Faculty clash with Duke on proposed writing program changes – Inside Higher Ed
Proposed changes to a mandatory first-year writing program at Duke University have some unionized faculty members alleging that the shift in focus is primarily about union busting.
The Thompson Writing Program, in place at Duke since 2000, teaches writing through a multidisciplinary lens. According to the university website, its writing courses are seminar-style and faculty members come from a broad range of academic disciplines. Instructors for these writing courses are comprised of a mix of lecturers and lecturing fellows, the latter belonging to a faculty union. Though full-time faculty, lecturing fellows are not tenured. Job conditions vary, with some instructors on renewable contracts and others with nonrenewable appointments.
“Rather than spending an entire semester talking about composition and writing, which is, admittedly, rather boring—even for people like myself, who love writing—we teach writing in the discipline,” said Paolo Bocci, Thompson Writing Program lecturing fellow at Duke. “So we’re not English people. We are cultural anthropologists, geographers, biologists, archaeologists, historians and musicologists who teach classes that have this sort of dual nature.”
But now Duke is changing the nature of the program, zooming out to a broader focus, according to Erin Duggan Kramer, Duke’s assistant vice president of media relations and public affairs.
“Duke recently completed a review of the 20-year-old Thompson Writing Program curriculum and is making some major changes to better serve today’s undergraduate students. Instead of teaching writing through a disciplinary context, we will be teaching expertise in a number of areas including oral communication; scientific and technical writing; digital/multi-modal writing; multilingual rhetorics; and the literacies of race and antiracist pedagogies,” she said via email.
The emailed statement adds, “As a result, Duke will be hiring a number of new faculty who are scholars in writing and oral communication instruction—an expertise gained through a Ph.D. with specialization in Rhetoric and Composition—into positions as Professors of the Practice of Writing Studies and Lecturers in Writing Studies.”
That change, say unionized faculty members, means that some contracts will not be renewed. Additionally, they will not be qualified to apply for the new positions posted, which can be filled by nonunionized lecturers who have a background in rhetoric and composition. With the disciplinary focus on the chopping block, so are some unionized faculty members’ jobs.
Potential Job Losses
Seven unionized faculty members would see their contracts go unrenewed under the current plan, say critics. And some claim that Duke has been resistant to working with the union since non-tenure-track faculty members voted overwhelmingly to organize in 2016.
“From the very beginning, Duke has been strongly antiunion,” says Miranda Welsh, a lecturing …….