Category Archives: TAtraining

Brooks, Kevin, Kathleen Blake Yancey, and Mark Zachry. “Developing Doctoral Programs in the Corporate University: New Models.” Profession (2002): 89-103. Print.

The authors present a new model for doctoral studies which fuses several (many) traditional courses of study, allowing students to shape their own graduate education according to their degree plans under the scope of a doctorate in Professional Communication. Other programs are skeptical, citing significant overlap with other, already existing programs. The narratives also recount other degree programs’ incredulity at a Department of English offering a doctoral degree in Professional Communication, with the idea that other departments’ specialists were more advanced and better equipped to handle students seeking such a degree.

Literature faculty were also hesitant because of the challenges it would present for faculty relationships and because of the perceived adherence to the corporatization of the academy. In [what is the three letter acronym that signaled a corporate structure in the university???], there were cost-benefit analyses, etc. Buying into all of that by offering a more “practical” degree in Professional Communication was a threat to the old vanguard who still harbor a desire to pursue “true” liberal arts learning as it has been historical defined in Departments of English. So, the narrators ran into a host of problems with the pursuit of these degrees, and each met varying successes and pitfalls along the way.

The schools were Utah (Zachry), Clemson (Yancey), and North Dakota State (Brooks).

A question of mine, with the idea that graduate students would be able to design their own course of study, I jotted “really? who really knows what their degree plans are at the outset of grad school?” A lot do, I understand, but just as many if not more do not. If you look at the narratives of rhetoric and composition scholars (like David Bartholomae does in in Bizzaro’s essay), many weren’t sure exactly what they were getting themselves into at the outset of graduate school.

Possible threads to pick up from: Stephen North’s Refiguring the PhD in English Studies

Profession 1996 Mark A Johnson “asserts that graduates of English doctoral programs can find successful and fulfilling work in corporate America. Rejecting the idea that English departments produce too many doctorates, Johnson suggests that English PhDs have the research, information management, and communication skills that a variety of industries (although predominantly software) value.

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Bousquet, Marc. “The Waste Product of Graduate Education: Toward a Dictatorship of the Flexible.” Social Text 70 (2002): 81-104. Print.

In this gritty analysis of the situation of PhD students, Bousquet explains that the idea of a “job market” for new grads operates rhetorically, not descriptively. He asserts that we must discard the Fordist assumption that the situation of those with doctoral degrees can be explained through a traditional production analogy, because PhDs are not, in fact, the primary products of the graduate employee labor system; post docs, adjuncts, and part time lecturers are.

The labor monopoly fails in this case because holding a degree no longer represents control over who may practice – in fact, getting a PhD is the logical end of one’s teaching career.

The system has no trouble bringing persons in through its primary gateways: admission to a graduate program at a research university. Its only problem is disposing of them after it has extracted six to ten years of their labor, to make room for new cheap teachers.

Irony: ghe best and most experiened teachers can be found in junior and community colleges, as the richer colleges expel those with the most experiecne in favor for “fresh meat,” young graduate students from whom the university plans to extract years of cheap labor.

The joke’s on us: PhDs are the waste product of a graduate education. Most graduate students are already laboring in the only academic job they will ever hold.

In order to better understand what’s going on, Bousquet says, we need to deploy an excrement theory of graduate education. The reason grad students feel as though they are being “treated like shit” is because they actually are the shit – the excrement, the waste – of the institution. They serve as cheap labor, and when their time is up, they are flushed away before they cause a toxic blockage to the system. The remedy, says Bousquet, is for graduate students to recognize the power to be had be being a toxic blockage. If they refuse to be flushed away, the system must respond internally.

The way to do this, for Bousquet, is through organization of unionized labor. By getting the message across to administrators and legislators that graduate students are not merely student apprentices, they labor – this idea is what Bousquet calls “we-work.”

Implicit in the understanding that “we-work,” and that this consciousness must be materialized in law, social policy, and workplace practice, are four important realizations:

  1. We are not overproducing PhDs, we are underproducing jobs
  2. Cheap teaching is not a victimless crime
  3. Casualization is an issue of racial, gendered, and class justice
  4. late capitalism does not just happen to the university, the university makes late capitalism happen

The conditions of the professoriate and the state of undergraduate education are intimately tied in to the abhorrent situation of hyper-exploitation of graduate student labor. Bousquet calls on grads to organize and on professors to speak out against cheap teachers. He shames professional organizations (particularly the MLA) for not recognizing and supporting the imperative of improving labor conditions for graduate students but for instead adhering to the administrative status quo. He points out that cheap graduate teachers are cheapening the entire academic system in myriad ways, from top to bottom, and offers specific ways in which it could be salvaged.

Fun fact: in 2002, 44% of higher education faculty were unionized, but the benefits of organization did not apply (or very rarely applied) to graduate students.


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Bloom, Lynn Z. “Freshman Composition as a Middle-Class Enterprise.” College English 58.6 (1996): 654-675. Print.

Lynn Bloom elucidates why and how Freshman Composition is a solidly middle class enterprise, functioning to validate the middle class values to which teachers of this curriculum mostly inevitably subscribe and to cement them into the next generations of students to pass through the university, sanitizing them before they can go along with the real business of the academy.

In this – as perhaps in any – middle class enterprise, the students’ vices must be eradicated and they must be indoctrinated against further transgressions before they, now pristine and proper, can proceed to the real business of the university (656).

Here are the hallmarks of first year composition, as they correspond to Benjamin Franklin’s exhortations about the proper way to conduct oneself, which have become cemented into the national ideology of what it means to be a proper, respectable member of society. These hallmarks largely define what it means to be middle class:

  • self reliance, responsibility
  • respectability
  • decorum, propriety
  • moderation and temperence
  • thrift
  • efficiency
  • order
  • cleanliness
  • punctuality
  • delayed gratification

Because of our fanatical adherence to these virtues, when first year writers dare to transgress them in their writing, teachers penalize them, albeit in increasingly diplomatic ways which better adhere to the narrative of diversity, political correctness, inclusion, and liberal, progressive thinking. Despite the language our critiques may be framed within, the proscriptions of student work which does not obey the parameters of these virtues are relatively consistent and predictable.

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Bizzaro, Resa Crane. “Making Places as Teacher-Scholars in Composition Studies: Comparing Transition Narratives.” College Composition and Communication 53.3 (2002): 487-506. Print.

This article is essentially about how Bizzaro, as a Native American woman from a working class background, feels a sense of identification with literature scholars who made the transition to teaching composition because of the similar feelings of isolation and alienation and the experience of having to negotiate one’s identity in an often hostile environment.

The lack of power and employment opportunities and the feeling of being “neither earth nor sky” she experienced as a Native American woman coming to the academy is compared to the material and institutional realities encountered by converted composition professionals like Sharon Crowley, Peter Elbow, David Bartholomae, and others. She reported not really knowing what she was getting into, much like Bartholomae, who said that he

did not have a very solid or serious sense of what was involved in the profession as a profession. Other than that, I liked the idea of spending my time in an academic setting. It just seemed congenial.

She has adopted the Foucauldian view that scholars and historians don’t tend to accept traditional categories that claim to identify universal conditions because they tend to serve those in power, preferring instead to name themselves and categorize themselves in ways which do not adhere to previously prescribed delimitations. Though this mentality has its own set of complications and pitfalls, including the fact that even the most aware scholars and historians still largely spring from the worldview that created those power-serving categories in the first place, that awareness is important for recognizing one’s place in the complex institutional milieu.

Fun fact: In his first attempt at graduate school, Peter Elbow quit before he got kicked out.

Bizzaro equates teaching composition with cleaning the toilets of academia, another low-level, under-respected job she performed in order to keep herself afloat.

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