CFP, Deadline Revised: Open Words, special issue on Contingent Labor and Educational Access

June 23, 2011

Amy Lynch-Biniek (Kutztown U), Sharon Henry (U of Akron) and I have decided to extend the deadline for submissions to our special issue of Open Words on Contingent Labor and Educational Access. We got lots of great ideas and concepts, and any number of “I wish I could, but the timing really stinks” notes, and we decided that the material is important enough to warrant the wait. So if you’re somebody who decided not to submit because the June 1 deadline wasn’t convenient, we urge you to reconsider.

The CFP, with dates revised, is below. We look forward to hearing from you.


Call for Papers

Open Words Special Issue on Contingent Labor and Educational Access

Deadline for Submissions: First drafts, August 1, 2011; Second drafts, December 15, 2011

Guest editors Seth Kahn (West Chester University of PA); Amy Lynch-Biniek (Kutztown University of PA); and Sharon Henry (University of Akron)

This special issue of Open Words invites contributors to consider relationships among three issues–contingent labor, educational access, and non-mainstream student populations (by which we mean both non-traditional students, in demographic terms, and populations more likely to be served by colleges recently than they have been historically)–all of which the fields of composition and literacy studies have struggled with for decades. Scholarship and policy statements on contingent labor are replete with calls for equity, variously articulated but vigorous nonetheless—and with occasional exceptions, largely unsuccessful. The intensity with which we’ve written about open-admissions and open-access higher education institutions has waxed and waned over the years, but big questions about the roles of literacy instruction, the micro- and macro-politics of higher education, critical pedagogy, and many more bear on the working, teaching, and learning conditions of open-access campuses as heavily as, if not more than, anywhere else. Finally, we’ve thought and written a great deal about working with non-mainstream students (i.e., students often served by open-admissions institutions, but increasingly at other kinds of schools as well), and again, still face large-scale structural problems with ensuring equitable opportunity and quality learning experiences for them. Individually, the problems facing contingent faculty, those facing open-access institutions, and those facing non-mainstream students are difficult. Taken together, we believe they are exponentially more complicated.

Thus the motivation for this issue: we work and live at a time when the American cultural and economic politics are pushing against labor equity and quality education; when colleges and universities operate according to corporate logics that consistently work to dehumanize faculty and students. While these forces come to bear on contingent faculty, open-admissions campuses, and non-mainstream students in unique ways, we also believe that careful analysis of such conditions presents significant possibilities for positive changes across levels and types of institutions. At the risk of sounding cliché, even managerial, difficult situations really do sometimes present unique opportunities.

With that frame in mind, we invite contributions for our Spring 2012 issue addressing relations of contingent labor, open access, and non-mainstream students; manuscripts (generally 15-25 pp., although we will review longer submissions) might consider these questions, or use them as provocations to ask and answer others:

  • How does the increasing reliance on adjunct faculty on open-admissions campuses (and/or campuses serving largely non-mainstream student populations) impact students’ learning conditions? Faculty’s working conditions? Academic freedom? Curricular control? And how are these situations complicated at institutions employing graduate teaching assistants?
  • Why is the casualization of academic labor happening more quickly, or to greater degree, on open-admissions campuses and campuses serving non-mainstream students? What strategies do faculty, both contingent and permanent, and students have at our disposal to respond to the inequitable conditions facing us?
  • How do the interests of open-admission, community, vocational/technical, and branch university campus faculty coincide/overlap with the interests of students and administrators? How do these interests differ?
  • How is the trend toward hiring non-tenure track faculty affecting the teaching of writing? As PhDs in literature, for example, are pushed out of tenure lines into these non-tenure lines, how do their (probable) lack of familiarity with composition scholarship and theory, and differing professional commitments to teaching writing, impact students, programs, and other faculty on our campuses? And, how is this trend affecting literature programs and the degrees to which they can address the interests and concerns of their ‘non-mainstream’ students?
  • To what extent are contingent faculty involved in curricular and/or professional development, and to what extent can/should they be? How might departments/units balance the desire to involve contingent faculty in curriculum development, or placement (for example), with the minimal (if any) compensation most units offer for the work? How does this problem become more complex on campuses serving large populations of non-mainstream students with large numbers of contingent faculty?

Please submit manuscripts electronically, in MS Word (.doc or .docx) or Rich Text Format (.rtf), to Seth Kahn ( by August 1, 2011.


And another question about shared sacrifice

March 7, 2011

Yesterday, I wrote a critique of the current shared sacrifice trope in debates about budgets at federal and state levels.  The basic point, if you didn’t read it and don’t feel like reading it now, is that not only are the current budget-cutting efforts happening primarily on the backs of the non-rich, but that the rich are in fact benefitting from every single implication of those cuts.  It’s not even not-shared sacrifice; it’s actually redistribution of wealth and power from the bottom up.

Thinking this morning about our faculty union’s current negotiations, I have to ask the question in our context too.  We hear, over and over, that the current economic situation in our state is calling for shared sacrifice.  And our union, as we’ve made quite clear, understands the economic terrain–just as well or better than our system’s negotiators do, because we live with the consequences of it EVERY DAY.  I’m sorry, y’all, but that’s a divide that system management simply can’t cross.  We work, on the ground, with students, faculty, staff, and our local management; we see the direct implications of the state’s economic situation every time a student has to drop out of school because of financial problems, or a faculty member is retrenched, or another manager gets hired, or groundskeepers have to buy their own gloves and masks in order to be safe at their jobs, or…

So, when faculty sacrifice by taking on larger clases, more advisees, increased research expectations with decreased support, salaries that lag behind inflation even before you account for our increasing contributions to benefits packages (which I don’t begrudge, except to the extent that PASSHE management doesn’t seem especially inclined to do the hard work of fighting for better deals because the costs aren’t the same for them), shrinking academic freedom as teaching and research opportunities shrink in the face of increasing student bodies and mandatory “efficiencies” (like our state’s 60-credit transfer articulation agreement), …

Most of these sacrifices, management can make a case for on a one-by-one basis: accept larger classes in return for x; pay more for your benefits in return for y.  The problems are two:

(1) Taken together, they represent a huge problem.  It’s very, very difficult to do the job we’re hired for if every day we have to undertake another rear-guard action to protect our ability to do our jobs.  More directly–when we have to spend as much energy defending our work conditions as doing our work, there’s a big problem.  The problem is, as I think we call know, that anti-academic forces then use that problem as an argument against public higher education.  They get to say (although they’re lying) that faculty are greedy (we’re selling out our students in order to negotiate better contracts) and ineffective (we’re not working hard enough).  We all know that’s bullshit, but it plays well in the press.

(2) Closer to what I thought I’d be writing when I started this post–as faculty bargain away more and more of our positive working conditions in the face of supposed economic catastrophe, where’s the sharing?  That is, what is management giving up in return, and on what grounds are we faculty to believe it’s anywhere near proportional to our own sacrifices?  As faculty positions haven’t grown in proportion to increasing student bodies while management positions have skyrocketed, even as slight reduction on management hires doesn’t come close to balancing that out.  We also all know that because management salaries aren’t on steps or regular increments, they can play all sorts of accounting games with when and how raises are allocated (and often backpaid) so they can say they sacrificed the very raises they were still able to bank.

And beyond that, following closer the logic I started laying out yesterday, there’s an argument to be made that management doesn’t simply avoid sacrificing, but actually benefits when faculty gives up hard won territory.  When fewer of us are teaching more students, cobbling together more grants so we can afford to do any research, advising more, administering programs and departments with shrinking support, and all the rest of it, we’re also less likely to participate in shared governance (on whose time? with whose energy?); we (especially junior and temporary faculty) are scared for our jobs and less likely to make waves; we spend a lot more time doing management’s work for them (my last two CCCC papers are about the trickle-down of management work onto faculty, obscuring that phenomenon by calling it “shared governance”); and on and on.

I’m not as angry at our system management as I am at the Scott Walkers/Tom Corbetts/Chris Christies/Koch brothers/Tea Partiers of the world.  I’ve met a couple of our upper managers and, while I don’t especially appreciate some (most?) of the moves they make, I don’t distrust them personally.  Let’s put it this way–it very often doesn’t seem like their commitments to the work of the system are the same as ours.  There are lots of reasons that might be, and lots of ways of accounting for it, and even probably some good responses to it.

But for now, the important thing is that I see scant evidence that our state system is coming anywhere close to the level of sacrifice they continually ask faculty for, and it’s increasingly difficult to motivate faculty to keep sacrificing without some sense that we’re not the only ones doing it.

UPDATE: Comrade (!) Kevin Mahoney at the KUXchange has written extensively and convincingly about Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine, one of the more convincing descriptions of how PASSHE covers for its decisions in economic terms.  His colleague Amy Lynch-Biniek has done some good work calling attention to the inattention system management pays to what matters about teaching and learning, namely, teaching and learning.

“Who does that help?”

February 8, 2011

At last weekend’s APSCUF Legislative Assembly, delegates were treated to a Q&A session from our recently hired Chief Negotiator Stewart (or Stuart?) Davidson.  I won’t talk here about the specifics of what he said, except to say that he was impressive.

A comment he made about how he approaches negotiations (something to the effect of always reminding the other side that we do, in fact, have a shared mission) got me thinking (long chain of associations, the underlying rationale behind it between me and God) about one way we (all of us APSCUF members) ought to be responding to just about every management “initiative” or “challenge” we face these days.

What happens if we insist on asking one simple question: Who does this help? 

Notice I’m not asking “What’s the benefit?”  I’m emphasizing “Who” because our management, even the saner, more humane ones, seem to need an occasional reminder that at the end of the day, our system is made up of actual people. 

So, who does it help when KU (or Mansfield, or Shippensburg, or…) management issues retrenchment letters?  It sure doesn’t help the retrenched faculty, who lose their jobs.  It doesn’t help the rest of the faculty, who have to soak up the extra work their former colleagues can’t do any more–or see bargaining unit work get shipped off to other units where it doesn’t belong.  It doesn’t help the students to see programs cut, or classes grow, or advising get thinner because there are fewer people to do it.  It doesn’t help the community.  It doesn’t help the Commonwealth keep students from leaving the state for greener pastures, or keep alums in the state because of their fond memories of watching their faculty get fired and their programs canceled. 

So, who does it help when WCU management tries to comply with the 25% temporary faculty cap in the CBA by simply firing as many adjunct faculty as they can?  Not the students–class sizes inevitably go up.  Not the faculty–class sizes go up, reassign time is harder to come by…  Not departments, who still face pressures to increase majors, course offerings; to comply with sometimes bizarre and/or labarynthine mandates from agencies nobody recognizes…  Management, somebody might argue, benefits from evading a loss at arbitration, but that’s not a “Who.”  And that’s precisely why I insist on asking the question that way. 

I could keep adding examples here, but I think the principle is pretty clear.  If anybody who reads the blog is interested in adding examples, by all means do! 

The most important thing to remember here, I really believe is that we’re not professor-bots; our students aren’t student-bots; our managers aren’t manager-bots.  If we all make a good faith effort to remember that formulas, systems, projections, policies, and all the rest of it don’t mean jack shit in the absence of *people*, then navigating the current terrain of budget problems and bad government leadership (Oh, hi Governor Corbett) gets a lot easier.

Slashing jobs is good, right?

September 1, 2010

This post on today’s Daily Kos reports that the top 50 job-slashing CEOs in the US earned nearly $600 million dollars last year.


Apparently, because nobody can currently afford to buy anything, the way to maximize profits is to cut costs by firing people. So humane.

As I was reading the post, the word “retrenchment” jumped out of it at me. Yesterday, I learned that now 8 (more than half) the universities in the PASSHE system have announced plans to retrench faculty in the coming year. So humane.

Apparently, the PASSHE Office of the Chancellor subscribes to the same logic as its corporate brethren (yes, that’s gendered on purpose). To cut costs, fire the people who do the work and therefore earn actual pay.

The problem, of course, is that many of the campuses have seen (and continue to project) GROWING enrollments; that is, what PASSHE is doing is EVEN WORSE than the corporate sphere. Not only is PASSHE shedding jobs, but they’re asking faculty to cover the work of the faculty who get retrenched, and to do more work by teaching more students, all with fewer people and for less money.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is nearly psychopathic. The people who get paid obscene amounts of money to administer our system are inhumanely destroying the livelihoods of the faculty who can least afford to defend themselves (retrenchment begins with part time and temporary faculty, and then probationary, pre-tenured faculty next) or to lose their jobs. In the meantime, rather than shrinking operations to match the decreased capacity (which I’m not suggesting they do), they continue to admit more students.

The Chancellor of PASSHE published an opinion essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education a while back in which he made the case, clearly and correctly, that public universities simply should not and cannot be the battlegrounds on which budget battles get fought. We’ve compressed, economized, and austerity-fied ourselves to the bone already, and any more cuts will come at the expense of quality. At the time, he was exactly right. Now, the situation is even worse. Quality is already going by the wayside, and these continued cuts, accompanied by shamefully dishonest rhetoric about how dire the budget situation really is, threatens our ability to do anything other than survive–until our management pulls it collective head out of its collective you-know-where and puts its money where its mouth is.

Retrenchment at KU (repost)

March 11, 2010

If you haven’t already heard, retrenchment proceedings have begun at Kutztown University.  At an emergency local Meet and Discuss on Monday, KU management indicated that they intend to cut several programs that are underperforming (the list they provided is partial, and they won’t say which others are targeted), and that they intend to reduce the faculty complement (they won’t say by how much).

This news is troubling on several fronts.  First and most obviously, any move that reduces the size of the faculty is bad, especially as enrollments continue to increase.  There’s no way, under the circumstances, for class sizes not to grow and hence lead to all the negative impacts that come with it: reduced attention to individual students; reduced attention to other duties like advising, service, and scholarship; pedagogical and curricular shifts that don’t benefit anybody.

Second, of all the campuses in the PASSHE system, KU is the least likely candidate for retrenchment.  Their student body has grown, in proportion, much more quickly than any of the others.  Programs continue to achieve remarkable successes.

Third, beginning system-wide retrenchment proceedings with such a not-obvious target bodes very poorly for the rest of the system.  As I commented on the KUXchange blog, I can only believe that this move is more political than economic, and more economic than educational.  PASSHE has lobbed a hand-grenade into the middle of an already-difficult situation (dealing with economic problems state- and system-wide).  Based on their stances at both local-KU and statewide Meet and Discuss meetings, they seem disinclined to share the requisite data, to be clear about what their plans are, and to recognize the reality of what they’re doing.

Faculty aren’t just paychecks and FTE’s.  We’re people; most of us have committed huge chunks of our lives, time, energy, money, and more to being the best faculty we can be–to doing right by our students and our schools, to protecting an environment in which learning and teaching can happen at their best.  Retrenchment, even if really necessary, is an incredibly painful process.  To use it as a political tool; to deflect attention from management’s mistakes by blaming the economic problems of the system on those of us with the least power to have made the mistakes, much less correct them; to pit faculty against faculty in turf battles over which programs and jobs stay alive…  There’s no word bad enough to describe how inhumane that is.