Wednesday, March 11, 2015

In the News

...or headlines that are on the periphery of the news...

A few articles, among the many that are circulating daily...

1. A Review of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia, Utah State University Press, 2012. Edited by Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Yolanda Flores Niemann, Carmen G. González, Angela P. Harris. 

This is a collection of essays, on various topics, about issues in academia particularly from the perspective of people of color. I have long had this theory that the increase in contingency (decrease in tenure-line positions) is in direct proportion to women, people of color, those other than economically privileged white males going further to earn higher degrees, Ph.D.s and the like, and entering the academic market. As the traditional academic world started opening to these nontraditional possibilities, it started to shut itself down. Certainly the business model-economic constraints contribute to the reversal of teaching positions (40 years ago 75% of faculty were tenure-line), but the narrative focuses on this economic situation, at least in part, as a deferral from the institutionalized racism and sexism that it protects and reiterates. From the review:

"The 30 essays in Presumed Incompetent expose a nasty truth about Academia: it is not above the realities of everyday American life. It, in fact, reproduces and reinforces society’s inequalities, stereotypes, and hierarchies within its own walls.

"That academic women, especially academic women of color, are often presumed incompetent, is probably not surprising to most. The virtue of this book is that it enables the reader to see that these experiences are not individual experiences nor are they the result of individual flaws. Keeping this insight in mind, these essays become more than just “stories” or anecdotes. They point to the larger structural and cultural forces within Academia that make the experience of being presumed incompetent for women of color far too common.


"Lugo-Lugo also touches upon a second, though sometimes less explicit, theme of this book: the corporatization of higher education.  There are several layers to this phenomenon that affect women of color disproportionately. For one, contingent labor now makes up the vast majority of faculty positions in this country.  White women and women of color are disproportionately represented in these contingent ranks. Women of color only make up 7.5% of all full-time faculty positions in Academia (pg. 449). Given this reality, the presumption of incompetence gets reinforced and magnified for women of color. But there is another aspect of corporatization that is considered in the essays in this book. These are the essays that discuss student evaluations of teaching.  Because students increasingly come to the classroom with a consumerist mentality, they feel entitled to a certain experience, a certain grade, a certain “kind” of teacher. Lazos’ chapter, in particular, is a must-read for anybody who wishes to understand the factors that impact students’ evaluations of their professors. Departments chairs and members of committees on tenure and promotion will also find this chapter useful since they are responsible for evaluating a faculty member’s teaching effectiveness and student evaluations are a primary source of that information.

2. "Love in a Time of Contingency" (titled slantedly after one of my favorite novels by Marquez)

This is from a year ago, but so relevant and important. In fields especially like Women's and Gender Studies (as well as other humanities, social sciences, etc) our academic politics don't match the fight against real world sexism, racism, economic oppression... Scholars exhort feminist political arguments in research and teaching, but ignore the perpetuation of marginalization and violence within the very institutions they are working. 

From the article:

"As Jennifer Ruth poignantly showed recently (though not speaking in the WGS context), we are all complicit in perpetuating these dynamics, including those working in “middle management.” While not making sweeping higher ed policy decisions, these “middle managers” are the actors, Ruth argues, who make the everyday decisions that continue to perpetuate this system: department chairs who accept non-TT positions to “grow” their programs, TT faculty who ask for adjunct coverage so they can finish that book. Those working in WGS should be held accountable when their actions uncritically perpetuate a racist, classist, and ableist system whose increasing corporatization is leading to a “winner-take-all” market for a tiny minority of faculty and increasing contingency for the rest. Significantly, 76% of faculty are contingentwith women and people of color making up a large percent."

3. This article from a journal out of Louisville ( is from 2001 or just thereafter. It analyzes the rise of contingent labor, especially among first-year writing teachers, and points to political movement happening across social sectors (protests against the WTO, rise of union interest among contingent workers, etc), and it calls out to those teaching in areas in which we "profess" politics or critically engaged pedagogy to also act these in our real, academic, institutional lives. This article disturbs me because I wonder, like the environmental apocalypse that is  upon us, how long does it take for the sounding alarms to turn to real change?

From the article:

"The revitalization of academic unions and growing regional, state-wide, national, and international coalition building efforts among various groups concerned with contingent labor coupled with localized legislative action can effect change. In this essay, I will report on and analyze campus, municipal, state-wide, and national organizing campaigns to address the working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-track faculty, many of them first-year writing teachers. After that, I will discuss a proposed international week of action, Campus Equity Week, that is forthcoming, and will conclude with a discussion of the rhetorical strategies that literacy workers and others agitating for change can best adopt to achieve coalition building and organizing toward improved working conditions. "

"With a rhetoric that opposes binaries and encourages agency and coalition-building, we are in a good position to articulate a broad educational agenda that acknowledges worker rights and the fundamental need for a democratic, accessible, and diverse system of higher education."

To find out more about this mini-essay project see the Introduction:The (Contingent)(Academic)(Teacher) in 2015

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