Saturday, January 18, 2020

Is the Shine off Comp/Rhet (Job-wise)?

I'm reading applications for a position that's not Composition and/or Rhetoric, but about 15 percent of the applications are from folks in Comp/Rhet.

Since I don't teach at super famous R1 in a fabulous place to live, that leads me to believe that the shine is really off the Comp/Rhet marketability.

It seems like there are a lot more Comp/Rhet PhD programs out there, graduating a lot more Comp/Rhet PhDs, but there's not a great tenure track market, certainly not what there was?  (Maybe it's the ratio: it seems like there used to be fewer candidates for each job, so a greater likelihood of graduates finding something, as opposed to say, 20th century American Lit.)

It used to be that when I had a promising undergrad who wanted to get a PhD in an English Studies field, I'd recommend they think about Comp/Rhet.  But I'm thinking that's outdated thinking now.

On the other hand, my suspicions are 100% based on an anecdote, and data isn't the plural of anecdote...


  1. As a full-time non-tenure-track comp teacher with a lit Ph.D. in a department that has added a Ph.D. program in rhet/comp in the last decade, I strongly suspect that we've been headed in that direction for some time, and would not be surprisd if we have arrived.

    The problem with rhet/comp Ph.D. programs, at least from my vantage point, is they train/expect the majority of their graduates to be writing program administrators (because that's where the jobs are, or were), without considering where the people to be administered are going to come from, or the ratio of administrators to administratees. Writing Program Administrator also tends to be a long-term rather than a rotating job (as Department Chair usually is). WPA isn't even necessarily a TT job (and even when it is, people often go straight into it, rather than earning tenure first). It's just a very different model.

    I suspect there will be several results of the glut of comp/rhet Ph.D.s I hadn't imagined they would start applying for lit jobs, but that makes sense (especially if they really wanted to study/teach lit in the first place).

    I'm pretty sure there will be pressure in departments like mine to hire only comp/rhet Ph.D.s to teach comp, even at the full-time NTT and adjunct levels (I'm hoping several decades of teaching in experience will carry me through to retirement, but I suspect that teaching comp, at least in universities with comp/rhet programs, is less and less going to be a viable option for lit Ph.D.s, and that may eventually spread even to places where most faculty have traditionally taught in both areas on a regular basis).

    There's probably even going to be pressure from comp/rhet programs to become completely separate departments, which could leave lit departments weaker (since there are often a number of possible ways to meet a core lit requirement, but only one way to meet the first year comp requirement).

    It's definitely going to be interesting,and it could get ugly.

  2. I think you're right on the mark with several points. I think if comp/rhet programs separate from English programs (in their wide variety), then English programs will shrink for sure, and become more focused on English studies.

    I see two difficulties ahead for the resulting rhet/comp programs: 1) rhet/comp PhDs don't really want to teach a lot of first year writing, any more than lit PhDs do. So people will do it as part of a load (as I do), but the other part is more difficult. In non-R1 (four year) English programs with lots of lit (or creative writing, etc), the other part of the load is traditionally lit and creative writing. And there's always lots of room for intro lit/creative writing, for general education, and upper level courses for majors. And even though the numbers of majors are down, the gen ed courses keep people employed.

    But almost all the comp/rhet PhDs I know started as either lit or English Ed majors, and then found their way to comp/rhet when they learned about the craptastically bad job market in lit (and didn't want to teach HS or ed stuffs any more). There are relatively few comp/rhet majors. And while there might be more, would there be enough to keep faculty folks happy? Or would they be constantly fighting to not have full first year writing loads?

    In R1s, comp/rhet programs will have to decide if they're going to only use comp/rhet grad students to teach first year writing or not. If they do, then lit programs will have to shrink (or not fund students), and that would actually be healthy for lit PhDs in the long run (though painful for the folks who don't get into PhD programs, of course). And comp/rhet will become even more bloated.

    In my ideal world, regional comprehensives such as mine would find ways to train non-lit PhDs to teach first year writing, and we'd spread it around so that a lot more people would be teaching writing, and that would then become more pervasive throughout the curriculum. (I live a rich and full fantasy life.) (English lit departments would necessarily shrink some, but we wouldn't get the finger pointing about how badly students write, so it would be okay, I think.) I think it's worth thinking about...