Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Professional Issues: Can I haz tenure, please?

In addition to these texts we’ve read this week, I’ve run across other scholarship about administration (for both writing centers and writing programs) discussing the issue of administrative work and how to couch that admin work as scholarly (in terms of P&T). In K. B. Yancey and M. Morgan’s “Reflective Essays, Curriculum, and the Scholarship of Administration: Notes Toward Administrative Scholarly Work”, I saw an excellent example of how an administrator can situate their admin work as evidence of scholarly work. Their chapter argues that because scholarship is the production of new knowledge, inquiry about curricular design that leads to curricular redesign can be considered new knowledge, hence a kind of scholarship. 

Similarly, J. Gunner discusses “Professional Advancement of the WPA: Rhetoric and Politics in Tenure and Promotion,” and she highlights, too, the difficulty WPAs face during P&T when they have to present evidence of teaching and research. In distinguishing between Yancey and Morgan’s and Gunner’s pieces, Gunner presents concrete, specific advice for pre-junior faculty while Yancey and Morgan justify theoretically why admin work is scholarly. While I thought Yancey and Morgan’s thorough example of their curricular redesign was concrete and I could see how they would be able to represent their work as scholarly, I appreciated more so Gunner’s advice that the “tenure process really begins at the point of hire” (p. 317), as well as her numbered list of ten actions to take as a new WPA. I can imagine that new PhDs applying for jobs are grateful that anyone even hired them and that salary numbers are exponentially higher than GA stipends, thus making it awkward or difficult to negotiate or sort out the details such as P&T expectations. 

Along those same lines of concrete and specific advice, the CWPA’s statement on evaluating the work of writing program administration is useful for WPAs in terms of providing a framework for representing their work. I thought, however, that the document could have been clearer in distinguishing among their points: 1) the work of a WPA, 2) the guidelines for knowing that the work is intellectual, and 3) the criteria for evaluating that work. Sometimes the authors’ discussion of these things overlapped to the point of confusion. 

One point/question I have for you all is this:
In my research about writing center assessment, I have read and heard from WCPs about the challenge of making their assessment work public (among many other challenges). I found Yancey and Morgan’s chapter as an excellent example of assessment: their primary goal was to improve the first-year composition curriculum, and as Huot argues, assessment’s primary concern is improving teaching and learning. So, how does assessment translate into scholarly/intellectual work?

Additionally, what do you think about the process of tenure and promotion? Is it outdated and irrelevant? What are other options? What about the issue of digital publications and tenure?


  1. The issue of WPA work and writing center work and its relation to tenure came up in the Skeffington, Barrowman, and Enos's work as well. It seems that different institutions conceptualize that type of work in varying ways when consider whether to award tenure. I agree with the idea that it should be considered intellectual work and rewarded accordingly; otherwise, it could lead to an undervaluing of the labor required of the position and its contribution to the university.

    1. Also, the tenure process always strikes me as extensive whenever I hear it discussed, and I think that digital scholarship should be accounted for fairly in making tenure decisions because it can involve rigorous research and experimentation with digital platforms that I think can further notions of writing in the field of composition.

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  3. In response to your question about assessment and how it translates into intellectual work, I think that it depends on how assessment is being administered and used. If a WPA or director of a writing center is simply implementing the easiest and most affordable assessment tool and passing along the results to their superior, I don't see that as intellectual work. I think an important point that the reading made this week was that for work to be intellectual and worthy of tenure and promotion, it would need to be something that relies heavily on that person's disciplinary expertise. And so, in deciding how to administer an assessment tool , it's important to apply existing theory about reliability and accuracy in order to get the most relevant results. Similarly, I think it takes intellectual work to consider what the results of an assessment mean and how those results (along with current scholarship) inform programming and pedagogical decisions to help the writing program achieve its underlying goals. I think all of these things require current knowledge of practice, theory, and trends in the field and a great deal of expertise to know how they should be applied.

  4. Considering Huot's assertion that "assessment’s primary concern is improving teaching and learning," I think any legitimate, honest assessment can be turned into "intellectual" work through theorizing that assessment and applying it to the broader field. In response to Cara's suggestion that when the WPA is "simply implementing the easiest and most affordable assessment tool" they are not producing intellectual work, I would ask what "easiest" and "affordable" really mean. If they are being outright lazy, then yes, I agree. But good assessment done by a good WPA is not necessarily lazy even if/when it is easy and affordable (or, at least, it shouldn't/doesn't have to be). I guess my point is that if one of the goals of WPA, and all scholarship, is to contribute to a collective, collaborative knowledge database, then purposefully examining and testing easy and affordable assessment tools, and using that research to produce theory for other WPAs, seems like intellectual work to me.

  5. From my understanding, assessment is really research. It's based on inquiry, with the goal, as Kelsie points out, of improving the program in some way. So, to me, assessment as part of a WPA's administrative work is scholarly in that it's also research (with a foundation in disciplinary knowledge). However, I think the aspect of this line of thinking that we might be getting hung up on has to do with the audience for that research/assessment. Can the assessment research stop at doing good work for the local institution alone, or does it need to be revised and published (in the discipline) in order to count as scholarly work for tenure? This is a question I haven't formed an answer to for myself. I'd like to hear what you guys think. Figuring it out might be important for our future contract negotiations!

  6. Morgan, I would agree with you, audience is important. Who the assessment is for determines a lot about what your methods and sampling will look like. Additionally, how a WPA reports the assessment will change too. I would argue that WPAs and WCPs, as rhetoricians, are already skilled in the ways to transform and adapt information; thus, I believe, if a WPA or WCP conducts assessment, it's important for them to adapt the reporting of the assessment data and results for multiple audiences, such as department chairs or directors of institutional effectiveness, or colleagues in the field via journal/book publications.
    However, Yancey and M. Morgan argue that we should question the very concept of knowledge making to mean knowledge that is produced and then acted upon or applied. Doing this expands our notions of what it means to produce knowledge--whether that be through programmatic revisions, scholarship, or other enacted versions of knowledge.