CCCC 2001 in Review: C.31 When New Ph.D.s Hit the Street: Preparing Graduate Students for Small-College Work

Dominic DelliCarpini: Chair
Kathleen Shine Cain presented "Teaching in a Small Church-Affiliated Liberal Arts College."
Owen Rogal presented "Preparing Graduate Students for the Small College Interview: What Matters to Us?"
Erika Scheurer presented "The Small College in Transition: Growth and Change."
Joel Wingard presented "Teaching is Primary: What That Really Means."
Paul Puccio presented "The Small College Culture."
Jack Selzer presented "Response from a Graduate Program Director."

This session provided nicely contextualized examples of the demands small colleges place upon their faculty-demands that may not be anywhere on the radar as one negotiates the typical graduate program in composition and rhetoric. As chair, Dominic DelliCarpini stressed, all of the panelists were happy with their jobs; though the stories they had to tell about the challenges of working in a small school were all to be read as descriptions of a working environment that differs markedly from the large universities where most of us receive our training as disciplinary scholars and teachers.

Among the observations made by more than one panelist were:

  1. Teaching really is the prominent feature of the small college tenure-track appointment. Graduate students who expect to teach only in a specialty area will be surprised to learn that they are expected to fill in wherever they are needed as colleagues retire, take sabbaticals and parental leaves, and perform administrative roles. New specialties necessarily emerge over time.
  2. Concomitantly, administration and service will dominate small college work and possibly frustrate those who expect to continue a vigorous research program.
  3. Collegiality takes on particular significance in small schools. Some of that is enacted in democratic ways, e.g., at some schools, everyone in the English department teaches composition. However, refusal of a committee assignment, an advising load, or a short-term task force may not be in one's interest. In fact, it may be impossible. Only so many hands are available to share the load, and slackers generally do not prosper.
  4. Tradition carries great importance; disrespect for tradition may be folly.
  5. "Selectivity" in small school admissions does not necessarily equal "dream students" in class. Bright, motivated students require guidance, patience, and humor at any school.
  6. The variety of teaching, administrative, service, and scholarly opportunities can produce serendipitous outcomes, including leading study-abroad programs, working closely with advanced undergraduates, and developing one's scholarly interests into interdisciplinary or team-taught courses.

In response to the panel, Jack Selzer observed that graduate programs would do well to recognize that most of their new Ph.D.'s will be working in settings other than Research I universities. Preparation, therefore, should stress a variety of teaching assignments (with associated mentoring); administrative opportunities; elective courses that could broaden one's teaching range; and practice in job interviews for various contexts, including those that emphasize teaching and service above research. [CR]

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