Recent Scholarship on Contingency: Forum (September 2017) in The Journal of the Conference on College Composition & Communication

Over the course of several blog entries, I will call attention to recent scholarly work on contingency.

Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, an insert in The Journal of the Conference on College Composition & Communication, vol. 69, no. 1, 2017, pp. A1-A16.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) publishes Forum once a year in the September issue of The Journal of the Conference on College Composition & Communication. (The NCTE also publishes a second issue of Forum in the March issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College.) As the name of the journal suggests, the insert focuses on contingency in higher education.

In what follows, I will provide a brief overview of the Forum that appears in the September 2017 issue:

  • Amy Lynch-Biniek’s “From the Editor: Amplifying Labor Research and Advocacy”
  • Steve Fox and Mick Powers’ “Half a Loaf? Hard Lessons When Promoting Adjunct Faculty”
  • Sue Doe’s “The University Center as Institutional Advocate: CSAL—The Center for the Study of Academic Labor”

Lynch-Biniek’s “From the Editor”

In the “From the Editor” section (A1-A3), Amy Lynch-Biniek focuses on “Amplifying Research and Advocacy.” Lynch-Biniek observes that “labor research focused on higher education has not enjoyed the same academic capital as other subjects” (A1). The editor laments that the lower profile of labor research makes it difficult to access scholarship on labor (A1). More importantly, the lower status of labor research in higher education renders it less familiar, which has the effect of reinforcing contingency as the norm in higher education (A2).

Fox and Powers’ Case Study on “Promoting Adjunct Faculty”

To help raise the profile of labor research, Lynch-Biniek provides a case study by Steve Fox and Mick Powers entitled “Half a Loaf? Hard Lessons When Promoting Adjunct Faculty.” Fox and Powers, both at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), discuss their efforts to apply “faculty equity” between tenured faculty and adjuncts through their efforts to “implement a promotion policy for part-time faculty” (A4).

As Fox and Powers describe, IUPUI created a promotion process for part-time faculty (2014) that included a ten percent raise but no contract beyond a semester or any other job protections (A6-A7). The promotion process involved creating a dossier that mirrored the dossier that tenure track faculty present when they go up for tenure. As part of this promotion, promoted adjunct faculty receive first consideration for course sections over adjunct faculty that have not been promoted (A6-A7).

Fox and Powers describe the limitations of this promotion project for adjuncts within the context of “a severe budget crisis” (A8). If tenured faculty are required to teach an extra class, then those extra classes are taken from adjunct faculty, including the promoted faculty (A8). This drastic situation can negate the promotion of adjuncts if jobs are taken away from them (A9).

Although Fox and Powers note the importance of showing support to adjunct faculty by providing opportunities for promotion, their case study shows the limitations of those efforts because of the systemic inequity of higher education (A10). They express concern that praise of support for contingent faculty should not impede larger, more radical changes in labor norms in higher education (A10). They balance a step forward taken on behalf of adjunct faculty with the steps that still need to be taken to improve the lives of contingent faculty members.

Doe and the Center for the Study of Academic Labor

Lynch-Biniek follows through on her call to raise the profile of labor research by including Sue Doe’s “The University Center as Institutional Advocate: CSAL—The Center for the Study of Academic Labor” (A12-A16). Doe is among the directors of the CSAL and also co-edits Academic Labor: Research and Artistry, a publication of the CSAL. Her article provides a useful profile of the work that she and her colleagues do at the CSAL.

The CSAL and its journal focus on research devoted to contingency studies and tenure studies (A12). They are committed to providing data to scholars on “efforts in shared governance, unionized efforts, professional association advocacy, legislative efforts, and government data collection” (A12).

Aligned with Lynch-Biniek’s concerns in the “From the Editor” section of Forum, Doe’s goal for the CSAL is to help to “legitimize scholarship on the topic of contingency; to archive, sponsor, and publicize efforts to address contingency; and to engage faculty of all ranks in discussions of higher education’s increasing reliance upon and allegiance to strategies of contingent employment” (A15).

Closing Thoughts

I have been reading The Journal of the Conference on College Composition & Communication since 2012 and always look forward to the latest issue of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty. It is a valuable addition to a journal that is so important to Writing Studies.

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