Introduction

Ralph Ellison’s narrator in Invisible Man lets us know that he is not a spook, nor a Hollywood-movie ectoplasm, nor someone who has suffered a bio-chemical accident. Instead he sees himself as a distorted construction of people’s inner eye, similar to a distorted image in a circus mirror. He sees himself as being so highly visible as a one-dimensional construct created by social agreement that he is invisible as a person. Issues of visibility for contingent faculty are in some ways similar (here I am defining contingent faculty as all part-time and full-time faculty who are non-tenure track and who are not teaching as graduate assistants). As part of a two-track system, contingent faculty are set on course to teach a high course load (when full time) mostly in general education classes while tenure track faculty teach a low course load mostly in the major field and concentrate on research.

Contingent faculty can become so highly visible as instructors in general education classes across universities (especially once graduate research assistants are added to the mix) that they are not visible outside of this particular role; in fact, some students at some universities may never see a professor on the tenure track teaching a general education class. However, once students focus on classes in their major, they may never see another contingent faculty member in the classroom, making them truly invisible. Likewise, contingent faculty members may truly be invisible on committees (especially university committees), through scholarship, or at conferences where scholars network with other scholars.

The American Association of University Professors’ (AAUP) 2015 – 2016 Annual Report indicates that over the past forty years there has been a 62 percent increase in full-time non-tenure-track faculty appointments and a 70 percent increase in part-time instructional faculty appointments. The majority of academic positions today are part-time, “with part-time instructional staff positions making up nearly 41 percent of the academic labor force and graduate teaching assistants making up almost another 13 percent (part-time tenure-track positions make up about 1 percent of the academic labor force)” (13).

The tight social constructs that determine who is seen and who is not seen have been created for and by those who participate in higher education. Nowhere is this truer than within the English field, for our discipline has in some ways been complicit in creating a department that relies on more contingent labor than any other departments on campus. Brad Hammer, the Director of Writing in the Disciplines (WID) at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, finds that once English Departments were enlisted to teach composition classes as a service to the larger university, departments turned to graduate students as cheap labor knowing that only a small percentage would ever find “tenure track or even sustainable academic jobs” (12). On two-year and four-year campuses, contingent faculty have been used to supplement the numbers of professors teaching these “service” courses.

Letizia Gugielmo, KSU’s Interim Composition Director, is quite aware of the large numbers of contingent faculty who teach in composition programs. In fact, she has researched, written, and acted on ideas that disrupt the traditional social constructs that go with this two-track system and has supported contingent faculty becoming more visible through publication, professional development, and conference travel.

Letizia Guglielmo: Disrupting Assumptions, Creating Support

Letizia began disrupting assumptions concerning the two-track system soon after being hired for an instructor position that was described as tenure-track. She realized that to be tenured she would need to first become an assistant professor and that

Letizia Guglielmo
Letizia Guglielmo

meant earning a PhD. While a PhD was not required for her position, Letizia took it upon herself to work herself out of the “box others expected [her] to occupy” (SPCAL 3-4). Letizia has done exactly that and has worked to help others do likewise. She joined forces with Lynée Lewis Gaillet of Georgia State University (GSU) to co-author Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape: Models for Success and to edit a collection of essays by contingent faculty entitled Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community: Successful Collaborations.  Both books actually ensure that the voices of contingent faculty are heard.  In the first Letizia and Lynée made sure to include the voices of contingent faculty by including blurbs in which contingent faculty expressed their views on each topic, and, of course, contingent faculty are authors of the essays.

According to Letizia, Lynée and she both had experience as contingent faculty in graduate school at the MA and PhD levels. By the time the two were working together, Lynée was the Director of Lower Division Studies in English at GSU and working with a large number of contingent faculty, and Letizia had begun to work with KSU colleagues (Laura Davis and Linda Stewart) on similar contingent faculty concerns. Ideas for the books started to gel after Letizia enrolled in Lynée’s publication course. They officially began work on the first book in 2008. Scholarship on the use of contingent faculty for the project was pulled from the Wyoming Resolution and bodies of work by James, Sledd, Marc Bousquet, and Eileen Schell. Before publishing they presented their ideas for national conferences and published a chapter in an edited collection of essays.

In an interview with Valerie Robin of Hybrid Pedagogy, Letizia and Lynée explain that contingent faculty often have far more teaching experience than tenure-track junior colleagues and that the absence of their knowledge from scholarship is detrimental to the field. Their goal in writing the books is to focus on the ways in which contingent faculty can use their interests to research and to publish (broadly speaking) their “way into increased job security and increased fulfillment.” What follows are several methods that Letizia and Lynée propose. These ideas that concern professional development are addressed both in the interview with Hybrid Pedagogy and within an a blog post for University of Venus: GenX Women in Higher Ed, Writing from Across the Globe that was then published in Inside Higher Education.

  • Create self-mentoring groups
  • Stage brown bag lunches in order to share tips and research interests
  • Document work
  • Network broadly across the university and outside of it when possible
  • Use professional development such as departmental pilot projects as occasions for scholarship
  • Collaborate with other faculty members or undergraduate students
  • Create connections between teaching, scholarship, and service to prompt presentations and publications that may be funded by campus centers for teaching excellence

Letizia, working with other first-year administrators, has put several of these ideas into action while at KSU such as Maymester workshops, a technology workshop series, and First-year Composition Dialogues. Even meetings usually end with some quick tips from faculty members concerning composition.

The addition of a second campus through the consolidation of Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) with KSU, added new challenges this past year for Letizia and Allison Cooper-Davis, the assistant director, because composition faculty teach on both campuses, and the Marietta campus as it has become known, is a 30-minute drive from the Kennesaw campus. Curricular differences between the SPSU and KSU composition programs have added to the difficulty. While both programs spoke to the WPA outcomes for first-year composition, they did so through different lenses. In an attempt to help create community between the two campuses, Letizia and Allison created the first composition summit in August, for which composition faculty conducted workshops and presented ideas to the 53 attendees. The summit helped those of us who were new to the Kennesaw program to learn a bit more about it, and it gave all of us a chance to meet new people and gain new insights into composition studies. Composition faculty have also collaborated on the first mandated General Education Assessment pilot for SACS as well as on the development of program outcomes. Two first-year composition dialogues and a composition meeting were held on the Marietta campus this past spring. These opportunities have helped faculty from both campuses to learn from each other and to get to know each other.

Making Marietta Lecturers More Visible

While gains have clearly been made on both campuses towards ensuring that contingent faculty are a visible and important part of the English department, contingent faculty on the Marietta campus still remain a bit more invisible for several reasons. 1) Most of the meetings and opportunities continue to be hosted on the Kennesaw campus, 2) The number of courses lecturers and limited-term faculty teach make it difficult to create time to work with others outside of class time, 3) the travel time between the two campuses means that an hour is necessary just for traveling, and 4) the times at which classes are held on the Marietta campus (both TR 12:30 p.m. classes and 2 p.m. classes impact participation). Given that my blog concerns women, work, and academics, I thought I would use the rest of this post to introduce some of the women on the Marietta campus. I put out a call for participation and five women agreed to have their stories told.

Before I begin, I simply want to note that women are more likely to be members of contingent faculty. 2009 statistics from the National Center for Education indicate that 51% of all adjuncts are women (in Steiger) I have a feeling this statistic is higher for Characteristics of full-time facultycomposition studies.   2013 statistics concerning full-time faculty in instructor and lecturer positions is a bit more difficult to read since only Caucasians are separated by gender (See graph). In each case white women made up the largest percentage of lecturers and instructors at 44% followed by white men at 37% for instructors and 34% for lecturers.

 

Kay Steiger has labeled adjunct or contingent faculty as the “pink collar workforce of academia.” On the Marietta campus the majority of contingent faculty members teaching English are currently women. They hold ten of the fourteen spots, representing 71% of the contingent faculty.

 

Charlotte Stephenson: Walking in Another’s Shoes

Charlotte Stephenson acting as Hedda Gabler at Judson College her freshman year.
Charlotte Stephenson in the role of Hedda Gabler at Judson College.

Charlotte Stephenson began working on the Marietta campus in 1979 as an adjunct instructor teaching English Composition, Drama Appreciation, Honors Drama Appreciation, Public Speaking, and World Literature. In 2004 she took a one-year, temporary full-time position that managed to last 10 years before she was finally made a lecturer in January of 2015.

While this story of teaching may seem typical for contingent faculty (including too many years in a temporary position), Charlotte’s life has been anything but typical for the composition and literature teachers I know. Charlotte’s higher education is actually in drama studies. According to Charlotte’s cousin Rosanne, Charlotte’s flair for the dramatic was already in gear at four years of age. Not only did Charlotte love tall tales, but she could deliver her own statements with flair as evidenced by her placing a hand on her hip and asking her Aunt Hillie, “Can I borrow a speck of lard to grease my tricycle?”

Charlotte, however, believes that her love for drama and theater wasn’t clear until she joined the high school drama club as a freshman in order to be with her boyfriend, a senior who was already a member of the club. As my mom likes to say, it was all over from there. The boyfriend didn’t last too much longer than a few of Charlotte’s fiancés, but theater became her passion. Charlotte went from mundane tasks such as applying make-up and acting as a stagehand to leading roles to directing others in theater productions. During high school she acted in both secular and religious plays (yes, the high school students also produced one-act plays for several churches in her Alabama home town). Her beloved English, Speech and Drama teacher Stella Langley became Charlotte’s mentor. She taught Charlotte how to lose herself in a role, how to build a character, and many other valuable lessons. The two remained friends until Langley died in 1970.

Charlotte (fourth from the left) and other members of the cast for Hedda Gabler.
Charlotte (fourth from the left) and other members of the cast for Hedda Gabler.

In 1964 Charlotte earned her BA degree majoring in Dramatic Arts with a minor in Dance from Judson College. Charlotte scored her first major role as Hedda Gabler in Ibsen’s play by that name while at Judson. By the fall of 1965 Charlotte was enrolled in the Master’s program in Theatre and Drama at the University of Alabama where in her very first semester she was cast in the role of Eliza Gant in Kitty Fringe’s play adaptation of Thomas Wolf’s novel, Look, Homeward Angel. Her master’s thesis “A Psychological Study of the Learning Process of the Actor” was based on activities she undertook in order to understand Eliza Gant’s character. Every day Charlotte wrote down what she learned in order to understand the psychological nature of the character. This might be directions she received concerning the role, her own insights gained through character interaction, or something she researched concerning the novel and Wolf’s life. She thus created a biography of the character. While she learned quite a bit about walking in this character’s shoes from her study, she also learned that you can overthink a role and that doing so can then interfere with your acting.

Other highlights from Charlotte’s time at the University of Alabama included meeting Eudora Welty when the University Theatre honored Flannery O’Connor for the Southern Literary Festival by adapting and presenting a readers’ theatre production of her short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” as well as learning how to become a director by working with Marian Galloway, for whom the school’s theatre was later named.

Once she graduated, Charlotte became an Instructor of Speech and Drama and Director of Theatre at Kennesaw Junior College (KJC) in Marietta, Georgia, (yes, the school may have been located in Kennesaw, but the mailbox was in Marietta because Horace Stergis thought Marietta was a classier address). The first play performed at KJC was O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, which was performed in the school’s gymnasium. Charlotte played the lead role of Mary (the Mother) and also directed the performance. The last play Charlotte directed and produced at KJC was Camelot, which was performed at the Anderson Theatre in Marietta, GA. She then went to the University of Georgia to work on her PhD degree in Theatre History and Dramatic Literature at the University of Georgia. For the first time her work was not in performance; it was strictly scholarly. She completed the course work and comprehensive exams, but she did not complete the dissertation, which was a historical perspective of the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia. Charlotte felt this was her one big mistake.

In 1982 Charlotte accepted the position of teacher of Speech, Drama, and English with Cobb County Schools. She taught drama and music at Dickerson Middle School for three years. She then transferred to McEachern High School where she taught English, Drama and Speech and directed the theatre until she retired in 2001. During this time period she directed a great number of plays, but she still acted as well. She worked as both actor and director with Cobb Community Players and Smyrna Little Theatre in the 70’s and 80’s. She played Mae in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Queen Agravane in Once Upon a Mattress (she was awarded the best actor of the year for this roll), Lola in Come Back Little Sheba, and Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire.

I asked Charlotte what her favorite role was and she told me that she loved playing the feisty, domineering Eliza in Look Homeward, Angel. The script she most enjoyed bringing to life was Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Charlotte feels that the ways in which Williams writes and depicts characters shows his deep insight into the human psyche.

Charlotte attempts to bring to her English classes what she has enjoyed so much about theater: a deep understanding of the human condition. She finds that to understand a person you must put on his shoes and walk around a bit, to consider why he has made his choices, and the way these choices have impacted his life. Charlotte told me that she has loved all 50 years that she has been a part of the lives, education, hopes, and dreams of more than 10,000 fellow actors and students. When I was director of the SPSU University Honors Program, I had the chance to watch Charlotte in action with her honors Drama Appreciation students. I can say they loved her as well. 

Erin Sledd: Crossing Boundaries

In 2015 Erin Sledd made two trips to Karachi, Pakistan—one over Spring Break and the other for the fall semester. In the spring she shared her work and ideas at the Indus Valley School (IVS) of Art and Architecture and in the fall she taught courses in exhibition design and graphic design for the Communication Design Department at

Erin Sledd while in Pakistan
Erin Sledd while in Pakistan

IVS. In addition to teaching at IVS in the fall, she ran a two-part, how-to workshop for primary and secondary teachers on using Instagram, she ran writing workshops for the Society for Professional English Language Teachers (SPELT) (one in Karachi and one in Lahore) on concrete techniques for improving sentence structure and clarity, and she ran a training workshop on the use of LORE.com (a learning management system that unfortunately sees its last day in June) and on the grading book component of Engrade.com for IVS faculty.

Erin’s year provides an excellent snapshot of the ways in which she is open to crossing both literal boundaries and figurative boundaries. I met Erin in 2009, when she came to teach as a part-time instructor on the Marietta campus. Like Charlotte, she spent time as a temporary, full-time instructor before becoming a lecturer. What I learned about Erin early on is that she is both quite creative and quite concerned with structure. These two thinks are not oxymoronic for Erin. In fact, Erin sees connections between seeming opposites. Her background actually crosses a number of boundaries that often separate university departments into singular silos. Erin’s interests in literature, art, language, science, and technology allow her to explore “connections between the analog and digital world and include mythology and fairytales, metamorphoses and hybridity, emergent design, virtual and material structures, gamification and user experience design, narrative, computational linguistics, and eschatechnology” (Sledd Linkedin).

To be honest, during our interview it was sometimes a bit difficult to follow Erin’s background for two reasons: 1) we were on the phone, and 2) her interests and abilities are so varied. She started college at Furman University as a political science major and planned to go on to law school after graduation. However, an early class in British Romantic Poetry helped her to determine that a second major was in her future and so she double majored in political science and English. She graduated not knowing what to do with her English degree (Furman did not excel in communicating career options) and because she was engaged to be married she opted for a brief holding pattern. An internship at an Atlanta home and garden magazine followed, and then she realized that she was interested in more education—that she wanted to be a scholar. Erin entered Georgia State University’s MA in English program, received a graduate teaching assistantship, and taught her first Composition class.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Erin continued to cross academic boundaries. She decided that she was not only interested in English, but that she was also interested in art history and in Thomas Kuhn’s Structures of Scientific Revolutions, which became the backbone of her thesis. I understand the connections between Art history and English, but I don’t know much about Kuhn. Erin explained that Kuhn realized that great paradigm shifts in scientific progress didn’t really follow the normal, objective paths that have been associated with science. In fact, Kuhn found that great instability or crisis stimulates the loosening of boundaries or parameters normally used to solve problems, thus allowing new ideas to be investigated. As Erin explained, there is subjectivity in science. She ended up linking Kuhn’s ideas to the Internet and the ways in which an explosion of information has occurred because of it; thus, prompting us to sort our way through a “modern day Alexandria.”

One should note that many people once they start down a certain path such as scholarly work and teaching, continue to do so once they graduate. Not Erin. Erin didn’t find her way back to teaching in Atlanta, Georgia until after a long chain of events that included dealing with her father’s death, the end of her marriage, moving to San Francisco, working in an attorney’s office, proofreading for an advertisement agency, working during the .com era with an architect, and learning graphic design for her business. What is interesting to me is how Erin has used this confluence of learning from her past to create her classroom practices in her present for students on the Marietta campus whose primary interests often are science and technology. Her literature students examine comparative world mythologies, transformation and technology, concepts of alien identities, and evolving ideas of otherness. Not surprisingly her knowledge of art history and her abilities to use new technology enhance her lessons.

Erin does still have her hand in the design business, but she doesn’t have the time to go after new clients. The lack of time is not surprising for an English lecturer with a 5/4 teaching load. In Erin’s case it’s also not surprising given her interest in presenting or conducting workshops abroad. In May Erin will present a conference paper in Istanbul concerning her research on using Instagram for complementary assignments at two different institutional locations.   Meanwhile she has applied for a grant that she wants to use to create a hybrid creative/scholarly project for which she bases her artwork series on traditional Islamic geometric art that she purposefully permeates with new geometries and error in order to show the fragmented knowledge Westerners have of Islamic art and culture. She hopes to partner with Hussein Abaza of IVS and to use the March 2017 Design Evolution Conference in Karachi, Pakistan as the venue.

Molly Brodak: Extending and Translating

In a 2013 interview with Scott Daughridge of Burnaway.org, Molly talked about herself, her poetry and the ways in which she often feels as though the edge of her self

Molly Brodak
Molly Brodak

extends beyond the boundary of her body and into the places she is, so she feels like she is “living not in a location but as part of one.” This seems like something a Southern poet might write; however, Molly is Michigan born, and she had never lived anywhere longer than four years before moving to Atlanta. Maybe she has finally come home?

Like Erin, Molly is a lecturer who loves teaching, yet finds herself extending beyond the classroom—in this case into the poetry that she began writing as a young girl before she even really understood she was writing poetry. After graduating from high school, Molly attended an art institute where she happened to take a poetry class. She liked the class so much she transferred to Oakland University, and completed an English degree in 2004 (Daughridge). In 2008 she completed her MFA in creative writing at West Virginia University. She then taught at Augusta State University as a lecturer, and at Emory through a fellowship. For the last three years Molly has taught on the Marietta campus of KSU.

I think many poets would be envious of Molly’s writing career. In 2009 she won the Iowa Poetry Prize for her book A Little Middle of the Night. She has also written three chapbooks (Instructions for a Painting, The Flood, and Essays on Parts of the Day), a number of other poems, as well as several pieces of creative nonfiction. Her book, Bandit: A Daughter’s Memoir is due out in October of this year. It recounts what it is like to live with and understand a father who is addicted to gambling, who at one point robbed banks to pay his debts, but who also was a loving father. A visit to Molly’s Sibilant Fricative page, introduced me to an essay about the classroom with desks that have writing surfaces the size of a postage stamp and with students who snap to attention when she talks of sex, love, or power. The page also revealed publications, such as Molly’s article for Burnaway concerning the nature and definition of primitive art, a poem that concerns Google and language, another poem in which bodies are translated into fossils, and a memoir concerning the brain surgery that figuratively translated her into headlessness and then slowly translated her back into what one might call headiness as her brain began to make demands and domineer thinking once more.

Molly’s writing is brave, engaging in personal ideas and themes that some of us bury deep in our psyche. She asks students to engage in ideas and ways of thinking about identity, intelligence, and behavior, which asks them to unbury past conceptions of who they are. For example, she likes to raise important questions concerning grit and heroic action, emphasizing the ways in which grit is a behavior one can take on and that it can be more important than innate intelligence for success in life.   Molly finds that students identify with this concept because as freshmen they are beginning to realize that they must adjust their routines to college life. Molly finds that students as freshmen are “staring down a long and intimidating road to the goal of graduation. It makes sense that so many give up, because it can look impossible from that end, which is something I think we often forget from this side of the classroom.” Molly uses the idea of “grit” on two levels: students need to internalize ideas of grit “as a metaphor in their own lives” and as a way to understand ideas of the hero’s journey which she uses in her Composition Two class. In some ways their work for their research project is like the hero’s journey “long, difficult, and complex” for which they must “delay gratification, regulate moods, and bounce back from errors/failures.”

Molly finds connections between writing poetry and writing essays for freshman composition. She believes that poetry is really basic since it is about “reconnecting to language on the ground floor, if you will, where word choice, sound and symbol are not taken for granted but carefully considered.” She believes this idea is made clear in genre studies especially. Molly likes to center Composition One around genre, because she finds many new freshmen are extremely rigid in the way they think about form for college writing. They often know the “basic 5-paragraph academic essay and nothing else.” Molly believes that conceptually it is important to show students how form can shape and control meaning and content. The same is true in poetry. “Writing hexameter forces you to think differently than writing in pentameter. Form is (almost) everything.” She believes that once students start to feel confident “moving fluidly from genre to genre, they start to see that they actually have a lot to say, and are capable of insightful analysis if given simple genre conventions to work within.”

Kat Gray: Storytelling and Research Design

Kat Gray
Kat Gray

Kat, whose birth name is Mary Katherine, and whose family members call “Katie,” decided to rename herself Kat; thus, taking a step in writing her own story—a story that is a bit less formal than the one that seems appropriate for “Mary Katherine” and a bit more like the story of someone who has participated in roller derby skating and tabletop-role-playing game design.

Kat’s story is in some ways a lot like many stories that are typical of English teachers. She grew up loving to write and read stories. She told me she will read any type of fiction, but she is especially fond of magical realism, detective fiction, and supernatural fiction. Despite her love of stories, Kat didn’t start college as an English student. Instead she was a psychology major. Fortunately for KSU she hated psychology, corrected her course, and pursued her love of story as an English major. Now her love of story even informs what she does to help students write better prose. Following in her mentor’s (Chantel Acevedo, a faculty member at Auburn University) footsteps, Kat enjoys finding ways to help students use stories within their formal writings so they can create papers that are more interesting to write and to read.

After graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2006, Kat decided to pursue an MA in English with a creative writing concentration at Auburn University. There Kat participated in a graduate research assistant program that first placed her as an observer in the classroom of a more experienced teacher and then asked her to take a pedagogy class at the same time she herself was teaching. She found that this setup really helped her hone her teaching philosophy and pedagogy. A digital pedagogy course helped Kat to zero in on ideas that have shaped much of her teaching at KSU. When she became a lecturer on the Marietta campus of KSU in 2014, she began using her background in digital pedagogy to help students to examine the impact of digital tools on writing by asking them to use primary and secondary research while using the tools themselves. Kat has found that the technology focus of her class has worked well given the polytechnic focus of students on the Marietta campus.

In her composition classes Kat likes to combine a digital class theme with digital projects for which the students design the parameters. Her students have often used their background in the sciences to create “experiments” for analyzing a research question. One class became quite interested in what creates the viral nature of digital messages and videos on social media and the Internet. Kat and the students viewed the documentary Catfish, which concerns false social media profiles, and they paid attention to memes that had gone viral. Students then explored the ways in which those who post on social media are rhetors trying to convince audiences to pay attention to their work. The students attempted to create viral posts themselves, but realized that chance and time play important roles in whether an item goes viral. They determined that even if someone has all the right “ingredients” such as a cute kid, an attractive adult, an incredible stunt, or a grumpy cat, that it takes time for the post to reach a tipping point and that the four weeks they gave to the project was not enough time.

Kat has found that giving students their own agency concerning subject matter and research parameters and then assisting them with their ideas is key to teaching successful projects. She has found that students aren’t as completely set in their beliefs as older adults and so it’s easy to get them interested in examining a number of different ideas. Kat has asked students to explore ideas such as whether we are “post racial” in America and how language is used by politicians to manipulate an audience. She loves to teach students who take her for both Composition One and Two because doing so allows her to work with them more fully so that they can better understand their own writing processes and what works for them.

This coming year Kat will conduct some research of her own through the Center for Leadership and Engagement. Having earned a position as a LGBTIQ fellow for the coming school year, Kat plans on examining the ways in which the personal id shapes ethos through a mini-longitudinal study centered in the classroom. She is interested in whether LGBTIQ students become aware of themselves as speakers in a local community in unique ways. She is also interested in ways LGBTIQ students negotiate becoming part of a culture even as they may be subverting certain aspects of that culture. I am interested in how Kat’s research will tell the stories of individual participants as much as I am interested in the findings. Given the ways in which cultures set boundaries concerning who speaks in what circumstances and to whom, Kat’s findings may have valuable insights for composition teachers.

Sarah Creel: The Journey to Ithaca

I am not sure that a tenured-track job in which Sarah focuses on research concerning

Sarah Creel

Eliza Haywood is her “Ithaca”; however, I am sure she would enjoy partaking of such an adventure on the way to Ithaca. Sarah, a fan of C.P. Cavafy’s “Ithaka” (maybe the spelling with a “k” better hints at the poet’s Greek nationality), strongly believes that it is the journey not the destination that determines the quality of our lives.

Sarah’s journey began in Montgomery, Alabama, followed her husband to Salt Lake City, propelled her to Vancouver, British Columbia, and brought her back south to the metro-Atlanta area. More importantly her journey placed on her path two women who have mentored her and helped to steer her course. At the University of Montevallo, Sarah met Professor Kathy King, who set her on the path to an MA in English instead of a Masters in Education. King shared with Sarah her love of eighteenth century women romance writers as well as her belief that these women writers are the mothers of the novel who acted as precursors for the fathers of the novel: Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Samuel Richardson.

King’s interest in this field of study must have been catching since Sarah did accept King’s advice to pursue an MA in English. For her thesis she decided to focus on Haywood and one of her early novels, Fantomina. Like many romance novels of the time period, Fantomina concerns the seduction of the protagonist. However, this is where similarities ended. According to Sarah, while the protagonist is at first seduced because she cannot articulate well enough her non-consent, she later takes on agency through the use of disguise in order to pursue the man she has come to love.

Sarah’s interest in Haywood led her to Simon Frasier University (SFU) in Vancouver. Here she worked with Betty Schellenberg. Getting into this Canadian university was a bit different from what most of us did to enter a PhD program at a U.S. university. Sarah already had to know the focus for her studies and was asked to send a proposal concerning her focus before she could be admitted to the university. She then had to hope that Schellenberg, who is known for scholarship on the Bluestockings of the eighteenth century, would find her proposal worthy in order for Sarah to become one of the two students allowed per advisor at SFU. Sarah felt quite fortunate when Schellenberg agreed to work with her.

Sarah’s belief that Haywood was quite savvy as a novelist created some interesting research for her. Even though amatory novels such as the ones written by Haywood were considered low culture, they were read by a large population and Haywood took advantage of this. However, when it became clear that didactic novels were becoming the new trend, Sarah finds that Heywood changed the focus of her novels. Clearly Heywood understood market trends quite well.

In 2014 after completing her dissertation, Sarah went on the job market. While she received some nibbles for tenure-track work, she eventually took the one-year temporary instructor position she now occupies at KSU. During this past year Sarah has worked hard to increase her viability for a tenure-track research position. She has three papers forthcoming: “The ‘Long View’ of Haywood Studies: Tracing the Field” is forthcoming in Literature Compass. “I Know You Want It”: Teaching the Blurred Lines of Eighteenth-Century Rape Culture” (co-written with Emily Dowd-Arrow) is forthcoming in Alpha Behn Online, and “Teaching Eliza Haywood and the Theatrical Thirties” is forthcoming in MLA’s special pedagogy issue on Eliza Haywood. Sarah has also presented at three different conferences this past school year. In October of 2015 she presented a paper for the Canadian Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Conference in Vancouver. In November she presented a paper for the Aphra Behn Society Conference in Summit, New Jersey, and in April she presented a paper for the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately positions in her field of studies are limited so she has not yet managed to find the job position she wants. She sees the current situation as part of her journey and finds that she enjoys teaching on the Marietta campus quite a bit. Sarah likes the ways students on the campus form a classroom community and support each other, especially for presentations. She finds that students clap for each other and encourage students who are shy or who have difficulties getting in front of class. Outside of the classroom Sarah joined other interested faculty members and students in running every Tuesday and Thursday at 11 a.m. for the “Couch to 5 K” training for the 5K Daffodil Dash on April 17th. I’m having a hard time seeing a 5K as a dash, but I’m sure that the name didn’t matter to Sarah—it was just one more opportunity on her way to Ithaca.

Conclusion

I started this project believing I was introducing people I know to others. I learned that I didn’t know the women I interviewed all that well myself. Here I have been working with Charlotte since 1999, Erin since 2009, Molly since 2013, Kat since 2014, and Sarah since 2015, and I learned something new about each of these people. I guess it’s not surprising that I, too, am guilty of seeing others as their socially constructed positions, and I’m glad to have learned this information about myself.

I learned that all of these women have made interesting choices in their life plans that eventually landed them in their current jobs. English often was not the first choice for college study. Having talked with two Kennesaw faculty members earlier this year about how students become English majors, it does seem that people often rule out English as a program of study at the beginning of their careers only reconsider after an impactful class. This raises interesting questions for me about how English as a degree program gets framed in our public discourse. Maybe we have all watched a few too many “news” programs that show college graduates with English degrees tossing fries at McDonald’s?

What I also learned is the important role mentors can play. Charlotte, Kat, Sarah, and Letizia were all fortunate to work with women who saw them as equals and who helped them become the people they are today. When I look back at my life, I think that the teacher who most affected my life was my third grade teacher, Sister Donna. I think I had the option of working more closely with professors in graduate school, but, to be honest with you, I am deep down a shy person who was always worried that I would be seen as a leech—someone attempting to use the other person. Now I think I probably missed an important opportunity to gain a lifelong friendship.

What I like about all of the women I interviewed is the way they have looked for opportunities in their lives, are intellectually curious, are creative and critical thinkers, and model these characteristics for students. I was surprised to realize is that none of the women in contingent faculty positions are parents (nor are Letizia and I). I first thought the decision might be due to the instability of their contingent positions. Many women in academe do attempt to balance career and family in ways that men do not have to consider.

For Sarah this seems to be true. She and I talked about how difficult it is to be looking for a full-time job and trying to figure out when to work having children into the picture. However, after talking with Erin, Charlotte, Molly, and Kat, I realized that they are a bit more like how I am. Motherhood is not necessarily a draw (for Charlotte and me this should be in the past tense—only a miracle could create a pregnancy at this time in our lives). Kat did indicate that motherhood while working as a lecturer in academe also seems to be a daunting task: timing a pregnancy while balancing a 5/4 load and then pulling together the necessary childcare takes a lot of effort.

Several of the women did mention the frustrations of working as contingent faculty. Erin is currently living with her mother because her salary doesn’t make it possible to meet the standards of living in the Atlanta area. She continues to consider opting for a job outside of academe. Erin, Molly, and Sarah mentioned that it can be frustrating to not get recognition for the hard work and dedicated scholarship and creative activity they bring to their jobs. The two-track system often feels confining since the box created for lecturers is so tiny. Because Sarah does want that tenure-track job, she finds that the current state of affairs in academe are troubling. Her friends and peers who are also recent graduates of doctoral programs are in similar situations. They are in post doc programs or are contingent faculty who continue to write and research and continue to go back on the job market waiting for positions to open up while questioning what they’re giving up in terms of quality of life.

Molly teaches her students about grit. It seems that more than ever it is grit that one needs to make it in higher education. Tenacity and effort keep all of the women continuing to work at what they love. Sarah depends on maintaining a vision of her journey and what she learns on the way. Her ideas remind me of my dependence on the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I really struggle on the last part of the prayer.

I guess my closing question to everyone concerns whether we can change academia’s over dependence on contingent faculty.  The AAUP laid out a plan for doing so in its most recent edition of Academe. Is the organization trying to hold on to a boat that has already sailed? Do we have the will to question current hiring practices? If not, do we at least have the will to create better working conditions for contingent faculty

Works Cited

AAUP. “Higher Education at a Crossroads: The Economic Value of Tenure and the Security of the Profession, 2015- 2016.”  Academe.  AAUP. April 2016. Web. 20 April 2016.

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis and Letizia Guglielmo.  “Professional Development off the Tenure Track.”  Blog Post.  University of Venus:  GenX Women in Higher Ed, Writing from Across the Globe.  Inside Higher Ed. 28 July 2014. Web. 20 April 2016.

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis and Letizia Guglielmo.  Scholarly Publication in a Changing Academic Landscape:  Models for Success.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Guglielmo, Letizia and Lynée Lewis Gaillet, eds.  Contingent Faculty Publishing in Community:  Case Studies for Successful Collaborations.  New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Hammer, Brad.  “The ‘Service’ of Contingency:  Outsiderness and the Commodification of Teaching.”  Forum.  Fall 2012. NCTE. Web. 26 April 2016.

Steiger, Kay.  “The Pink Collar Worker of Academia.”  The Nation.  The Nation.  11 July 2013.  Web. 24 April 2016.

Advertisements