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Teresa Thomas: Case #2


Teresa Thomas, a new Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition, has just been hired by University X to assume the position of Assistant Professor of English. Her specialty in computers and writing was enormously appealing to a department that had so far failed to distinguish itself in electronic media. In hiring her, the head knew that the graduate students would be well served by her technological expertise, and she herself expected Thomas to be able to contribute substantively to the wider field of rhetoric and composition. Thomas had, after all, a fine background in classical rhetoric, and the head envisioned her as doing the same kind of exemplary scholarship, say,  as that of a Kathleen Welch or a Richard Lanham. The committee had been very impressed with her dissertation, although one or two had questioned its form. It was one of the first hypertextual theses to appear and was, of course, published entirely online. The Rhetoric of Online Scholarship was surely timely and the head found it very publishable. And she also knew that both the faculty and graduate students would really benefit from Teresa Thomas’s contributions to the department.  Her 2/2 teaching load should also provide her with the time to work on her research. Or so the reasoning went.

In her first years, Thomas published widely. There was an webtext (an article) that appeared in Kairos,a refereed online journal, as well as a multimedia piece which appeared in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), another refereed online journal.  Now her dissertation was also being considered by Athens University Press as one of their major online reference works. In addition, she had written two grants-one to the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) for $150,000. and another to the University Computer Funding Board for $75,000. Both grants were funded. The first allowed her and the graduate students to study how undergraduates adapt software such as FrontPage, Macromedia’s Dreamweaver,and Photoshop for their own Web creations; the second gave them the computers for the department’s first fully networked lab.  Two dissertations that Thomas directed based on the FIPSE grant were also underway, and graduate students flocked to her and her classes on a regular basis.

She was similarly impressive with the undergraduates. Her classes on writing and technology were consistently over-enrolled, and she was also a tremendous hit in teaching another course cross-listed with Women’s Studies on women and technology. And, in addition to her teaching, she had also organized a reading group on Online Rhetorical Bodies, which was contributing to her ongoing interest in all things rhetorical. By the time Thomas came up for her third-year review, she and her colleagues believed that they had all been right in their choices. Thomas was in all ways a superior colleague, teacher, and scholar, and the department was treating Thomas well.

In her third-year review papers, Thomas was praised by two internal referees. She had afterall stellar teaching evaluations, two online articles, a contract for an online book, and two grants. The third referee, however, wanted to know why none of the publications, forthcoming or otherwise, were print-based. Could one really expect to receive tenure at a premier research university with no print publications? And, yes, there were the grants—very nice, of course—(they mean a great deal in the sciences he guessed), but why was everything online?  A very difficult and contentious faculty meeting ensued in which several judged Thomas as having produced essentially no scholarship or at best scholarship of a spurious kind. The head was directed to speak sternly, but helpfully, to Teresa so that she might use the next few years to publish properly.

When the head apprised Thomas of some of the department’s worries, she was certain Thomas would understand.  A few well-placed articles to accompany the online publications was surely something Thomas could achieve. And Thomas could talk to Athens University Press about producing a print copy of the reference work based on her dissertation. They had a good talk, and Thomas seemed amenable to the head’s suggestions. Thomas continued to go happily about her day-to-day work, perhaps with a tad less enthusiasm, but she nevertheless continued to excel in teaching and good citizenship activities.

She also continued to publish. During the next two years, she was approached by Houghton Hall to do an online textbook. They offered her a lucrative contract for work that Thomas was essentially already doing online with her students. Teresa truly believed that in this 21st century the Web is every bit as critical a medium for literacy activities as books, paper, pens and pencils had been in the 20th century. She had a passion for experimenting with the new technologies. For the FIPSE grant, for example, she had created a Web site and database that served researchers around the country and broke new ground in demonstrating the potential of a living, flexible archive.

When Teresa Thomas came up for tenure three years later, she had all the requisite kinds of publications and her outside letters were extraordinary. She had yet, however, to publish anything in print. Even her syllabi were all online.

Tenure and Promotion Cases for Composition Faculty Who Work with Technology

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