pedagogy of rhet/comp job market imperatives

Following on Derek’s call for a carnival discussion of "Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition" by Karen Kopelson in the latest CCC. The article extends the conversation over the pressures in the field to bend research toward pedagogic applications, particularly in relation to dissertation projects.

I haven’t had an opportunity to read everyone else’s responses, so apologies if this has been covered elsewhere, but there is clearly a job market imperative here. Clancy mentioned her journey toward rhet/comp. My journey was quite pragmatic. I had an MA in creative writing, a strong interest in postmodern theory, and was in an experimental PhD program at Albany. One day I thought to myself, "hmmm… I think if I want to get a job, I’d greatly improve my chances if I did a rhet/comp dissertation." In the end I don’t think I did. I don’t think anyone on my cmte knew what I rhet/com diss would look like. But I did talk about writing and pedagogy and I did claim to be in rhet/comp. And so far it seems to be working ok. In truth, the thing that ended up making me competitive on the market was my facility with technology, and that remains the case to date.

The point I want to make though is a little different, but related in that it is about job market imperatives. There are something like 3000 four-year institutions in the US? How many of them really give a damn what your research is? 10%? I consider Cortland a very average institution in this regard: a comprehensive, masters-granting, public college. Yes, you have to publish to get tenure. You probably need to publish at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal. And after tenure… well, you know. If I had decided to pursue creative nonfiction and write essays, I could have done that. I hardly think Cortland is alone in this regard.

Including that pedagogic turn in a dissertation may indeed be a response to the importance placed in rhet/comp research on pedagogic application, but it is also a pragmatic, job-market strategy in a field where, quite honestly, the people hiring you are concerned with you as a teacher first and researcher second (or even third, following their estimation of you as a potential colleague). At a Phd-granting institution the kind of research you do would make a difference, and your success as a researcher could have an impact on the program as a whole. But that’s just not really the case elsewhere.

More on this later.