Contingent Faculty

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"The Effect of Contingent Faculty on Introductory Writing Courses in Midwestern Community Colleges"

"The Effect of Contingent Faculty on Introductory Writing Courses in Midwestern Community Colleges"

Literature Review

It is no secret to most of community who work in college and university English departments that first-year writing is where new students go to be "cleaned up" before they begin the "real" work of upper-level courses. It is also no secret that few institutions that require students to take first-year writing courses staff them with full-time faculty. The class size, the labor-intensive course structure, and the seasonal nature of the work (in many places, more sections are offered in the fall) make first-year writing programs ripe for staffing by part-time faculty) (Dubson, 2006). The reality is that, as demonstrated in the 2000 report by the Modern Language Association's Committee on the Status of Women and the AAUP's 2006 Faculty Gender Equity Indicators report, women are more likely to be represented in the growing part-time and contingent faculty ranks, "the least secure, least remunerative, and least prestigious jobs among the full-time faculty."

Part-time and non-tenure-track positions thus become a primary place for women academics to live out their careers as "freeway flyers" without the benefit of health care, retirement, or job security. The economics that prompt dependence on part-time faculty reinforce the expectation that teaching first-year writing, exactly because it is labor intensive, underpaid, and supposedly "nurturing," is less rigorous or intellectually informed work than other areas of academia.

In English departments this convergence of factors produces a significant number of positions, both full and part time, that are off the tenure track, contingent, and more frequently held by women than men.

The number of "sad women in the basement" has multiplied since 1991, when writing studies scholar Susan Miller aptly and famously used that phrase to describe teachers of composition. Moreover, the gendering of "off-track" positions has been intensified by seismic shifts in academic hiring, including an overall decrease in the percentage of tenured and tenure-eligible faculty from about 57 percent in the 1970s to about 35 percent in 2006; level or decreased state budgetary support for public institutions; institutional investment that dictates that certain fields receive more tenure-eligible lines while others, including composition, increasingly rely on contingent faculty; and a blocked pipeline in which tenured senior faculty, remain in their positions longer, even as fewer replacement lines are made available. (Dubson, 2006)

While there has been a great deal of writing on the growth of the contingent faculty over the past thirty years, most of it has been purely descriptive and/or seemingly oriented toward the interests of administrators who hire or supervise contingent faculty (Gappa and Leslie, 2005). Recently there have also been books written or edited by contingent faculty themselves (Dubson, 2001; Schell and Stock, 2001). While welcome, and not mainly directed toward higher education administrators and their problems as managers, these books and articles have generally remained descriptive in character. Some of them contain exceedingly realistic and outraged stories of ...
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