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History of Labor in Writing Postsecondary Writing

The working conditions of writing teachers first gained disciplinary attention at the 1986 Wyoming Conference on English, during which the initial draft of what has since been called “the Wyoming Resolution.” This document called for improvements in the minimum standards for working conditions of writing teachers, asserting the needs

  1. To formulate, after appropriate consultations with post-secondary teachers of writing, professional standards and expectations for salary levels and working conditions of post-secondary teachers of writing.
  2. To establish a procedure for hearing grievances brought by post-secondary teachers of writing–either singly or collectively– against apparent institutional non-compliance with these standards and expectations.
  3. To establish a procedure for acting upon a finding of non-compliance; specifically, to issue a letter of censure to an individual institution’s administration, Board of Regents or Trustees, State legislators (where pertinent), and to publicize the finding to the public-at-large, the educational community in general, and to our membership.

Though only some component parts of the resolution ultimately made it into the more expansive document, CCCC’s “Statement of Principles and Standards for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing” that document is considered to be a foundational one in setting the expectations for reasonable conditions for the teaching of college writing, particularly in the face of the increasing institutionalization of “Composition I and II” as a standard for college curricula nationally. Subsequently revised in 2013 and 2015, what is now called the “Principles for the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing” is the position statement addressing working conditions, along with “Best Practices in Faculty Hiring for Tenure-Track and Non-Tenure-Track Positions in Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies” and “Working Conditions for Non-Tenure-Track Writing Faculty,” and “Preparing Teachers of College Writing.”

The history of the Wyoming Resolution and its direct attention to labor conditions within writing studies is addressed in James McDonald and Eileen Schell’s “The Spirit and Influence of the Wyoming Resolution: Looking Back to Look Forward” in the March 2011 issue of College English focused specifically on contingency in English, an effective review of the complex tensions and negotiations that emerged over taking an organizational stance on working conditions in the teaching of college writing. Multiple book length studies address the theoretical, practical, ideological, disciplinary, and material considerations that shape the environments within which and the resources we draw from to teach college writing.

Besides the formal stances taken in position statements, the organization has committed resources and efforts to address questions and conflicts about labor in writing studies, including the publication of Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty: “a peer-reviewed publication concerning working conditions, professional life, activism, and perspectives of non-tenure-track faculty in college composition and communication. The organization also sponsors grassroots efforts such as the Standing Group, the “Labor Caucus,” whose collaborative efforts with the CCCC Committee on Part-Time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor led to resolutions passed at the Houston convention endorsing scholarly and organizational attention to labor issues within the field.

Most recently, multiple national organizations governing the work of postsecondary English (and postsecondary teaching more broadly) have tackled research, policy advising, and media-relations approaches to trying to address the increasing casualization of academic labor. These include the American Association of University Professors, the Modern Language Association, the Committee on the Academic Workforce, among others. Positions that offer stability continue to decline in their availability, as a November 2017 news story reported, noting that “The association’s Job Information List — a proxy for the tenure-track (or otherwise full-time) job market in English and foreign languages — included 851 jobs last year in English, 11 percent (102 jobs) fewer than the year before.” As institutional commitments to investing in stable, tenure-line positions decreases, so too does the exigency for identifying core components of positions for writing teachers that will allow the field and teachers and students within it to flourish.

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