Conference on College Composition and Communication
CCCC member teachers understand that composing practices are always situated within particular contexts. We also understand that language practices within specific contexts are integrally connected to issues of identity, authority, and agency. In post-secondary schools, those contexts include the academic disciplines to which we contribute as well as the classrooms in which we teach.
Reading and writing, of course, also matter to people outside the academy. Increasingly members have sought to extend their expertise and professional commitments beyond the traditional boundaries of classrooms and campuses, in sites as diverse as adult basic education programs, public libraries, prison schools, church-based writing workshops, and so on. CCCC believes these efforts should be understood, valued, and rewarded by faculty members’ home institutions as legitimate academic work.
Faculty work in community-based settings reflects rhetoric & composition’s focus on investigating and cultivating literacy practices in multiple contexts. It also reflects the emergent need for postsecondary faculty in all disciplines to engage with parties on and off campus regarding the work we do. However, faculty activities outside the usual academic channels can be difficult for administrators and colleagues to recognize and support. Decisions about tenure and promotion, merit raises, and course releases sometimes fail to consider off-campus activities as legitimate professional work. In a larger sense, administrators sometimes do not recognize the ways community-based projects reinforce or extend the mission of the post-secondary institution.
We recognize that the work of administration, teaching, and assessment in college writing programs must continue to be the top priority in postsecondary institutions; however, recent research and theory in community literacy suggests that public engagement will deepen and enrich the writing life on a campus while contributing to the cultural and economic strength of a region. We therefore recommend that colleges and universities support CCCC-member faculty engaged in community based literacy projects through tenure, promotion, and merit-review practices that explicitly recognize the professional legitimacy of publically engaged literacy work.
The Institutional Value of Faculty Work in Community-Based Settings
Because CCCC believes that partnerships between faculty and community organizations who do literacy work are central to traditional and newly emerging roles required of faculty members in the 21st century, we identify four reasons why community-based literacy work should be valued and rewarded as institutional service by universities, colleges, departments, and colleagues:
- Enriching the literacy environment of a region contributes to the welfare of all, including higher-ed institutions well positioned to take a leadership role on these matters.
- Postsecondary students, instructors, and institutions can benefit from the curricular innovations developed by working with learners of all types. Innovations with one population can contribute to improvements with other types of learners.
- Productive partnerships with non-academic organizations promote the reputation and stature of post-secondary institutions with local communities, business partners, and others interested in student learning.
- College/community partnerships provide opportunities for students at various levels to meet, interact, and learn.
As these reasons make clear, faculty work in community-based settings thus benefits the institutions in which individuals work and the communities within those institutions are situated.
Faculty Work in Community-Based Settings as Scholarship
Some CCCC members engage in community-based literacy work that results in knowledge products similar to the professional genres routinely rewarded in the academy. For example, some compose innovative curricula for social agencies that are distributed through localized publications or on popular websites aimed at non-academic audiences. Still others—responding to the needs of a wider public that includes employers, citizen groups, legislators, and general readers—promote or advocate for research-based approaches to literacy development in blogs, newspapers, newsletters, interviews with the public personalities or media, or testimony before government officials. In such cases, academic professionals add value in community contexts through application and dissemination of specialized knowledge by way of the creation of knowledge products.
Other forms of community-based literacy work, however, may not be recognized as scholarship because they do not take the form of more conventional academic production, such as publication and professional presentation. Further, community-based literacy work, as the name implies, necessarily takes place outside the physical boundaries of conventional academic work. As such, the activity itself tends to escape notice, and its resulting products often do not themselves circulate within the academic community. Some CCCC members, for instance, develop knowledge partnerships with organizations outside of the academy, informing individuals and groups that sponsor community writing centers and English as a Second Language projects. Such contexts require not simply a volunteer ethos, but considerable disciplinary expertise. The dissemination of disciplinary knowledge in verbal form, or through contribution of time that leaves no discernable trace, is no less an act of intellectual labor.
Service becomes scholarship when one’s efforts are fundamentally a product of specialized professional training and/or emerge from or are articulated with a field of professional knowledge. And yet many community projects are ad hoc and open-ended, so the usual management strategies of evaluating and documenting success are at considerable variance with the actual work performed. Moreover, many community-based projects are intensely local, making the generalization of evaluative strategies and criteria difficult at best.
Nonetheless, failing to acknowledge or reward discipline-driven community-based literacy work creates disincentives that can isolate universities within their sponsoring communities, reinforcing the very boundaries they seek to eradicate through instruction. The social value of research is realized when disciplinary knowledge is applied to concrete exigencies in real, material circumstances. CCCC therefore encourages higher education institutions to establish criteria for the peer evaluation of community-based intellectual labor to determine its value.
Such criteria might include the evaluation of products generated by or with faculty in order to determine their foundation in specialized knowledge and their effectiveness with the audiences they are intended to influence. However, such evaluation must extend beyond the verification of product to consider less tangible outcomes such as:
- the degree of reciprocity attained by the process—the extent to which both school and community group achieve mutual benefit
- the extent to which one’s specialized knowledge is crucial to the project in which one engages
- the sustainability of the project, with or without the continued contribution of faculty expertise
- the extent to which new knowledge is developed in the context of community-based work, irrespective of its potential for generalization as publishable research
The application of such criteria will necessitate that faculty members themselves produce documentation of their community-based literacy work and the achievements attained. But meaningful evaluation of these criteria will require a willingness to defer to the judgment of non-specialists with whom faculty work in community-based settings—those for whom “success” is a matter of lived consequence.
CCCC recognizes that the meaningful evaluation of community-based literacy work may resist conventional criteria and procedures. As faculty roles and institutional objectives shift to engage the communities that house them, however, postsecondary institutions should establish clear criteria for judgment—intellectual work in its own right.
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.