MLA Proposal Accepted: Remaking Academia in a Changing Economic Climate

In among the rejections, come joyous acceptances. I will be presenting at MLA on the first day (Jan. 6, 2011). Here was what I, as the session proposer, sent in:

In Our Own Image: Remaking Academia in a Changing Economic Climate

Reinventing the Academic Self Dr. Williams
Unexpected Benefits: Re-visioning an Academic through Campus Involvement Dr. Cotton
Avoiding Academic Rigor Mortis: From Teaching Zombie to Animated Scholar Dr. Davis


The overwhelming anxiety academics experience about the condition of the academy may be rooted in a fear for the continuance of our disciplines as a professional pursuit (Fleishmann). This is not a new concern, as is evidenced by the multiplicity of published works on the topic over the years. For example, Metzger’s “The American Academic Profession in ‘Hard Times’” presented a review of the assessment of professorial satisfaction as well as their current positioning during the 1970s economic downturn. In the 1990s, Williams discussed the experience of academics when universities worked to stave off a financial crisis by looking to corporate sponsors to support higher education in “Brave New University.” At the present time we are looking at similar economic difficulties and preparing for the worst.

When the economy is in a downturn, instructors’ on-campus responsibilities increase, their chances of improving their financial situation plummets, and the few job searches become a competition of hundreds. As a result, academics are often left to reconstruct what it means to be a professor in a changed environment.

This panel will explore specific examples of ways in which the economy has impacted academics, what responses they have found beneficial, and ways in which their re-creation of themselves has impacted their teaching.

Dr. Debbie J. Williams will present on her experience negotiating within the academic community while fulfilling her avocation as part of the sandwich generation in an overall poor economy. She will discuss the precarious juggling of a full-time job and the less accepted responsibilities of on-line work from other sources to ease burdens of other family members, allowing them to afford medications and treatments, while actively being the main support for her aging parents and her mentally challenged, terminally ill brother. She will discuss the implications and possibilities of reinventing an academic self as both an in-person associate professor and an online tutor/instructor for another institution.

Though Dr. Williams has worked as an online tutor, this has been supplemental to her full-time career as a college professor and, while informing her teaching, has not been the primary source of her responsibilities, fiscal compensation, or academic identity. Dr. Cotton, on the other hand, worked primarily as a full-time tutor for her institution and claimed a full-time faculty position through her presentation of herself as an academic colleague to the other faculty.

Dr. Susan Cotton will discuss how she used tutoring to both remain financially solvent and to develop and maintain a positive reputation among the academics at her college. She will talk about ways in which her involvement in non-teaching related activities led to her re-visioning as a colleague by academics both within and outside of her department. She will also discuss how the transformation from tutoring academic to tenure-track academic has impacted both her workload and her classroom. Finally she will point out the unexpected benefits the difficult economy has provided to her classes and her institution.

Dr. Cotton has secured a full-time position at a college for which she was a long-term adjunct, but not everyone experiences this. Presently Dr. Davis works as contingent faculty without full-time benefits and pay, even though she teaches a full-time load as an adjunct and her chair has said that he has no one else who could do the job she does.

Dr. Suanna H. Davis will discuss her recent experience attempting to move out of the role of adjunct after eight years as a voluntary adjunct and seventeen years away from full-time academia. She will elucidate the factors that led to her going from zero to twenty texts accepted for publication in two years, the process by which she created that flood of productivity, and how she managed it while teaching six writing classes a semester. She will also explicate the somewhat painful process of reanimating an academic life that focused only on teaching and how that revitalization improved her classroom experience by developing a more comprehensive pedagogical framework, introducing her to new activities, and reminding her of the stimulative properties of the life of the mind.

The economic downturn has impacted individuals, departments, and colleges across the nation. The experiences of academics, all working similar jobs in similar institutions, are not identical. While most people operate with the human perspective that other people’s experience of the same phenomenon will be similar to their own (Banker), academics can benefit from learning how others’ experiences have differed and what impact that has had on their career, their teaching, and, perhaps, their institutions.

Scholarship notes:

computers-writing-the-cyborg-eraDebbie J. Williams is an associate professor at Abilene Christian University where she has taught full-time for the last thirteen years and serves as the Director of Composition. Her teaching and interests are in technology and rhetoric, including visual and political rhetoric. Recent publications include her monograph De-Frocking the President as Priest: The Role of Christian Language in the Presidency of George W. Bush, which was published in 2004, and her article “Issues of Access,” published in the 2003 Computers and Writing: The Cyborg Era. During her time at ACU, she has also worked as a secondary English teacher and an online instructor/tutor.

Susan Cotton is an associate professor at Lone Star College: Kingwood, where her appointment in 2009 recognized her twelve years of adjunct and instructor experience with the college. Prior to her full-time appointment to the Department of English, she was a master tutor in the college’s learning center. Her teaching and research interests have focused on teaching students with disabilities and she has presented for the International Writing Centers Association on “Silent Movies: Understanding the Needs of the Deaf Student.”

how-to-write-about-shakespeares-romancesSuanna H. Davis is an adjunct at Houston Baptist University where she teaches writing for both the Department of Languages and the School of Business. Her writing and research have focused primarily on pedagogical practices. Her book for students How to Write about Shakespeare’s Romances will be published in October 2010 and recent articles have appeared in CCCC Forum, Teaching American Literature: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Changing English: An International Journal of English Teaching, and The CEA Forum.

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