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Harrison Spenser: Case #5


American Harrison Spencer, with a D.Phil. from a British university and a dissertation on a medieval rhetorician, spent several years in non-tenure line positions before being hired by University X into a tenure-line position in a fledgling rhetoric and composition program.  At the time of hiring, Spencer had just secured a contract to publish his dissertation.  The search committee recognized his historical scholarship in rhetoric but the department chair more eagerly welcomed the expertise Spencer had developed with technology during his adjunct teaching.  Although Spencer was given a 2/2 teaching load for his first year, he was immediately assigned administrative responsibility for the department’s computer lab, a task that carried with it staffing the lab, acting as troubleshooter for everyone who used the lab, mentoring new users, and defending the use of computers in English classes to the literature faculty in the department.

In his first year, in an attempt to engage some of the literature faculty, Spencer asked two of them to become part of a team of five co-investigators seeking a major software development grant that would bring a state of the art technology classroom to the department. For a period of three years, the grant would support one course of release time each semester for each co-investigator.  During the few months between submitting the grant and learning that it was funded, Spencer completed revisions to his dissertation for publication.  His teaching evaluations that year were competent but lackluster in the undergraduate classes; the graduate students, on the other hand, praised his knowledge and expertise in his new course in Technology and English Studies.  One asked that he direct her M.A. research project, and two asked if he would serve on their dissertation committees.  Reviewing Spencer’s record for his first year, the department’s Promotion and Tenure Committee (comprised only of tenured senior faculty) reasoned that he had accomplished a lot that first year, but urged him to make time for publication since he was hired with the book contract in place. In his meeting with Spencer, the department chair conveyed the Promotion and Tenure Committee’s concerns but focused on the benefits and practical implications of Spencer’s bringing the grant to the department.

In his second year, with the chair’s blessing, Spencer established a department Technology Committee to assess needs, set policies, and prepare proposals. Lab use policies, training for G.A. lab attendants, faculty development, and network management were issues he could no longer handle alone.  The informal mentoring he was doing and the workshops he was offering on demand were consuming his time.  His low key affability and willingness to take on what needed to be done were being stretched thin; the committee would allow him and others to look beyond the next week. Rather than appoint a committee, however, the chair asked for volunteers.  The other untenured faculty member on Spencer’s grant team volunteered (neither of the two literature faculty on the team did), as did several long-term adjunct faculty and graduate students. The committee’s three year plan for technology use and integration into the department was, however, passed by the department and then by the College Computer Literacy Committee.

Remembering the Promotion and Tenure Committee’s concerns, Spencer thought he could move some of his work to publication if it were more closely tied to his teaching.  To the Curriculum Committee he proposed breaking apart the graduate history of rhetoric course into at least three, offering a new course in Medieval/Early Modern Rhetoric as well as the Classical and Contemporary Rhetoric that matched his colleagues’ expertise. He also proposed a new course in Web (port)folios that could be taught at the undergraduate or graduate levels.  In addition to a K-12 computer workshop at the state NCTE affiliate conference in the fall, he presented at CCCC’s and Computers and Writing.

The next year the university began a major thrust in distance education, and Spencer was asked to teach an online writing course.  Cost-effectiveness of computer delivery was appealing in the face of expensive satellite transmissions for televised courses, so the university was willing to work with him to solve the problems created by their network firewall. Spencer quickly found himself on the university Distance Education committee and then on a state-level committee.  His responsibilities for the lab and the technology committee continued, placing even more demands on his time.  He was active professionally in Computers and Writing, organizing a teleconference for Computers and Writing folks to showcase university facilities, volunteering to host a MOO for Computers and Writing Online, and presenting again that year at CCCC’s and the Computers and Writing annual conference.  He reviewed two recently published books for Kairos.  Progress on the grant work, however, was not on schedule.  He and the other junior faculty members, one in English and one in computer science, were making good progress on their modules, but the two literature faculty members were far behind schedule, even with a computer science graduate student assigned to write code for them.  Spencer had hoped to publish the software by the end of the grant period, during his fourth year, but that prospect was quickly fading. He spent much of his time that summer finishing his modules and reconceptualizing the project to reduce the literature faculty tasks.

Spencer’s three-year review (during fall of his 4th year) elicited a warning from the Promotion and Tenure Committee.  The Composition and Rhetoric representative on Promotion and Tenure Committee and the department chair supported Spencer because he was doing what his position asked for and what they thought the department needed, and they saw the promise of publications from his conference presentations. Committee vote, however, was split between “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory progress toward tenure.” Their written review stated “teaching: satisfactory; service: outstanding, research: none.”  The committee recognized his book at the end of his first year but noted it was underway pre-hire.  When the concerns were passed on to Spencer during a meeting just before Christmas, the department chair confirmed his support for Spencer’s grant work and administrative responsibilities, but urged him to prioritize so he could get something published.  Spencer decided that the only time on task he could alter was in the grant work, so he asked the two literature faculty who weren’t pulling their weight to resign from the grant.  (One was relieved, but the other was irate that he would suddenly have a third class to teach spring semester.)  With a radical redesign, Spencer and his remaining co-investigators completed the software package on time that spring and demonstrated it at the annual Computers and Writing conference. Administrative and mentoring responsibilities and his online writing class consumed the remainder of his time that spring so after teaching first summer term, he spent the remainder of the summer reading and preparing his new course in Medieval/Early Modern Rhetoric for the following fall. One of the new books, examining the changing relationship between technology and rhetoric from Medieval/Early Modern to Post Modern times, he reviewed for Kairos, an online journal.

At the first department meeting that fall (Spencer’s fifth year), the chair announced that he would be leaving to take a position as Dean at University Y on September 15 and that Professor N would be acting as interim chair until the department could decide whether to conduct an election or a search. Spencer greeted the news with some alarm since Professor N was the second of the two faculty he had asked to resign from his grant, but he determined just to do his work and publish something more substantial. He presented some new work on Early Modern rhetoric at the Rhetoric Society of America conference, and his paper was accepted for publication in RSA Online, a refereed online journal. Tallman Publishers contacted Spencer about his software, and after months of negotiation, with the University and the granting agency both claiming intellectual property rights , Spencer finally signed a contract that would acknowledge his and his co-principal investigators’ authorship.   He also finished an article on pedagogy prompted by his online writing class and submitted it to The Journal of Online Instruction (refereed and, appropriately, online).  For good measure he reviewed three more books for Kairos, all to be published before his promotion and tenure document would be due in November of his sixth year.  He presented again at CCCC’s and Computers and Writing, and began preparing those manuscripts for submission.  His teaching evaluations remained competent at the undergraduate level and stellar at the graduate level, but a colleague’s observation noted that his high expectations for his students might have been more than some undergraduates could handle. That spring Professor N was elected Department Chair.

Spencer’s 6th year review, based on his 5-year record, caused considerable discussion in the Promotion and Tenure Committee, and the report came back with a 5-2 negative recommendation for tenure, which the Department Chair supported.

Tenure and Promotion Cases for Composition Faculty Who Work with Technology

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