Institutional Support, Institutional Change

A few weeks ago I commented on how some of the major academic organizations (Modern Language Association [MLA], National Council of Teachers of English [NCTE]) supported adjunct attendance at their conferences, both financially and rhetorically. I decided to return to that topic and contact some of the institutions involved. Since NCTE posted an email address for information about their Professional Equity Project (PEP) on their website.

Within 12 hours, Kristen Suchor had gotten back to me. (Let me take a moment here to thank the various respondents to my questions. They have been both generous with their time and strikingly quick with their replies.) She told me that the PEP was starting its eighth year. Grants were first given in 2002, building on a resolution that had been passed at the NCTE’s CCCC Annual Business meeting in 2001. (For more on that resolution, visit http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resolutions/2001.) Kristen noted that this wasn’t the only motion calling for organizational support of adjunct involvement.

When asked about numbers of faculty attending under this program, Kristen replied, “We typically receive between 100 and 150 applicants each year and we fund between 60 and 94 applicants (there are currently 94 grants available each year but we are not always able to give all of the grants away due to last minute cancellations etc).” Kristen estimated about a third of the grantees receive matching funds.

NCTE doesn’t track how many institutions match funds for attending adjuncts, or why some administrators do so while others don’t. (Kristen did mention that CCCCs asks program administrators for nominations, contacting many of them directly [especially those who are based near that year’s convention site].)

However, Kristen was able to put me in touch with Susan Miller-Cochran at North Carolina State University. (Needless to say, given the first post for this blog, I was amused by this irony.) Once I contacted Professor Miller-Cochran, she explained that NCSU’s First-Year Writing Program started the current policy of funding attendance at CCCCs two years ago. Funds are available for full-time faculty, part-time faculty, and graduate students—and what’s more, funding is available for attendees even if they aren’t presenting (though at a lower level.)

This policy was started by Nancy Penrose, who preceded Miller-Cochran as Director of the First-Year Writing Program. Miller-Cochran noted, ” She and I both felt that having teachers in our program participate in Cs (either through presenting or just attending) would strengthen the quality of teaching in our program and help our teachers join professional conversations in the field. Since teaching is their sole obligation (as opposed to the research obligation that tenure-track faculty have), I think it’s appropriate to fund them to attend the conference—participation in these conversations enriches teaching and learning in the program.”

An impressive and enlightened sentiment.

As far as where the money for this program comes from, several sources come together. Some of it comes from the First-Year Writing Program Trust Fund, which gets its money through donations (including from faculty members who donate textbook royalties!) and sales of an anthology of student writing. Some funds come from NCSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

When asked if what effect this support had on adjunct retention, Miller-Cochran said, “I don’t know that this decision has retained more faculty, although I can say that we’ve had far less turnover in the last two years than we used to have. We’ve also argued for longer contracts, higher salaries, and lower course caps, though—and I think all of these things together help faculty feel more valued.”

Speaking as an adjunct, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that yes, this sort of generous treatment is likely related to the lower turnover. I’d also like to note that it is a pleasure to hear of such systematic institutional change. NCSU was always a good place to teach; now it sounds like it might serve as a model for ethical professional action. Bravo!

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