Faculty members at the College of the Sequoias, a community college in California, are raising questions about a 33 percent raise that the board granted to President Stan Carrizosa, The Fresno Bee reported. The raise brings his salary to $300,000. Faculty leaders note that they recently received a 6 percent raise, after a decade without any pay increase. Board officials defended the president's raise, saying that he was on the low end of the salary range for his position.
They think their writing problem is a personal problem. When they struggle, they often report it as an embarrassment, a confession, something to hide. They come into my office with a confession: “I have something to tell you. I’m a terrible writer.”
I’ve worked with a high-achieving scholar who carried around a bag of research for five years. Just couldn’t write it up. (We are all carrying around baggage like that.)
I’ve worked with a senior, tenured faculty member who’d written several well-received books. “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’ve never had a problem with writing before.”
I’ve worked with an instructor whose chair couldn’t understand why she’d want to attend a writing retreat since publications didn’t really “count” for her review and promotion process.
I’ve worked with a program administrator who felt she had no energy to write because all her time went toward managing people, defending a program in crisis, and trying to understand and to meet the needs of everyone else.
Clearly these writers have problems and are looking for answers. They’re not alone.
Writers are also looking to books for solutions to their scholarly writing struggles: How to Write a Lot (Paul Silva); Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks (Wendy Laura Belcher); On Writing (Stephen King); Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day (Joan Bolker).
But they don’t always seem to help as much as we hope.
When we make our writing struggles personal -- or we are told to “get your writing fixed” or “just manage your time better” or “shouldn’t you have figured out how to write by now?” or “just put writing before teaching” -- they become our own individual problems to solve under the banner of self-improvement.
Our identities as writers are shaped by the kinds of writing that are valued at our institutions. Our scholarship may include issues related to our own identities, but they may be marginalized as “less rigorous” because it’s not “mainstream.”
We know there are hidden cultural codes of the academy that privilege some forms of writing and making arguments. For example, we may do our best work and find the most joy when we write collaboratively. But tenure committees in some disciplines continue to place a higher value on single-authored texts.
Faculty climate surveys nationally reveal that writing can be even more challenging for women and faculty of color, who often report, for example, they have less access to senior mentors, yet they have more responsibility to mentor students.
The personal is political in lots of ways, of course.
What I want to suggest strongly is that it’s due in large part to the delegitimization of community. When writers come into my office, when they (and I) go on Amazon and buy all those books, we often have internalized that a writing problem is a problem with us.
It’s understandable. We are often asked to talk about our work in terms of our individual productivity (scribbling away in the attic) or our value (for jobs, for promotion) based on the number or placement of publications.
But we are more than a measure of our outputs.
We can work to create the spaces that we want to be a part of that legitimize community and value experience as much as products. We can:
Share stories publicly about how writing actually happens for us -- what gives us joy, what we do when we struggle, how we collaborate with others or balance administrative/teaching/research demands. (For inspiration, see especially writing conversations at Stanford University, The Daily Beast, The Paris Review, Duke and the How We Write collection.)
Encourage contingent faculty members to form and manage writing groups and help them advance as a community of scholars.
Make visible to our institutions the collective needs and concerns of all writers across the university community. In many cases, existing institutional research data -- such as graduate student exit surveys or faculty satisfaction surveys -- are easily accessible. We can use the data to identify needs, and then ask for resources.
Write together. Writing tends to be an isolated activity. What if we formed writing groups across disciplinary, hierarchical and departmental boundaries? What if faculty members and graduate students wrote side by side together? What if we formed writing feedback groups around core issues or experiences? What if we talked about all those books we’re buying?
Of course, just gathering people together in a group with some pretext related to writing is not enough. Any commitment to community includes attention to individual needs, an awareness of institutional and departmental contexts and politics, and structures that provide enough guidance to be supportive without micromanaging. But when done thoughtfully, this combination of the solitary activity of writing with the social exchange of ideas, struggles, practices and drafts can lead to a writing life that is not only more productive and less isolating but also saner and more enriching -- one that values the lived experience as much as the final product.
Jennifer Ahern-Dodson is an assistant professor of the practice in writing studies at Duke University. Her research centers on the role that community plays in shaping attitudes toward writing, fostering self-authorship and cultivating learning spaces that promote rigor, creativity, critical reflection and civic engagement.
The Council of Graduate Schools is launching a research project to track the career paths of Ph.D.s in the humanities with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, it announced Thursday. The initiative is significant because it’s the first major, long-term effort in 20 years to track where humanities doctorates end up working, according to the council. It will work with 15 partner universities to collect data comparing the career aspirations of Ph.D. students and their eventual career paths as graduates, both within and especially outside academe. Goals of the project include helping universities better prepare Ph.D. students for a variety of careers. “By offering a more complete picture of Ph.D. holders’ career options, it will also enable current and prospective students to make more informed decisions when selecting degree programs and planning their careers,” Suzanne Ortega, council president, said in a statement. More information is available here.
Michael Bérubé publishes follow-up to his 1996 book about his son with Down syndrome. Jamie’s now a working adult who’s offered his dad, who has become a leading figure in disability studies, a whole new education.
Anna Stubblefield, former chair of philosophy at Rutgers University at Newark, must pay $4 million to the family of a disabled man she was found guilty of sexually assaulting, a New Jersey judge decided this week, according to NJ.com. Stubblefield is already serving 12 years in prison following a related criminal trial. Stubblefield alleges that she and the man in question, known as D.J. in court records, were in a consensual relationship. But the man’s brother and mother say he suffers from severe cerebral palsy, has the intellectual capacity of an 18-month-old and was incapable of giving consent. Stubblefield began working with the man around 2008 via a disputed method called facilitated communication; eventually they traveled together to out-of-town conferences and published an academic paper in 2011. Stubblefield informed the family that year that the relationship had become romantic, and D.J.'s family members eventually took legal action against her.
New details have emerged about the strike-ending tentative agreement reached between the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, the faculty union for 14 state university campuses, and the State System of Higher Education, PennLive reported. The three-year deal includes raises each year, among other changes. Current professors will get a step increase retroactive to last spring, at 2.5 percent or more for senior faculty (or cash payment for those at the top step of the pay scale), and 5 percent for junior faculty, according to PennLive. All faculty members also get a general pay increase of 2.75 percent retroactive to the beginning of this semester. Next year, the pay increase would be 2 percent. Current base salary for full-time faculty is $46,609 to $112,239. Part-timers get a minimum of $5,838 per three-credit course.
Full-time faculty members will see their health care contributions increase to 18 percent of the premium from 15 percent if they participate in the Healthy U wellness program. Contributions for nonparticipants in the wellness plan are 28 percent of the premium, up from 25 percent. Drug and office visit co-payments will increase, but health care benefits for faculty retirees not yet eligible for Medicare will be preserved. Full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members must also now be notified by May 31 if they’ll be renewed the following year, and adjuncts won’t see their workload increased by 25 percent or their pay cut by 20 percent.