Academic journal article College English

The Spaces In-Between: Independent Writing Programs as Sites of Collective Leadership

Academic journal article College English

The Spaces In-Between: Independent Writing Programs as Sites of Collective Leadership

Article excerpt

Works such as Adrianna Kezar's Embracing Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Making Change to Support the New Faculty Majority challenge colleges and universities to do a better job of supporting all faculty. In its 2014 Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature, the Modern Language Association set out the guiding principle for improving such support: "All college and university teachers, whether in full or part-time positions, on or off the tenure track, need to see themselves as members of one faculty working together to provide a quality education to all students" (1).

Citing statistics that illustrate that many non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty are permanent members of their departments, the MLA report urged administrators to enfranchise these colleagues in the decisions and leadership of their departments. The question of how best to develop the leadership of NTT faculty members is daunting, but it clearly begins with respecting the contributions of all faculty members. This baseline respect for the diverse perspectives and contributions of all members of an organization is a central premise of a growing movement often referred to as collective leadership.

Collective leadership examines the processes and conditions that can help develop the leadership capacities of an organization. Sonia Ospina and Erica Foldy explain that collective leadership encourages a shift in focus from leaders and followers "to a complex of shifting and interconnected relationships that more or less drive toward a shared vision and tangible outcomes" (489). In this article, I offer my experience as an NTT faculty member in an independent writing program (IWP) to show the ways that authentic respect for teaching and service as complex, theoretical work can create opportunities for collective leadership across faculty boundaries in hierarchal academic systems. Drawing from Theodore Kemper's structural approach to emotion in social movements, I suggest that it is possible to push past the traditional divides in order to create cohesive power alliances between tenure-track (TT) and NTT faculty members to confront shared political and economic concerns. I trace two examples of how collective leadership grew out of authentic alliances between TT and NTT faculty founded upon shared respect. If departments invest their efforts in building such relationships, they can help create a unified faculty that can harness the power of collective leadership. This process begins with environmental assessments of departmental climates to determine whether NTT faculty feel welcomed and valued and then continues with recommendations on how programs can follow up to develop spaces where TT and NTT faculty can interact and collaborate so they may create opportunities to learn and lead together. By recognizing the leadership potential of NTT faculty, we can replace traditional hierarchical attitudes toward research and teaching with structures that respect and support the broader contributions of all faculty.

Independent writing programs often have a higher proportion of NTT faculty than English departments. Many TT faculty in disciplines outside of composition and rhetoric view IWPs as service or support units. Some IWPs have challenged these prevailing hierarchies by building respectful and integrated faculty leadership. In Field of Dreams, the 2002 collection focusing on the development of IWPs across a wide variety of institutions, Larry Burton urges readers to look past pessimistic perspectives arising from such situational factors as the lopsided staffing of IWPs in order to imagine how IWPs can become "successful experiments in higher education" (295). Such constraints can make these programs difficult to lead, for IWPs often require collective oversight of courses, teachers, staffing, funding, and curricular design requirements. Such pressures have prompted some IWPs to experiment with innovative leadership models that provide NTT faculty with opportunities to claim respect for their contributions. …

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