- The In-House ConferenceA Strategy for Disrupting Order and Shifting Identities
What does faculty development look like if the underlying assumption isn't that the teachers are the problem, an assumption which, according to Margaret Marshall (2004), has guided educational reform throughout American history? What happens to faculty development when it originates in genuine discussion and mutual respect within a program or department? One answer to these questions might be what we in the first-year writing program at Kennesaw State University call the in-house conference.
Like much of the early work in composition, our in-house conference began with an idea —Let's try this —and the theorizing came later —Why did it work, and how can we make it better? In this jointly authored essay, we theorize the local, discussing our in-house conference, or IHC, from several viewpoints —ethical, political, philosophical, pedagogical, and programmatic. Seeing this phenomenon through these terministic screens, we argue that our in-house conference disrupts the usual English department hierarchy, thus shifting the identities of the participants in important ways. Though our work has been in a composition program, we argue, as well, that our experiences can work for faculty development within the many subfields of English studies and even across the disciplines. [End Page 447]
Beth Daniell —An Overview of How the IHC Came to Be
Kennesaw State University, the third-largest university in Georgia with 20,000 students, began forty years ago as a junior college in a semirural area twenty-five miles northwest of Atlanta. In 1977, it became a four-year college, and in 1996, it gained university status. At first, of course, the two required writing courses were taught by regular faculty. But as the college grew —by about 5 percent a year —and the number of English majors increased, faculty had the opportunity to teach courses in their areas of expertise. With the inauguration of the MA in Professional Writing in 1995, more faculty moved from the general education courses. Continued and sometimes explosive growth meant that staffing first-year composition became increasingly problematic, with the department depending more and more on part-timers. In 2000 and 2001, the department hired ten full-time instructors whose heavy teaching loads solved the problem —for a year or so. But Kennesaw State, like the metropolitan area it is a part of, is addicted to growth. By the 2006 – 7 academic year, approximately 12,000 students were being served in our three general education courses, and these courses are now taught by an evergrowing cadre of part-timers.
Despite our staffing problems, a tradition of good instruction in writing exists in the Kennesaw English department. People like Susan Hunter, Dawn Rodrigues, and Sarah Robbins helped set the tone, and our colleague Todd Harper, who came out of the Louisville rhetoric and composition program, was instrumental in refining curricular initiatives for the first-year courses. In 2002, two instructors, Ellen Taber and Laura Davis, won a grant that underwrote conversations among small groups of instructors in English, an initiative that our other coauthor Linda Stewart quickly signed on for, along with about forty others. But with no official composition director, there was virtually no supervision, and, more important, no point guard to direct or coordinate excellent individual efforts.
In 2004, I was hired to be the administrator for the first-year writing program. When I arrived at Kennesaw, chaos reigned —an interim chair, the department essentially in receivership, a hostile interim dean. With the department demoralized, still preoccupied with the infighting that had consumed the previous year, composition was no one's priority, and no one laid out expectations for me or for the first-year program.
I began by reading syllabi. What was apparent was that we had 130 different composition classes going in different directions, using different books, aiming at different objectives, built on differing assumptions about who the students were and what they were capable of doing. Most of these [End Page 448] courses were very good, and many were brilliant. But what was absent was a coherent, assessable composition program, one that...