Friday, January 18, 2013
January 18, 2013: Back to School Hopes, Part Five
[Every new semester brings with it lots of promise and possibilities; since I was on sabbatical in the fall, this will be my first time back in the classroom and the department in seven months, making it that much more of a new start. So this week I’ll be highlighting some of those hopes and goals for my Spring 2013 semester. I’d love to hear some of yours for a crowd-sourced weekend post on our collective springs to come!]
On a much more complicated but pretty crucial long-term hope for my department and university.
I wrote at length in this post, part of a series on summer jobs I’ve worked and their AmericanStudies connections, about the issue of adjunct labor in higher education, and more exactly the issues of how adjunct faculty are treated by the departments and institutions at which they work. I’ll reiterate here my final point from that post, since it raises one of the two main issues that I would identfy with the relationship between my department’s community and its own adjunct faculty members: that our adjuncts and our full-time faculty members have almost no contact of any kind, whether physically in our respective spaces, at meetings or in conversation, or in any other way. And the other problem, while very different, is also entirely connected to that reality: almost all of our sections of first-year writing, a core, required, two-semester course for all Fitchburg State students, are taught by adjuncts, thus making that course largely separate from the rest of the department.
I also wrote at length in that post about many of the reasons why I believe it’s so important to address the first problem, the separation of adjunct faculty from the rest of their departments and institutions. But first-year writing presents another compelling reason: these courses comprise an opportunity for English departments to work with all students, and thus to consider what we particularly want these courses to be and do; and yet in many cases, such as ours, most of us English faculty members have very little connection to those courses, to the folks who are teaching them, to the students they’re impacting, to any aspect of this significant part of our departmental mission. At Fitchburg State, we’ve begun to address that issue in the last few years, working to create departmental objectives for our first-year writing courses, and to make sure that such conversations including adjunct as well as full-time faculty members at every stage. But there’s a lot more to do, and one of my longest-term hopes for the spring and beyond is that we can begin to design a First-Year Writing Program, a community where such conversations and connections can be consistently located and formalized, across any particular semesters and administrations.
Creating such a program and space would also provide numerous and equally consistent opportunities for adjunct and full-time faculty members to meet, talk, and share our perspectives and goals for our courses and students. But whether or not we end up with a writing program, I believe, again, that it’s vital to find ways to make those connections more a part of our departments, institutions, and identities as we move forward. I know that’s a huge and nation-wide (or even international) problem, and I’m not pretending to have any easy answers. But I also know that the more of us who are aware of and engaging with these issues, the better—and so I hope to help move my department forward in that way in the spring and for many years thereafter.
Crowd-soucred spring hopes tomorrow,
PS. So what do you think? Thoughts on these questions? Hopes of yours for the spring you’d share for that weekend post?