching force.

To outsiders, it’s generally obvious that English departments have much to gain by investing heavily in the figure of writing. The near-universal digitization of professional, academic, commercial, personal and creative writing represents a world-historical shift in textuality, communications and creativity. Over the past two decades, tens of millions of us have been engaged in the massive shared project of composing for hypermedia, the collective bringing into existence of a massively multi-authorial electronically-mediated textual object—the not-quite worldwide artifact known as “the web” or “the Internet.”

Leaving aside the narrower, readerly questions of what to do with changing and disappearing digital texts (how and whether they should they be read, valued, interpreted, archived, canonized, attributed, and monetized) English has a profound and inevitable investment in the process of their composition: countless acts of assemblage, interpretation, expression, analysis, debate, and persuasion.

As a broad spectrum of observers from outside of English agree, hypermedia composition represents a powerful intersection of research, teaching, and service: not only is the accelerating evolution of hypertextuality a gripping research object in its own right, it represents absolutely fascinating possibilities for the mediation of other research, and the relationship between archival texts, critical texts, and the discourse of learners, appreciators, imitators, and appropriators of those texts. There are enormous hopes for the democratization of cultural production—this is my special hope and interest—the re-democratization of producing culture, not just consuming it.

There’s also much to say about how those enormous hopes are exaggerated or, where viable, being rapidly foreclosed by law, convention, the increasingly naked class struggle from above. If there is only one thing to be said regarding the expensive and complex literacies represented by hypermedia composition: democratization is too often taken for granted, as if everyone’s kids and everyone’s grandparents are doing it, when that’s not at all true. It seems to me that faculty in English have not just an opportunity, but an obligation to be in the front lines of arguing for public support of this literacy so that it becomes in actuality a democratic literacy.

Despite this efflorescence of extracurricular composition—writing, writing, everywhere!–disciplinary trajectories in English have reduced the figure of writing to the figure of student writing, or first-year composition. This is unfortunate, though not because student writing is uninteresting. To the contrary, student writing has become more interesting than ever: the soaring quantity and diversity of contemporary writing by students and the institutional and social possibilities for that writing more closely than ever resembles the ever-less-obviously “literary” research objects of research scholars in English studies (those who have taken the cultural turn at least: in my own department, some of the most interesting work is being done on economic writers; Pacific revolutionary discourse; nineteenth-century elocution and reform; contemporary management theory; self-help, leadership, and spirituality; eighteenth-century sermons and other religious speech, and headmistress memoir—and evidently headmistresses with the souls of accountants, not poets).

To anyone outside of English, it would seem abundantly reasonable to say that all of these interesting researchers are interested in writers and writing, rather than litterateurs and literature.

Only the disciplinary division of labor makes sense of shoehorning these research agendas into work done by “literature faculty” with “literature doctorates.” Indeed, these are interests also being worked on by faculty in the other fields of English, including, especially, rhetoric and composition, where research into student writing is just one of many possible paths of inquiry. What this work by our “lit faculty” and persons with “lit PhDs” underscores is the false but useful-to-power distinction of “literature” versus “writing” where faculty under both signs do work steadily more inflected by cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies and critical pedagogy, with a shared interest in questions of theory, interdisciplinarity, civic engagement, democracy, education, and literacy.

Embracing the figure of writing could represent a tremendous opportunity for expansion of mission, disciplinary healing, and employment justice in English. This would mean actively working to heal and transcend how the figure currently functions in the disciplinary division of labor and rewards–a task of considerable magnitude, but with comparably significant rewards, including pragmatic considerations for departments on the ground in day-to-day university politics.

My own view is that as an intellectual matter we have already long settled the major questions: we’ve historicized the emergence of literary and cultural value and the emergence of specific forms enjoying the designation “literature” and understand the contingency of those forms and related practices such as literary criticism. (Much of this work was accomplished in the late 1980s and early 1990s by faculty working in critical pedagogy and cultural studies; some were based in literature, like Pat Brantlinger, and others in composition, like James Berlin, who in 1996 considered that “research projects in literary studies attempted by those presently working in a rhetorically constructed English studies” showed “striking parallels” to the work at Birmingham, even where there had been “little or no communication between the two groups”{180}).

Much more slowly, but inevitably, we are moving toward pragmatic disciplinary and curricular accommodations of that decades-old recognition, so that eventually someone currently designated a literature scholar might feel comfortable saying, “I study writers and writing, some of which has enjoyed the designation ‘literature’ at one point or another, and much of which did not. Everybody in my department, whether they are on research-intensive or teaching-intensive appointment, is interested in writers and writing.” My sense is that we will get to that place eventually, and that getting there sooner and willingly would represent a happier, healthier, and more productive journey for us all.

Secession, Fusion and Compromise

There is a substantial tradition of thinking about this problem from below—especially from the most subordinated position, of writing. Most of the more prescient and convincing accounts come from scholars attempting to re-imagine English studies from the disciplinary location of rhetoric and composition.

The most circulated analysis in this vein is Stephen North’s account of a mid-nineties reform of the doctoral program at SUNY Albany, which presents a taxonomy of prescriptions for disciplinary change (principally by way of reorganizing graduate study) going back to a 1984 summit meeting at Wayzata, Minnesota.

As the accounts by North and others have it, discussants representing the major disciplinary associations in English studies made three sorts of proposal for the future: secession, in which disaffected faculty would establish programs and departments of their own (or else join established departments and programs that would treat them better); compromise, in which the discipline and individual departments would seek a unifying term for tactical and pragmatic purposes (“rhetoric” was especially favored in the eighties); and fusion, in which departments and possibly the profession would go beyond a merely rhetorical unification and transform themselves “into a single new entity, one quite distinct from any of the original components” (73). The result of the “fusion” effort at Albany was the department’s much-reported PhD Program in “Writing, Teaching and Criticism.”

One of the more useful subsequent commentaries on North is Bruce McComiskey’s immensely approachable introductory essay to English Studies: An Introduction to the Disciplines. McComiskey updates North by discussing additional fields and adding a fourth possible prescription, integration, by which he means a strategy of acknowledging that the various fields have increasingly developed different methods and interests—different disciplinary or proto-disciplinary discourses, hence the plural disciplines—-but nonetheless may have a mutual interest in the health of an umbrella field, ie, “reimagining English studies as a coherent community of disciplines”(41).

Rather than fusion, McComiskey proposes something more like a federation, in which the different fields recognize methodological and intellectual autonomy but in a relationship of rough equality–which might mean, he points out, rearticulating the relationship between the disciplines in the many departments where literary studies holds most of the power.

What’s most attractive about McComiskey’s proposal is the unifying rubric he offers: “the goal of this integrated English studies should be the analysis, critique and production of discourse in social context”(43).

What’s missing from McComiskey’s account, on the other hand, is the critical analysis of disciplinarity itself offered by David Downing, by Stephen North, by James Berlin, and many others, including myself, especially with attention to labor practice.

I personally prefer to read both McComiskey and North’s taxonomy not as prescriptions for the future, but as reasonably good descriptions of four different tactics that have been utilized by many departments over the past three decades, often in very different flavors and combinations, sometimes as the result of reflection and planning, sometimes organically, frequently in a series of ad hoc decisions arising out of externally -framed opportunities, strictures and imperatives.

McComiskey’s federated model of English studies, for instance, turns out to be a decent description of where North’s SUNY Albany PhD ended up. The fusion represented by North and Knoblauch’s doctoral program in “Writing, Teaching and Criticism” lasted over a decade, but in recent years gave way to a more conventional “PhD in English” with four tracks or concentrations, roughly: literature, theory, writing, and cultural studies. Some of the fusion language of the 1992 effort survives in the program and university documents.

Discipline-wide, however, probably the most important form of “fusion” has taken place in the research and teaching of individual faculty, where cultural studies, theory, women’s studies, and ethnic studies easily pass across the border that “writing” and “literature” have fortified against each other.

These four tactics have been used in different mixes at institutions of all types, not merely at doctoral institutions. Among the most common iterations of McComiskey’s federation or integration strategy, for instance, is the rapid proliferation of writing tracks, minors, and concentrations at undergraduate institutions, even undergraduate-only liberal arts colleges.

The 2100 students of Allegheny College (Meadville, Pa), for instance, can choose from four separate writing tracks in the English major–technical and professional, journalism, creative—even a new environmental writing track.

Similarly, though by way of a secession from English of a stand-alone writing program, any of the 18,000 students at the University of California Santa Barbara can elect a minor in professional writing offering distinct tracks in multimedia, editing, and business communication. Brown’s undergraduate English department has a concentration and honors program in nonfiction writing.

There are literally hundreds of such “integrations,” some of them involving elements of secession—many of the growing number of stand-alone writing programs remain functionally integrated with English departments on multiple levels, from joint appointments and initiatives, to administering teaching fellowships for English graduate study.

There is just as much diversity in the forms of secession. Some of the secessions are of the deplorable sort that feature a wholly untenurable labor force, as at Duke, Princeton, and Stanford, though these too can be integrated with English departments at a variety of levels—eg, Stanford, where the English department hosts the tenure of the “stand-alone” program’s administrator (but no one else with a research profile in rhet-comp). In stark contrast, the secession of the Syracuse writing program led to department status, a substantially tenured faculty, an exceptionally well-conceived writing major and minor, and a respected doctorate.

It’s not at all clear that the English department at Syracuse has done well from this secession. While the department features a string of notable scholars in literature and cultural studies, it has just over a dozen doctoral candidates and somewhat fewer students in its master’s program; the departmental self description is an object lesson in how difficult it is to describe English without the frame of writing, and gives the sense of manning the barricades “We are a dedicated group of faculty and students who represent the complex discipline that “English” has become in the contemporary university and in today’s society.”

By contrast, the new Writing major is framed in terms I’d call confident and clear:

The Writing and Rhetoric Major focuses on different genres and practices of writing as enacted in specific historical and cultural contexts. Students write in a wide range of genres: advanced argument, research writing, digital writing, civic writing, professional writing, technical writing, creative nonfiction, and the public essay. In the process of exploring and practicing these genres, students study and analyze the interaction of diverse rhetorical traditions and writing technologies and assess how these factors shape the nature, scope, and impact of writing in a variety of contexts. The major also asks students to examine writing and rhetoric as embedded in culture, and looks at writing identities, their emergences in cultures and subgroups, and the relations among writing, rhetoric, identity, literacy, and power. Graduates of the Writing and Rhetoric Major will be well equipped for public and private sector careers that require knowledge of advanced communication strategies and writing skills. The major is open to any SU student, and may be especially useful to students pursuing careers in teaching, the law, business, public advocacy, and editing and publishing.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Writing Program is “better” than the English department, and I think it could be easily argued that they’d be stronger as a unit—if they could ever “re-integrate” as McComiskey proposes. On the other hand, it is abundantly clear that the achievements of the Syracuse writing program would have been utterly impossible in a literature-dominated department.

Other secessions offer mixed narratives—Derek Owens’ Writing Institute at St. John’s began with a wholly nontenurable (but full-time and unionized) faculty, but within three years had succeeded in a mass conversion of all of the appointments to tenure-track assistant professorships—this in 2009, a year when nearly every institution of higher education was cancelling tenure-track hires.

Secessions at some institutions produce marriages of convenience, as at the Michigan State’s 2003 shotgun merger, the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures, offering one BA in American Studies and another conceptually unrelated BA in Professional Writing, as well as all “Tier 1” writing courses–while the English department holds onto English Education, most American literature faculty, including specialists in Chicana/Chicano culture, and creative writing, as well as the graduate programs (though sending many of them to WRAC to fund their studies).

Other English departments have seen multiple spin-offs, as at MIT, where linguistics long ago formed a happier partnership with philosophy; drama bunks down with music; and digital media have three homes (Henry Jenkins’ department of comparative media studies, the program in Science, Technology and Society, and the graduate studio program in Media Arts and Sciences).

Literature at MIT stands alone, but the “program in writing and humanistic studies” administers no less than three majors (science writing, creative writing, digital media), as well as three minors in the same fields, a concentration in writing that can be adapted to any field of study, the entire first-year writing program, and a graduate program in science writing.

I’ve said the least about North’s “compromise” option, which is a bit of a misnomer. As a prescription, it sounds the least appetizing, because it involves one field taking managerial responsibility for the others, but at least—when framed as a deliberate choice—it sounds like a negotiation of complex circumstances between stakeholders.

On the other hand, considered as a description, it’s probably the most accurate account of what’s taken place over the long term: after literary criticism’s ascent, as McComiskey and many others observe, it remained perpetually in control through most of the last century in most departments, with “the ‘other’ disciplines as trailers” (42).

There have been prospective discussions about choosing another unifying term—rhetoric, cultural studies, literacy, textual studies, etc—and numerous deployments of these alternatives, especially in connection with acts of secession. However, these are the exceptions, and emergence of literature into its present position as the governing term didn’t occur as an act of deliberation or negotiation.

Similarly, if some other governing term replaces literature, it will likely occur without the consent of literature faculty. Such a replacement is far from certain, of course. Literature, literary study, and the practice of criticism aren’t disappearing. In any reasonable estimation, literature will retain substantial cultural capital with large groups of disproportionately wealthy and influential people for centuries to come. For the foreseeable future, it will continue to do enormous diversity work and revisionist cultural history, and remain a centerpiece of great works, core and juvenile curricula.

It’s hard to imagine that the large and evidently growing number of students who enjoy writing won’t continue to read widely in the sort of imaginative works presently acknowledged as literary. And, already—in innumerable acts of fusion by individual faculty–what counts as literary is being changed under our feet.

There’s no reason not to expect hundreds more thoughtful, deliberate acts of integration by departments and colleges. Some of these integrations will be motivated by the achievements of secession. Other integrations will be motivated by fear of community-college style consolidation into generalist “humanities” or “liberal studies” departments.

But if literature’s continued survival is not in question, the terms under which it survives certainly are. It may well be the case, for instance, that literature survives under the sign of “teaching,” and writing becomes the figure under which research-intensive appointments are distributed.

Whether voluntary, forced, or negotiated, most of those changes will be to a balance of disciplinary power over which literature’s grip is slipping—and most will involve the figure of writing.

Works Cited

Berlin, James. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures: Refiguring College English Studies. Parlor Press, 2003 (repr of 1996 NCTE edition with response essays).

Bousquet, Marc. How The University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation. NYU Press, 2008.

Connors, Robert. Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Crowley, Sharon. Composition in the University: Historical and Polemical Essays. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998.

Downing, David. “Beyond Disciplinary English: Integrating Reading and Writing By Reforming Academic Labor.” Pp 23-38 in David B. Downing, Claude Mark Hurlbert, and Paula Mathieu, eds. Beyond English Inc.: Curricular Reform in a Global Economy. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2002.

—-. The Knowledge Contract: Politics and Paradigms in the Academic Workplace. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

McComiskey, Bruce, ed. English Studies: An Introduction to the Disciplines. Urbana, NCTE, 2006.

Miller, Richard. “The Arts of Complicity: Pragmatism and the Culture of Schooling.” College English 61.1(September 1998): 10-28.

Modern Language Association. Education in the Balance: A report on the Academic Workforce in English. Web publication, 10 December 2008. Available at: http://www.mla.org/pdf/workforce_rpt02.pdf Accessed June 1, 2009.

—-. Report to the Teagle Foundation on the Undergraduate Major in Language and Literature. Web publication, February 2009. Available at: http://www.mla.org/pdf/2008_mla_whitepaper.pdf Accessed June 1, 2009.

North, Stephen. Refiguring the PhD in English Studies: Writing, Doctoral Education and the Fusion-Based Curriculum. Urbana: NCTE, 2000.

Syracuse University English Department. “Home Page.” Available at: http://english.syr.edu/ Accessed June 1, 2009.

Syracuse University Writing Program. “Description of the Writing Major.” Available at: http://wrt.syr.edu/major/ Accessed June 1, 2009.

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America’s Least Dangerous Professors http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2009 23:29:23 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184 At the annual convention of the Modern Language Association last month, David Horowitz once more shared a panel with AAUP President Cary Nelson, who has previously replied to Horowitz’s exaggerated claims of bias in the classroom. As Chronicle Review editor Liz McMillen’s coverage pointed out, there wasn’t much actual debate in this over-hyped appearance, which featured almost as many security guards as audience members.

The real draw was the more timely panel featuring Stanley Fish debating critics of his notion that faculty should shut up and “do their jobs.” (Staging a meeting between Horowitz and an articulate critic has been done before.)

As many others have pointed out, where students have been given the chance to protest grades based on faculty political bias, they rarely do so. The few complaints made are even more rarely upheld, and are just as likely to be claims of right-wing bias.

In my view, Horowitz is manufacturing a problem in order to push a real agenda: ie, by making exaggerated and often simply ridiculous claims about left-wing bias in classroom instruction and the “danger” that faculty political beliefs represent to student learning, he wishes to sweepingly institute affirmative action for right-wing scholars in hiring, and employ “intellectual diversity” as a wedge to force conservative ideas onto curricula.

The author of The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, Horowitz has openly identified himself as a partisan political operative, receives substantial right-wing foundation funding, but wishes to represent himself as casually thrown up by a grassroots student movement.

On the other hand, faculty and graduate students are finding that their academic freedom is under actual, sustained and intensifying assault.

This is most obvious among the faculty serving nontenurably, now the overwhelming majority of college faculty. Not counting graduate students, or factoring for widespread administrative under-reporting, in 2005 at least 70% of all U.S. faculty served on nontenurable appointments.

Nontenurabililty is the norm of academic employment; therefore it is now simply normal for college faculty to enjoy little to no protection of their academic freedoms, as Cary Nelson makes clear in one of the more popular videos in our series. The precariousness of their employment means that most can be retaliated against for almost any speech or action, without the administration engaging in due process (or even giving a reason) by the simple expedient of non-reappointment.

As reported in this month’s Academe, in one particularly egregious case investigated by AAUP’s Committee A, a North Idaho faculty member serving contingently was retaliated against by an administration that had a beef with her tenured spouse.

The report concludes:

The case of Jessica Bryan exemplifies the plight of many contingent faculty members: vulnerable and insecure no matter how long and how well they might have served their institution. An experienced, highly regarded parttime English instructor with thirteen uninterrupted semesters of teaching at North Idaho College, Ms. Bryan was informed by e-mail on the last day of the fall 2007 semester that the administration would not offer her any courses to teach in the spring (or any time thereafter, it would appear) despite the fact that other part-time instructors junior to her in years of service were being assigned courses she had taught for more than six years and the administration engaged new instructors to teach some of those courses in fall 2008. When she asked for a substantive explanation for its decision not to reappoint her, the administration, through college counsel, declined to do so. When she requested an opportunity for faculty review of her claim that inadequate consideration had been given to her qualifications and that the decision resulted in significant measure from impermissible considerations, the administration, again through college counsel, told her that the contract governing her temporary appointment afforded her no such rights.

So far from the intellectual “threats” and “dangers” that Horowitz imagines, most faculty are in fact reticent and easily intimidated, living perpetually “30 seconds from humiliation,” just as Anonymous describes.

The report goes on to suggest the “chilling effect” that the absence of protections has on the contingent faculty majority. They might well have added to that the chilling effect that the ability to do this to one’s spouse or partner has on many of the tenured–some estimates calculate that at least a third of all faculty partners are other faculty.

Dangerous? One can only wish that every campus had a handful of faculty who were half the threat that Horowitz imagines.

Coming attractions: new video featuring Paul Lauter and Gary Rhoades, among many others….

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Early Learning http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/181 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/181#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2009 19:38:45 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/181 One of the things that child-rearing has taught H. and myself is that parenting is the new mystical Belief System in Many Flavors. Like the old belief systems still causing wars around the planet, Parenting Choices (PC) are not really suitable dinner conversation.

Those whose children are older don’t fight with each other about these issues, but put a wild-eyed First-Time Parent at the table, all hopped up on hormones, sleep deprivation and a bookshelf of contradictory advice and you’re guaranteed a sectarian conflict. The first-timers can’t keep their matches away from the conversational gasoline.

Best case scenario with a First Time Parent at the table is you’re going to lose half an hour to a food fight among the adults. That is, a fight about food–when to give solids, how long to breastfeed, using formula, which formula, blah, blah, blah. And what to an outsider might appear to be just an animated conversation is actually high-stakes moral combat. Reputations are going to be ruined. Friendships destroyed. “You gave him solids starting when?”

And food is just the beginning. Committed parents have beliefs with Great and Unshakeable Moral Authority about sleeping, diapering, speaking, playing, music, other caregivers, potty training, and early learning. Have a little boy? Wait ’til somebody wants to talk about circumcision over an otherwise charming lunch. (Think I’m making this up? I was that guy.)

Seriously. The big parenting cohort that a parent or couple begins with, say a local moms’ group, birth class, or the like–the choices of the first year or so whittle that huge bunch into a congeries of warring cliques based on compatibility of belief systems: Moms with Formula and Cloth Diapers but No Solid Foods; Dads who Co-Sleep and De-frost Breast-milk, etc.

Later, truces will be declared based on choices about day care and pre-schools, but certain parents will remember your Belief System for Infants years later even while sitting on the same pre-school boards: “I remember him from the parents’ group: they gave little Sophie turkey at six months!” “She thought they’d let Hector decide whether to get circumcised when he was a teenager!”

Einstein had parents, therefore?
Occasionally, you have pre-existing friends who have children at about the same time as you. This is somewhat different. With your birth class and mom’s group, it’s okay to throw people socially overboard for making One Wrong Choice. There are plenty more brand-new acquaintances where they came from.

But with your existing friends you have to ride out their Incredibly Bad Parenting without comment. And they have to do the same with your lousy choices.  You wouldn’t rush into your friend’s house of worship and start howling “Idolater!” or “It’s just a wafer!”

But being parents, and having little time for anything except perhaps a guilty hour with Top Chef, and if you are incredibly selfish, an occasional visit to the gym, you have nothing else to talk about anyway. You are driven, absolutely compelled to discuss all the Forbidden Topics and Mysteries of your particular Parenting Religion, even with your friends with whom you have Irreconcilable Differences.

This leads inevitably to recriminations between couples and late-night anxieties, while one’s own Nearly Perfect Child naps on your vomit-stained shoulder.

Take our friends, the parents of A., who fortunately for us would probably more or less belong to our parenting clique anyway. (Thereby averting much strain on a twenty-year friendship.) But since our child is a couple of months older, we are always trying not to say, “oh, wait until [amazing next phase]” or “you absolutely must try [mandatory new belief system to which all Right Thinking Parents subscribe].”

But because we believe in using our child as a developmental-activities crash test dummy, we are always fooling around with “early learning” toys and programs.

You may not have heard of this particular one–it’s more popular in Europe–but we confessed to our friends that we’d ordered a copy of one of the more experimental early introductions to hyper-competition, YOUR CHILD CAN PLAY CHESS AT SIX MONTHS! (or something like that).

Our feelings were mixed, but if our Uniquely Gifted Child wanted to master the intricacies of opening with the queen’s pawn, we wanted to support him in that ambition.

So we shared this particular decision with our mostly parenting-compatible Friends of Many Decades, sparking anxiety and the following email:

Year 1
Emile finishes Remembrance of Things Past
A. can’t stop eating dirt

Year 10
Emile accepted early admission to Yale
A. continues toilet training

Year 20
Emile retires from a successful career as software inventor
A. pokes a dead animal with a sharp stick
reprinted with the permission of Friends of Many Decades

This of course triggered our own mixed feelings about the possible trauma of even one experimental exposure to YOUR CHILD CAN PLAY CHESS AT SIX MONTHS, and Chagrined Spouse sent the following response:

Year 1
A. plants a vegetable garden
Emile screams “you are poopy” to checkout boy

Year 10
A. wins architecture prize for green design house on back of property
Emile smokes weed and plays guitar behind convenience store across from school

Year 20
A. is elected mayor of home town, wins “best place to live”
Emile playing in garage band in parents garage

I’m sure this seems like small beans to those of you who actually have teenagers. (Hint: if you do have teens at home, absolutely do NOT read the twin Bay area memoirs by the Sheffs, father and son, about the son’s methamphetamine addiction, no matter how many times you pass the books at Starbucks or hear about them on NPR.)

I hear parenting is a lifelong journey–like recovery–in which you get over the idea that the choices of parents Absolutely Determine a child’s Prospects for Future Happiness and Success.

I’m definitely going to work on relaxing about parenting later today. When I have a minute.

First I have to go talk to Emile, who’s just pushed his king’s bishop to queen’s knight six.

In our next installment: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagoyevich survives impeachment by quoting Tennyson, thereby confirming all of the conclusions of the MLA/Teagle report, “Reading Books Certified as Literary Masterpieces by College Presidents and State Legislators Has Both Scientific and Magical Benefits Superior to Reading Absolutely Anything Else.” In other news, Eliot Spitzer issues a statement apologizing for not quoting Henry James more often during his governorship.

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Blunders in the MLA Staffing Report http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/175 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/175#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2008 04:54:19 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/175 Part 1: Overview & Key Facts
Part 2: Kudos for Recommendations
Part 3: Complaints and concerns
Part 4: Interview with Paul Lauter

There are some problems with MLA’s representation of the needs and circumstances of the nontenurable faculty. If you want to know how they really live and think, watch Linda Janakos’s documentary, Teachers on Wheels. Really, watch it: she’s a much better filmmaker than I’ll ever be.

All reports of this kind are a compromise, and not all compromises are successful. The authors of this report are frank about being divided on the issue of nontenurable faculty between the meliorative, pragmatic and sometimes apologist position long represented by committee chair David Bartholomae and the view, long represented by committee member Paul Lauter, that a permanently nontenurable faculty is “an illegitimate exercise of institutional authority.”

The effective compromise between these positions is the committee’s endorsement of rights and privileges for the nontenurable that are as similar as possible to those of the tenured. (Elsewhere, I’ve written about this kind of compromise under the heading of “the intricate evasions of as.”)

I don’t think this tension would have been magically resolved by having nontenurable faculty on the committee—I co-chair AAUP’s committee on faculty serving contingently, and can say that most welcome just about any melioration of their condition, but not the patronizing apologetics that usually accompany the fairly pervasive intrusions on their academic freedom, sense of professional belonging, personal dignity, workplace rights, and economic security—often by tenure-stream faculty serving as their immediate supervisors, union reps, and department chairs.

But I do think representation on this kind of committee should map closely onto the profession—with graduate students, faculty serving contingently, and tenured faculty with a track record on the issues in reasonable proportion. (On the AAUP committee, I’m the only tenured member, and serve as co-chair over my own repeated objection.) Many of the facts and lived realities that caught the MLA staff and some of its committee members by surprise are decades-old news to the majority of college faculty.

For me, the single most troubling line of apologetic pursued by the report is its discussion of the “freeway flyer” stereotype of faculty serving contingently.

Who’s not a Freeway Flier?

On page 13, the committee suggests that freeway fliers are only those persons who report a household income of less than $25,000, calculating by this arbitrary and whimsical standard that the group comprises less than twenty percent of all those serving contingently. By contrast, the authors note,

as we know from anecdote and experience, some part-time non-tenure track faculty members are also spouses or partners tenured and tenure-track faculty members; others have full-time jobs elsewhere, or want to maintain contact with the university but prefer not to be subjected to the conditions—especially the publication requirements—of a tenure-track appointment.

Hm. Really not good. Is the report saying that someone teaching on multiple campuses and unable to get degree-appropriate tenure-track work isn’t a “freeway flier” or distressed member of the academic community because they are either a) spouses or partners of tenure-track faculty members or b) married to someone else with a decent income? Isn’t it a problem for this largely female workforce regardless of their marital or cohabitation choices? Given the gendered division of labor here, isn’t this veering into sexism?

Few faculty serving contingently would support this definition, which arbitrarily excludes most freeway flyers from their own lived experience and self-definition and imposes the skeptical ignorance of the dominant gaze. Kinda like: “Well, gee, you don’t look gay.”

What’s the big deal? Well, it both excludes and diminishes the experience of Anonymous, who has lived her career, as she says, “thirty seconds from humiliation,” has a spouse with a decent income, but nonetheless works in the field for which she trained because she needs the money. What about Monica Jacobe, who has been an adjunct on multiple campuses for the better part of a decade and has never made $30,000 in a year? Because they are married to men with doctorates earning more than $50,000 and less than $100,000, the household income of both women is in the upper 20 or 25% of all part-time faculty in English: woo-hoo! Nothing to look at here, folks. These ladies are rolling in it.

It’s hard to understand the point of this particular observation except as apologism or an inept swipe at the Cary Nelson crowd. It’s not as bad as those agitators and malcontents are saying. The adjuncts I know always seem pretty happy when they come to dinner with their spouse. Why, if you look at the numbers, lots of these adjuncts are happy and doing pretty well–some of them are married to millionaires!

A better way to get at this issue would be to track the role of gender, and the role of restructured academic employment in how individuals got into these positions. Instead of implying that everything’s peachy if you’re married to a professor (just ask Melanie Hubbard or the blogger Adjunct Whore), and hinting that they don’t really want to publish, why not ask faculty serving contingently if they’re doing so involuntarily because their spouse’s employer doesn’t have a rational spousal hiring policy? Or because the employer doesn’t make reasonable accommodations for childrearing?

Even the discussion of those who “prefer” part-time employment is problematic. It’s not as if preferring part-time employment means that the individual endorses the conditions under which they serve.

Why not ask if the person would prefer secure “fractional employment” over freeway flying?

Why not ask faculty with children if they’d prefer to be able to move from part-time fractional (and teaching intensive) employment to full-time and/or research-intensive at other points in their careers? That would be actual flexibility, by the way, not the cheap administrator tyranny we have at present.

There are other complaints and cavils to make. The report addresses gender, however imperfectly, but not class and race, or the intersection of class and race in the “wealth gap.”

The committee takes the step of recommending a set ratio of full-time and tenured to part-time faculty to graduate students, but doesn’t explain how it got to the different percentages, or justifying those percentages in the context of other recommendations.

Even as it recommends more tenure in the “lower division,” the report privileges the “upper division,” as if it is necessarily worse to have adjuncts in the upper division. Perhaps the resources of full-time tenure-track faculty are best deployed in the “lower” division—as some recent research suggests.

The report talks about graduate employees as instructors of record but bypasses the issue of their workload, their prospects in the profession and—again–the role of class and the ethnic/racial wealth gap in relentlessly influencing who is eligible to make the economically irrational “choice” to even think about the undergraduate major and the graduate education that fifteen years or more down the road will allow them to join the professoriate.

MLA staff need to much more comprehensively engage the scholarship of higher education employment, and should make a much larger effort to bring the majority faculty serving contingently into active membership and leadership.

In general, this report is a very welcome contribution and significant departure from some of MLA’s bad old ways in the bad old days. Many faculty serving contingently will nonetheless feel that some of its compromise moments represent mis-steps.

These mostly have to do with the managerial orientation of the committee’s chair and–column for another time–the administrative bias in the organization of MLA itself, which caters to department chairs in the ADE/ADFL arrangement, and as a result has steadily privileged the dilemma of the person who “doesn’t have enough resources to staff the department’s offerings” over the situation of the person being pushed into one of the scheduler’s McJobs.

I’ll be saying more about this report in my two appearances at MLA, as will Paul Lauter, one of the committee’s authors. (Which, together with our interview, will be an opportunity to correct any errors on my part!) I’d be glad to see you there.

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The MLA Report on the Academic Workforce in English http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/174 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/174#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2008 04:26:48 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/174 Literally a decimation. And so many women faculty, toiling out of the tenure stream for incredibly low wages. 

Part 1: Key facts and kudos
Part 2: Complaints and concerns
Part 3: Interview with Paul Lauter

Most of my blogging between now and early January will relate to the worst-timed gathering in the profession, the Modern Language Assocation annual convention Dec 27-30, with a strong bias toward faculty in English studies.

Feel free to tune out if you don’t care about what happens to one of the largest teaching faculties in the country, encountering nearly every student—including disproportionate encounters with those who don’t earn degrees or never make it out of the first year.

I wouldn’t blame you for not caring much about these teachers—the Modern Language Association has only recently taken real notice of them, having abandoned meaningful consideration of lower-division disciplinary issues to NCTE’s Conference on College Composition and Communication. Ditto for workplace matters, which the late Phyllis Franklin once announced to me was “really AAUP’s job.” English studies is still reaping the fruits of Franklin’s leadership today—a rich, briskly efficient disciplinary association that can’t quite bring itself to reach into the crapper where the discipline’s most immiserated faculty desperately swirl….

That’s why the recent Report on the Academic Workforce (large pdf) is a mixed bag for me personally.

On the one hand, I’m happy and relieved to see some of the major recommendations in this report, and think it takes a number of critical, long-awaited steps in data gathering, angle of analysis, policy thought, and disciplinary self-reflection. It’s the first time I can say that the MLA has made a thoroughgoing effort to describe how faculty are really employed in English, and make recommendations based on that reality. It’s a must-read for anyone in the field.

On the other hand, despite welcoming most of the recommendations, graduate employees and faculty serving contingently—not to mention quite a few of us writing on these issues—can be forgiven their disappointment that it’s taken MLA so long to act on observations and demands that have been made with perfect clarity over the past quarter-century, since the events leading to the landmark Wyoming Conference Resolution. (In one of the interviews she gave about the report, Franklin’s successor Rosemary Feal claims that the shift to a nontenurable faculty has been “rapid and largely unnoticed.” Um, not really.)

It’s a long report, and I have a lot to say about it, plus—I hope—an interview with Paul Lauter, one of the report’s authors, and one of the earliest and best analysts of the role that permatemping began to play in English by the early 1970s. A couple of key facts in this post; more key facts and kudos in the next; complaints, concerns and interview with Paul to follow.

Key Facts

+ Between 1993 and 2004, the hiring of nontenurable faculty continued to dramatically outpace tenure-track hiring in the profession as a whole. In terms of raw numbers, however, most disciplines actually gained tenure track lines, or at least held steady. Political science gained 2.5% new lines; philosophy and religion packed on 43%.

English, however, lost over 3000 tenure track lines, an average annual loss of 300 positions. This amounted to slightly more than 1 in every 10 tenurable position in English—literally a decimation. If that trend proves to have continued—and all indications are that it has–by early next year we will have shed another 1500 lines.

+ Rewards in English are profoundly stratified by gender. While men hold the majority of tenure-track lines in Carnegie Research and Master’s institutions, women hold a substantial majority of tenurable lines at the less prestigious baccalaureate and two-year schools.

Only a third of tenurable positions in community college English departments are held by men. Additionally, women continue to substantially outnumber men in nontenurable positions—both full and part-time at every institution type.

Part 1, with more key facts and kudos regarding some of the recommendations, will continue….

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Downwardly Mobile! http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/138 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/138#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2008 12:48:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/138 Part 1 of an interview with Melanie Hubbard, a Columbia Ph.D. with articles, an NEH fellowship, and a book contract who has never been interviewed for a tenure-track job while serving on full-time contingent appointments for 10 years.

MB. How would you describe your situation?

MH. Downwardly mobile! I was a teaching assistant at an Ivy League school. I taught my dissertation at a proto-Ivy school. Then I taught the gamut of English courses at a second-tier school. I taught four years of composition at a tuition-driven third-tier private institution. Now I’m unemployed.

MB. As many as one-third of faculty have faculty partners. Did your decision to live with your husband and children affect your ability to find employment or get interviews?

MH. Interviews? Are you kidding? I’ve never had an interview… When the MLA Profession 2007 reports that there isn’t a lost generation of scholars, I have to say I am one. There is a lost generation of scholars. Here we all are. I’m not working. I’m depending on the kindness of my husband.

Read more: Job Market Theory (pdf, pp 15-20) and The Waste Product of Graduate Education (pdf, pp21-27).

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