Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Toward an Investigation into the Working Conditions of Non-Tenure Line, Contingent Writing Center Workers

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Toward an Investigation into the Working Conditions of Non-Tenure Line, Contingent Writing Center Workers

Article excerpt

For years, we have been concerned about the increasing contingent nature of writing center workers' positions. In 2014, Isaacs and Knight found that 71 percent of writing center directors held non-tenurable positions and 81 percent of writing centers were staffed by peer tutors (48-49). Isaacs and Knight's report illustrates a sharp contrast from the results of the 2001-2002 survey for the Writing Centers Research Project (WCRP). Of writing center directors who responded to that survey, 41.97 percent held tenured or tenure-line positions (Ervin 2). While the two studies took different approaches to data collection, the apparent decline in tenured or tenureline positions among writing center directors over the past decade justified, for us, the need to investigate this shift and to speak directly to contingent writing center directors and tutors to learn more about their working conditions.

While our investigation focuses on contingent writing center workers, its significance connects with others beyond this group. Indeed, employment trends in the writing center field mirror those of the wider higher education workforce and the growing awareness of the precarity of contingent positions. In 2014, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) published a report on the "Employment Status of Instructional Staff Members in Higher Education, Fall 2011." That study illustrated the continued decrease in tenure-line positions: of all instructional staff employed in 2011, only 23.5 percent held tenured or tenure-line positions, 15.7 percent held non-tenure-line full-time positions, 41.5 percent held part-time "adjunct" positions, and 19.3 percent were graduate student employees (2). According to the AAUP, contingent faculty face a number of vulnerabilities that tenure-track faculty do not. Our study hopes to identify the vulnerabilities among writing center workers who serve in "insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom" ("Contingent," par. 1).

Despite a recent increase in activism and awareness on behalf of contingent instructional faculty in the larger composition field, the labor conditions of writing center workers specifically remain under-represented in our scholarship and under-investigated. Although the National Census of Writing Database (formerly the WPA Census) does report data concerning the status of writing center director positions, we know the data was not necessarily provided by the writing center directors themselves. Moreover, the database does not appear to have solicited data on peer tutors from peer tutors. Isaacs and Knight (2014) also reported on the number of students who staff writing centers but not on their working conditions. In fact, there has been no comprehensive study of the working conditions of peer tutors. Most research on peer tutoring is either about training or focuses on the long-term educational/learning impact of working as a peer tutor, not on working or material conditions. Our study is gathering insights from all levels of contingent writing center workers-directors, staff, and tutors-about the realities of their material and working conditions.

Before launching our study, we looked to professional organizations for guidelines on the material and working conditions of contingent faculty. We started with the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA). They are located on the Position Statements page of the organization's website (writingcenters.org). We looked there for a statement on the working conditions of writing center directors and did not find one. We later discovered that one exists. Thirty years ago, when the IWCA was a fledgling national organization, Jeanne Simpson published "What Lies Ahead for Writing Centers: Position Statement on Professional Concerns" in the Writing Center Journal. The statement appears on the IWCA's website as a resource for those who wish to start a writing center. In the statement, Simpson acknowledges the professional strides made by the writing center field during the previous decade and urges the organization to take up the professional concerns of writing center directors to preserve the increasing professionalism that some directors enjoyed and to alleviate the "dreadful conditions" under which others labored. …

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