Contributed by Michael Blancato
In 2010, Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow began collecting stories from contingent faculty across the United States and Canada about their experiences as part-time instructors. The resulting documentary, Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor, presents harrowing accounts of how higher education institutions have increasingly come to rely on contingent workers who face poverty-level wages and uncertain futures.
While contingent faculty exploitation has become a disturbingly common trend, many faculty members are taking steps to secure better working conditions and pay. In 2014, a majority of adjuncts at Temple University signed authorization cards for union representation. Although these adjuncts have a right to seek union representation and collectively bargain, Temple University administration officials have blocked a union vote.
This short video documents some of the protests that have taken place at Temple University in response to the school’s decision to block a union vote. For more information about these protests and Temple University unionization efforts, you can visit the United Academics of Philadelphia and the Temple Association of University Professionals websites. You can also call on Temple University officials to respect adjuncts’ right to unionize by signing this MoveOn.org petition.
Updated October 11, 2015: It seems the protests and testimonies from Temple University adjunct faculty members have yielded results. On September 29, 2015, the Pennsylvania Labor Review Board approved Temple adjuncts’ request for a union election. This decision means Temple adjuncts will soon be able to vote whether they would like to join the Temple Association of University Professionals, a collective bargaining unit that currently represents “full-time faculty, professional librarians academic professionals in the 11 schools and colleges enrolling undergraduate students at Temple University.”
This is an interview with Megan Fulwiler and Jennifer Marlow about the exigence, content, and production of their documentary, Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor, the most recent publication of Computers and Composition Digital Press.
by Chris Parsons
I’m not quite sure how the opening to the story goes. “I was looking at the woman in the clearance bra but was distracted by an article about teen girls coding.” Or maybe, “I kept trying to click away the ad in the middle of my article before remembering I wasn’t reading news online.” Maybe: “Popular article connecting to my academic interests serendipitously rewards me for not flipping directly to news about Michigan’s Final Four run.
No matter the story of the encounter, on April 4th, 2013, the Detroit Free Press ran an article called “Group looks to get more teen girls into computer programming” by Megha Satyanarayana, a staff writer. Initially stunned that such a column was not syndicated from a national source, I found that an event in Detroit this coming July (put on by the nonprofit Girls Who Code) prompted the local coverage. Most strikingly, at least at first, was the layout: the article unfolds like a waterfall, wrapped around a Macy’s advertisement.
That design-quirk noted, the article contains a history of the organization, quotes from the founder, scary statistics on women and coding, reasons for the Detroit camp, and information on signing up.
I became interested in gender stereotypes in new media after I spent some time researching the crisis rhetoric around boys and literacy that started around 2000. Amidst stories of “wars on boys” and “women leaving men in the dust,” came pedagogical recommendations that sounded like pop songs (“Make’em Laugh,” “Let’s Get Physical,” etc.). One stereotype-cum-teaching strategy that popped up now and again went something like this: “boys don’t like reading” but “boys do like computers” so “boys should read (and write) on computers.” Basically, it seemed to me, some were reacting to stereotypes (and, to be fair, test scores) about boys and literacy by trying to offer some sort of pedagogical portmanteau in the sense that Wikipedia says Lewis Carroll first imagined portmanteau: put boys, reading, writing, computers, and maybe some violent video games into a suitcase and shake like hell.
I suggested that this idea might serve to strategically, hegemonically leave female students out of the new language / technology of power. If the supposed new media, high-tech economy gendered stereotypically male, then women might be stuck enjoying the subtlety of Great Books while being systematically kept away from great jobs. The Free Press article points to the stats: the sex distribution is nearly 50 – 50 on jobs in medicine and chemistry, but “in computer science as a whole, women made up 25% of the work force…, 23% of programmers, 20% of the software developers and 34% of web developers.” In the world of stereotypes, I can’t help but wonder if that is partly because people envision the holders of those jobs like Nick Burns, “your company’s computer guy,” from Saturday Night Live.
Most interestingly of all, at least to me, is how the article (and perhaps Girls Who Code as an organization) tries to recast existing stereotypes to address the original stereotype. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, is paraphrased by the article as saying, “The issue…is women’s perception that the field is made up of white males often working alone.” Stereotypes about computer science jobs certainly seem to be a motivating factor for the organization. The response? Further layers of stereotypes. The article refers to the event this summer as a “boot camp” and suggests that teen girls want jobs that “change lives.” As Cinda Davis, director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, suggests, “Girls want to help people.” A former participant in the program notes that she “bonded with the other girls in the group.” Oddly, the essentialized ideas are not even gender consistent: a boot camp to help people seems to index a drill sergeant screaming that your candy ass better collaborate on some ideas to help those orphans or you’ll owe 1000 lines of code.
To what end these comments? In a certain sense, I’m trying to react as honestly as possible to an article I recently stumbled across. I certainly have no aim of presenting a solution to complex problems like sexism in the workplace or over-stereotyping. I do, however, mean to point out a possible problem in accepting one stereotype (women are more caring than men) to solve the problems created by another one (men know about computers). A more thoughtful solution might involve interrogating the basis of these stereotypical assumptions while still understanding the very real work gender essentialism does for people. Girls Who Code, for example, seems a likely source for beginning to narrate a counterstory to computer science as a male domain. Nothing grinds at exclusive stereotypes like active, discovery-based participation. To be sure, the group immediately challenges the image of “white males…working alone,” but, at least as presented in the article, tries to call on the same binary-based stereotypes that helped to start the exclusion in the first place. Still, my hope is that Girls Who Code represents a still-forming sentiment of awareness and advocacy about access issues. That sentiment might be taken-up and enacted at a more local level by teachers, parents, school clubs, community groups, whoever. It really might be something as simple as the AP Computer Science teacher thinking hard about why no female students take (we’ll say) her class. The distant stereotypes will still exist, but, like the article eroding the edges of the Macy’s ad, local work can make an impact on distant ideas.
Contribute by Molly Parsons.
I just completed my first year of graduate school at the University of Michigan, and my first year teaching a first year composition course. I created this comic book as a way to explore and share the experience of creating my first digital composition unit for my students. I hope that it is valuable to instructors who find themselves considering undertaking a similar project, but (like me) lack the technological skills or pedagogical understanding. It’s for those who (also like me) are just a bit suspicious of introducing text-less compositions into the writing classroom.
Link: Multimodal-Me by Molly Parsons.
For me, this whole process was a working out of skepticism. I wanted answers to questions, gosh darn it, and I am one of those people who have trouble accepting answers without having gone through the (often) punishing process of digging them up myself. I was a middle school and high school English teacher before I began studying at Michigan. In that role, computer technology and I had a very simple relationship:
- It allowed me to type on the board what once would’ve been written in my strange, slanted left-hander’s scrawl; type was much easier for my students to read. Added bonus: less chalk dust, fewer Expo-marked encrusted finger nails.
- I sent e-mails instead of shouting down the halls or walking miles around campus in search of someone or something.
- It let me show clips of video during class without having to stand on a chair to reach the TV and DVD player that was mounted five feet above my head.
But beyond these tool-ish affordances, I felt uneasy about how technology was sneaking into my classroom. The teacher-lunchroom talk often ran the way of, ‘Kids these days…with their text-message language…If I get one more essay that has a smiley face emoticon…” (bluster, bluster, bluster). I saw some teachers take up technology as an essay-grading tool. And though I don’t think computers can grade, I knew why there was such happy excitement about this possibility—when you have 150-180 students it just isn’t possible to grade (writing) and plan for class and be a happy, well-balanced person.
I saw other teachers take their students to the lab (reserving it for weeks at a time!) only to have them type essays on Word that, in the good ol’ days, would’ve been written in those little blue test books or in a spiral notebook. Technology seemed helpful sometimes but necessary only occasionally.
Then I got to graduate school and people all around me kept talking about how technology was transforming learning! Writing! Thinking! (If this was my comic book, I would add a picture here of me squinching my eyebrows together and shrugging my shoulders.) And I thought, Hmmmm. That sounds nice…
Nice in the way that any idea sounds when it is spouted by someone who hasn’t taught—nice for a classroom that I’m not sure exists. But it seemed that if I was really going to push against this claim of transformation, I better know what exactly everyone says computer technology can do. I had questions that needed to be answered:
- What can I say using digital technologies that I can’t say with conventional pen-to-paper or even fingers-to-keyboard technologies?
- Should ENGLISH teachers be tasked with training students how to use all the new technology? How to write and read all the new genres that are cropping up in digital environments? (With the specter of standardized testing trolling the hallways of K-12 schools, this seemed like an awfully big additional ‘burden’ to heap onto the poor English teacher’s curriculum plate.)
- If we do need to teach students to make movies or write blogs or tweets or… How will those things change the way that students write and read? What, if anything, can they add to an English curriculum?
I wanted my audience to have the chance to ask the questions with me, to partake in my process of discovery. I think that I was successful, kind of. But in order to make this sort of project communicate with the force and depth of writing, I now know that I need to learn a LOT more about the genre—and the software (I used ComicLife to compose the book). This is all to say that even though my intent was to create a stand-alone project, I find myself sitting at my computer and writing this blog post to explain it. And I am not alone here—even in the most multimediated of journals—Kairos, The Scholar Electric, Harlot of the Arts—text reigns. The videos, the comic books, the interactive interfaces are most often supplements to a word-made message.
But that’s the ‘bad’ part. And it certainly isn’t all bad. In the course of creating the comic book, I was also in the midst of implementing my video composition unit. Though I have yet to see my students’ final compositions or to read their reflections about the unit, the prep work leading up to the project helped to re-focus my thinking about the reason we bring all of this ‘stuff’ into our classrooms. And, it helped to remind me about things I knew about writing, but that I had never adequately expressed to my students before. For example, videos show us how to make layering (usually of different modes) evocative, meaningful. But text can do this too—when a controlling metaphor stretches over an essay, or when tone and word choice work against a message, creating irony and understatement. Layering is easy to see in video and multimodal compositions. Learn to manipulate those layers in text, and next time your friend finds you hunched before your computer, and asks what you’re writing, you can answer with a superior sniff, ‘Writing, bah! I’m composing.’
I included screen shots of Garret, Landrum-Geyer, and Palmeri’s “Re-inventing Invention” and of Sorapure’s “Between Modes: Assessing Student New Media Compositions” in my comic book. I would recommend these pieces to anyone planning a new media composition unit with their students.
Read Sorapure’s piece when you start having those oh my gosh I have no idea how to grade or think about new media projects! thoughts. She’ll bolster your courage. Sorapure argues (and I’ve come to agree) that composition instructors are uniquely equipped to evaluate new media work. We know how to study the relationships between ideas, words, images, in writing—so, when we are handed a new media project, she encourages you to focus on ‘composing,’ the bringing together of modes. We can ask students about their composing choices—even if we can’t evaluate their film-making prowess, their digital editing skills. Sorapure suggests using rhetorical tropes that describe relationships between two or more things as a starting place for talking about new media composing options with students. But as I mentioned in the comic, it is a slippery slope between developing a shared language with which you and your students can discuss new media composition and using so many terms that the students lose sight of the relationships which are central to composing. (Sorapure suggests just two: metaphor and metonymy.)
I also relied on Garret et. al’s piece—I used this text with my students to help them think about ‘juxtaposition’ as a concept and as a tool. We spent a day thinking about juxtaposing as a method of ‘inventing’ (as Garret et. al do), but then we continued to work with the term as the students were making choices about combining materials in the drafting state of composition. We asked: How can I create meaning without written or typed words, but rather by purposefully juxtaposing image with sound, video with still image, etc. Next time I teach this assignment—and I think that I will…–I will introduce this concept much earlier in the term, when there is still lots of writing left to be done. Because writing is all about purposeful juxtaposition—but it’s a heck-of-a lot easier to see how juxtaposition works in bright, flashy, multimedia. In fact, if this project wasn’t so time consuming (I needed 5 weeks to pull it off), I might make it the first or second thing my students did in the semester…In the current iteration of my syllabus, the video composition unit felt a little bit like a retrofit. All things I will continue to think about.
Have I answered my questions? Kind of. I know better why my colleagues advocate for the inclusion of new media composing projects in the classroom. There is a great deal of overlap in process, technique, and even products, of all sorts of composition modes. And now I can have that discussion with my students—I know that, ultimately, the answers lie with them.
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