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Friends Like These

I have less to say about today's IHE article, "Reading, Writing and Representing," than you might imagine. Frank Gaughan and Peter Khost, both grad students at CUNY and instructors elsewhere, suggest that

While the public grows increasingly skeptical of the nature and purposes of liberal arts education, academics generally, and we suspect English scholars particularly, have not been as effective as they could, should, and must be when representing the value of their work, especially teaching.

Their solution is not a particularly new one--it is that we must stop writing primarily (or exclusively) to each other, and to make some effort to stage ourselves more effectively for the public, "[b]ecause the value of work in English studies is so poorly understood."

I don't really object to this, although I would take some issue with their unwillingness to acknowledge, for instance, not Michael Bérubé the scholar who presented at MLA on this very topic, but Michael Bérubé the blogger, who does more on his blog on a weekly basis to meet the goals the authors lay out here than a lifetime of MLA addresses is likely to accomplish. But that's just me. I believe that blogging, and technology in general, will ultimately not "communicate more effectively the value of English studies" but encourage some of us to revalue that discipline altogether. That's just me too.

I reserve a little grudge, though, for the dismissive treatment of composition and rhetoric:

While jobs in composition, tenure-tenure track and otherwise, have proven more available than those in, say, 19th century American literature, such jobs often consist of administrative positions, or what both critics and reformers are now calling the middle-management class of faculty, wherein one or two tenured faculty are charged with supervising a large and shifting class of part-time faculty.

I could be wrong about this, but more and more I hear this argument, coming primarily from people self-identified with literature: sure, there are more comp jobs, but they're middle manager jobs, service positions. Which, of course, is crap. It's crap mostly because even if some of us are called upon to administer programs (and I would dispute "often" in the absence of evidence), the fact remains that the same burden of scholarship and teaching is laid upon us as is laid upon our literary colleagues. So even more than the often, I react strongly to the notion that my job "consists" of administration, given that I will be evaluated next year according to the same criteria (rightly or wrongly) as any other faculty member.

In other words, this argument is rapidly become the flavor-of-the-month way to avoid acknowledging that real scholarship might be taking place within English Studies other than literary/cultural studies. One of the real joys of working in a freestanding program is the fact of colleagues who do not need to be convinced, cajoled, and reminded that rhet/comp has an important role to play in the "value of English Studies" too.

I don't believe that Gaughan and Khost believe the strong version of this line of reasoning, but it's hard to overlook, in an article about responsible and effective public representation, the way that their piece falls back into the same old snobbery when it comes to rhet/comp.

Apparently, I had more to say than I might have imagined. That is all.


I agree with all you wrote. I would only add that we really don't HAVE TO write for publics outside of our own (i.e. why us? and why do any professionals make that move). I also got the impression that these are two new people trying to find their voice on what they feel is an important matter. Maybe they recently read Public Access. Or maybe I'm just jumping to assumptions.