Interview With Dr. Kirk Astle (Part I)

I’d promised you more interviews. This week is the first installment in an extended interview with Dr. Kirk Astle, Director of College Writing for Baker College Online (and the program employs a number of adjuncts teaching writing). Dr. Astle was gracious enough to answer a number of questions for me, and at length.



Adjunct Advocate (AA):

As Director of College Writing for Baker College Online, what are your responsibilities?


Dr. Astle: My Job Description states, “The director is central to ensure high quality and standards in writing instruction.  In addition, this individual works closely with the writing center, which may include its supervision.”  The description continues with the following bulleted list of responsibilities:


·        Teach English and Writing courses

·        Assist with the writing center to possibly include its supervision

·        Review English and Writing courses to ensure teaching readiness

·        Mentor English and Writing faculty

·        Attend system curriculum meetings and participate in curriculum and assessment activities

·        Communicate and implement system reforms, at the campus level, including AQIP

·        Organize professional development for English and Writing faculty at the campus level

·        Attend advisory board meetings and participate in discussions of graduate communication skills

·        Oversee English placement grading (waivers)

·        Advise in staffing and recruiting English and Writing faculty

·        All other responsibilities, as assigned by the dean




AA: And what is your background? (I’m especially interested in whether you were an adjunct and where. If so, please add this question: what were your experiences as an adjunct writing teacher?)





Dr. Astle:

Adjunct Teaching (Ph.D. Candidate to Present)


General Education Department

Baker College—Owosso, Owosso MI



Winter 2009 Quarter

“Composition I”

“Composition II” (Two Sections)


Spring 2009 Quarter

“Composition II”

“Structures of English”










Department of Humanities and Performing Arts

Lansing Community College, Lansing MI


Fall 2007

“Writing About Literature and Ideas” (Three Sections)


Department of English and Communications

Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste. Marie MI

Assistant Professor

Spring 2007

“First-Year Composition II,” (Two Sections)

“American Literature II”

“Native American Literature”

Fall 2006

“First-Year Composition,” (Three Sections)

“American Literature I”


Davenport University, Alma MI



Summer 2006

“English Composition” (One Summer Section)


Humanities Division

Mott Community College, Flint MI

Visiting Instructor


Summer 2006

“English Composition II” (One Summer Section)


Spring 2006

“English Composition II,” (Two Sections)

“Technical and Professional Writing” (One Section)


Department of English

Alma College, Alma MI

Visiting Instructor

Fall 2005

“College Rhetoric II” (One Section)

Humanities Division

Mott Community College, Flint MI

Visiting Instructor

Fall 2005

“English Composition I,” “English Composition II” (One Section of Each)


The Writing Center

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI


Spring 2004-Summer 2004

Co-Facilitator, “Navigating the Ph.D.: A Writing Workshop,” Graduate Writing Consultant


Winter 2004

Co-Facilitator, “Navigating the Ph.D.: A Writing Workshop,” Graduate Writing Consultant


Fall 2003

Partial Leave of Absence


Department of English

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI


Fall 2001 – Spring 2003

“Genres and Themes: Representations of the Family in Nineteenth Century Fiction”  (One Section)


“Cross-Cultural Literatures” (One Section)


Fall 1999 – Spring 2000

AL 201, “Writing Tutorial: Integrated Arts & Humanities” (Two Sections Each Semester)




The only institution I wasn’t part-time, was at Lake Superior State University, but that position was a one-year visiting professor position.  I was not invited to return after my initial year and received no evaluative feedback on my performance.


I will avoid autobiography and keep my responses about my adjunct experiences relatively generalized.  For example, I think my experiences were exceptionally varied.  I learned of diverse student needs and talents; multiple pedagogical approaches; a body of literature new to me; how to design and implement a course; how to navigate complex administrative systems; ways to interact effectively with colleagues and students.  I learned as well, and in a literal manner, that frustration and disappointment attend teaching while developing ways to handle them. 


Not that I needed any particular lessons in my own fallibilities, having a reasonably accurate assessment of those already, but I learned of them in several spheres throughout my adjunct career so that humility emerged unfettered so to speak.  Perhaps most importantly, I learned that true education is painful, for everyone from part-time students to tenured faculty, and leaves all kinds of marks and scars, which I think of as testaments to one’s (self) discipline.  In other words, from my graduate training and adjunct experiences, I learned that one always lives a bare life, to use Giorgio Agamben’s phrase in Homo Sacer.  The title derives its name from a figure in Roman law.  Such a figure, if you will allow me a small digression, could be analogous to some of my own adjunct experiences and provides them with a historical basis as well as a larger significance because according to Agamben, homo sacer was a person included under the auspices of the law solely as an instance of the law’s ability to exclude one from its rights and protections, which is literally the law’s ability to hold one perpetually in the open, vulnerable, and sometimes literally exposed to annihilation.  In this analogy, the adjunct might represent, in the system of higher education, he or she who is held out in the open with little legal or economic recourse.  In a more positive manner, I think as an adjunct I helped test, in direct and indirect ways, the limits of curricula, learning, facilities, and teaching for many of the campuses of which I was a contingent part.  In other words, for some institutions I was both necessary as a testing agent and (or therefore) radically expendable. 


(As I mentioned, Dr. Astle was kind enough to respond to my questions at length, and so we’ll conclude the interview again next week.)




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