The Small College Department

For ten years the journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture has distinguished itself as the only profession-wide journal devoted exclusively to teaching in English studies. The journal, founded by Marcy Taylor and Jennifer Holberg, has sustained a professional conversation around teaching and the scholarship produced around it. A winner of the 2001 Best New Journal Award from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, Pedagogy is celebrating its tenth anniversary.

My work on the journal includes writing book reviews, an essay and since 2005 serving an associate editor of the journal. As associate editor, I am responsible for the book review section in our three issues published each year. I serve as a liaison with book publishers, recruit reviewers, edit individual and roundtable reviews, and work with the authors of longer “Forum” essays by senior teachers.

The Spring 2010 special issue of Pedagogy

My most recent contribution to Pedagogy, and to the profession-wide conversation about teaching, is a special issue dedicated to the small college department. As guest editor for the spring 2010 issue I asked ten contributors to foreground the ways the small college departments generate conditions for innovative pedagogy, curriculum development, and the integration of the professional activities of reading, writing and teaching. In my Guest Editor’s Introduction, “Centers and Peripheries,” I introduce the two goals of the special issue: to investigate what might be possible in the small college department as well as to suggest how these possibilities might inspire comparable intellectual work in other professional and institutional contexts. Because the current traditional conception of the discipline has rendered a great deal of the intellectual work of the profession invisible, I contend, we need to talk more about what our colleagues are actually doing outside the doctorate-granting institution. My claim is that representing more fully what we do will help us to move beyond general claims for teaching as a form of scholarship and away from de-contextualized arguments about the value of teaching.

Since graduate school I have been surprised by the parochial discourse of the profession that situates the so-called research institution at the center of intellectual production, value and prestige. Over the years, I have tried to bring people together to talk about the ways we devalue significant intellectual work and to make visible the a more complex system of postsecondary education made up of four-year liberal arts colleges, comprehensive universities, two-year colleges, community colleges, and public and private colleges and universities.  As an assistant professor I was fortunate  to find at the annual Modern Language Association (MLA) convention colleagues interested in making visible forms of intellectual work in small college departments. After presenting on issues in small college departments for a couple of years, I began organizing and chairing the annual session sponsored by the Association of Departments of English (ADE). At the 2005 convention in Washington, D.C., the session “Graduate Education and the Small College Department” I invited graduate directors from research institutions (U of Wisconsin, Rutgers U, U of Pittsburgh) and small-college faculty (Marywood U, U of the Pacific, and Cornell College). And in 2006, in Philadelphia, I focused the session on the procedures and criteria for tenure and promotion in the small college department. And in 2009 we considered criteria and requirements for earning tenure—specifically how these criteria may have changed or be changing, whether changes (and what changes) would seem more productive and more counter-productive, and how institutional conditions and complexities determine the work of promotion and tenure committees. Have the requirements for publication for tenure and promotion changed in institutions over the past ten years? How do small-college departments define productivity and growth in scholarship and related professional activity? How do small-college departments value scholarship beyond the standard peer-reviewed journals or monograph? How does the apparently necessary specialization in graduate school prepare graduate students for positions where the publication of a monograph is not the requirement for tenure?

My inquiry into the conditions for teaching and learning in small college departments led to an invitation  to write a featured “Commentary,” “Where Do You Teach?”, for the fall 2005 issue of Pedagogy and an essay, “Reading, Writing and Teaching in Context” in the book Academic Cultures: Professional Preparation and the Teaching Life (MLA 2008). In both of these essays I consider the debilitating representation of faculty work in terms of research and teaching as separate activities. My argument is that this pervasive subplot in the narrative of the profession is rooted in a representation of faculty work that transcends the local institution and the ways that departments and institutions define intellectual work.

The special issue of Pedagogy dedicated to the small college department is a culmination of many years of work. My hope is that the professional conversation about our intellectual work will continue and that our special issue will inspire others to explore what  it means to be primarily a teacher in a community of writing and scholarly exchange.

One thought on “The Small College Department

  1. Jennifer Holberg

    It’s a fabulous issue and very valuable contribution to our field. We are proud to be the venue for this important work. Thanks, Mark, from all of us who work in small colleges!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *