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“Or Related Discipline…”: Who Gets to Teach, Who Gets on the Tenure-Track?
November 6, 2011 - 10:01pm

My last post may have been a celebration of my…unique position within higher ed, but that doesn’t mean that I am not full of anxiety about my possible future position(s) in academia. I am ambitious, which means that I don’t want to be an “instructor” for the rest of my career, but I am also conscious that things can change for the worse and I may have to find a tenure-track job in order to support my family (knock wood, throw salt over my shoulder, etc, etc, etc).

I still get the emails from various sources outlining the academic positions available for the 2012-2013 academic year. I am, of course, of two minds about this: a) THANK GOD I am not currently on the job market because I would be screwed and b) what am I going to do if I ever do go back on the market? I teach writing, even though I don’t have a degree in Rhetoric/Composition. I am interested and started to expand my research into what I think could/should be considered Digital Humanities, but I don’t have a specialized degree in that, either. Most of my publications are about French authors, but as my degree is in Comparative Literature (and I don’t have any experience teaching French), so I’m out of luck getting a position in French.

I often (but not always) see the words “or related discipline” at the end of the degree requirements in job descriptions. At what point does your research trump your degree? And, what kinds of research output qualify you? Is presenting at Rhetoric and Composition conferences enough? Do I have to have one, two, three, ten articles that are about rhetoric and/or composition? A book? Does co-founding #FYCchat, a Twitter chat for those who teach Freshman Composition help or hurt? Does teaching writing at various levels for almost ten years help or hurt? Does working to innovate how I teach writing (attempting to create my own peer-driven model) help or hurt? Does anything other than the journal article/book even count?

And, more importantly and problematically, is this the kind research I want to be doing? Or am I just being lazy; it is far easier for me to keep writing on a topic I am well-versed in, in ways that I am used to doing it (conference presentations, journal articles).  If my most recent conference experience has taught me anything, it’s that there is no reason why my dissertation has to or even should be published as a book instead of a more open, interactive electronic experience except if I ever hope to get a tenure-track job. For that, I’d better have the book (or a long list of traditional, peer-reviewed articles from said dissertation).

Which brings me to my next point about practice. I am a practicing teacher of writing. I am a practicing literary scholar. If I create an innovative way to share my research/teach writing and/or literature, does that practice qualify me for digital humanities positions? Does it disqualify me from the ever-shrinking number of “traditional” academic positions? And at what point does this (my blogging) qualify me as a “practicing” writer, thus qualified for tenure-track positions and not “just” an instructor who is “only” expected to teach?

A point that was either a) largely missed, b) largely ignored, or c) largely accepted and thus common knowledge and unremarkable in my last post was summed up by Jo VanEvery:

I think the most troubling part of this is not about you at all. It is that somehow the academic freedom the tenure track is supposed to ensure is precisely what it is perceived as denying you. If tenure doesn't give you the freedom to experiment with teaching & learning methods, do the research you want to do and share your research in new and innovate ways, what is the point? And if that's only possible after a process that pressures you not to do those things ... well. I have no words.

Maybe I just need to suck it up, so to speak, and play the game as has been (narrowly) defined. Or, I can do what I am currently doing, sitting on the sidelines and playing by myself according to my own rules. I would like to work constructively on redefining what the rules are, but it’s difficult when you are off the tenure-track with few options. Decisions on tenure requirements, job descriptions, and disciplinary boundaries are largely created and perpetuated by tenured academics and administrators (which, being off the tenure track, I am also excluded from ever achieving).

The most frustrating part, for me, is that I have done enough to get tenure, at least at the institution where I am currently employed; I have published enough traditional research, I have excellent teaching evaluations, and I have performed a few administrative roles. I am happy with where I am and the freedom that comes with it. I long to have a place within the academic system that values what I do and helps to reshape where we are going. But, instead, I worry about my future as an academic. 


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