I was kindly invited by the MLA Committee on Academic Freedom to participate in their roundtable at the conference this year, "Roles & Responsibilities: Faculty Members at Work in Applied Humanities." I thought I'd share the bit I wrote for my five-minute "opening remarks" before we had our conversation. Enjoy!
So, I’m going to admit it: I think I was invited here because of Twitter. It is common knowledge that Twitter can be a raging pool of anger & trolls. But, the good news that I’m sure many of you here know: it can be also be a place in which to find community, to extend our professional conversations, and for me, to grow as a teacher and a labor advocate.
I’m a professor of composition, so of course I’m passionate about writing pedagogy. Because I’ve been working in composition for 22 years, I am also passionate about labor advocacy. Long before the rest of higher ed began the slide into contingency, so that now approximately 70% of teaching jobs are NTT, English departments were the unfortunate pioneers into the uses of adjunct labor above and beyond the original intentions for these positions. I was an adjunct for years and have the privilege of being the rare bird who made the migration to a tenure-line job.
One of the questions that our chair Heather asked us to contemplate in preparation for today is: “What are our responsibilities to those who are directly impacted by our applied humanities work?” I believe that social justice should be the frame for any answer. I can only rationalize working in a profession that marginalizes the majority of its workers, and that marginalizes my field, composition, by using my service, scholarship, and any other platform I may have to advocate for change, even a meager few hundred folks willing to engage me on Twitter. (Some of whom are no doubt bots.)
That can take many forms, but on social media it means four things to me: First, amplifying contingent voices & research (because I can never presume to speak for anyone). Second, sharing both my pedagogical successes and failures as a composition teacher (because tenured profs have much to learn, too). Third, live-tweeting conferences I attend (remember: many don’t have the institutional support or means to attend; being here today is either a significant privilege or a significant financial burden). Finally, talking openly to my tenure-line colleagues about the concrete ways that they can—and I’d argue should—advocate for labor justice. Sometimes people want to get involved, but really don’t know how to begin, what to do.
These uses of Twitter might seem trivial, but genuine good can come of them. Personally, my own teaching and advocacy work have evolved thanks to the work of the NTT faculty I’ve learned from on social media. For example, I have supported and spread the word about Precaricorps, a nonprofit helping adjuncts economically & professionally, created by my twitter friend & former adjunct Joe Frucione. Over on Facebook, I joined Tenure for the Common Good, born on that platform, an organization that among other things is working to change the way U.S. News & World Report ranks colleges, so that labor practices are taken into account. I’ve learned that while we are getting marginally better at including a diversity of voices in our scholarly conversations about teaching, reading, and writing, it’s still very rare that NTT voices are given as much attention & access. (Note, too, that in academia most of our increases in diversity generally are in NTT positions.) I’ve learned to listen, and to insist that sometimes people shouldn’t listen to me, but to NTT.
I hope these are all things we can consider in our conversation in this session and as we navigate the conference this year. Thanks.