Please take a moment, read this important letter from Carmen Kynard, and support Mark McBeth.
March 27, 2015
I am writing this letter to solicit your support of my appeal to President Travis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice who recently denied Mark McBeth’s promotion to full professor. I am using this moment to help the administration understand and take seriously the scholarship of composition-rhetoric studies and hope you will sponsor my narrative. I am submitting a direct letter to President Travis along with this one. At the close of this document, I am listing the names of chairs and exemplars of the Conference of College Composition and Communication (CCCC), CWPA leaders, faculty who have greatly influenced us at CUNY in the Mina Shaughnessy Speaker Series, CUNY leaders, and labor leaders in the field. I hope you will agree to have your name listed here.
Let me now take a moment to give you an overview of McBeth’s impact as a researcher and scholar, all of which (described below) I am also communicating to President Travis.
As a scholar today who is immersed in areas of composition-rhetoric and cultural studies, I connect to McBeth’s scholarship. Given his work on queer theory and mine in race and Africana studies, we share scholarly interests related to the intersections of cultural studies, literacy, education, and pedagogy. Alongside serving as the president of the Queer Caucus, a special interest group at CCCC, since 2010, McBeth has influenced the field’s scholarship and thinking with his book and seven articles/book chapters related specifically to queer theory (these are in addition to WPA publications, addressed later). Scholars who work at the nexus of these disciplines in composition-rhetoric all know and meet McBeth across a broad range of venues: reading his published essays, watching his research presentations, revising their work based on his reviews as an editorial board member in the field’s most prestigious journals, receiving acceptances as McBeth is a conference organizer in many of the field’s national and local research conferences, and networking at the various talks by scholars visiting CUNY campuses that he has helped to organize. In short, if your scholarship crosses with cultural studies, critical theory, and composition-rhetoric, then you know who Mark McBeth is and what he does! The range in which his scholarship makes its mark is even more extensive, however, marking him as an undeniable leader in the field. The impact of Mark McBeth on the scholarly disciplines of Queer Studies, Composition and Rhetoric and Writing Progam Administration is demonstrated by the varied and multiple scholarly intersections I have had with McBeth in my own career.
As a graduate student and Founders Fellow at New York University, I first met McBeth when I was part of the CUNY project linking high school teachers and CUNY faculty, Looking Both Ways (LBW). I met McBeth because he was interested in the writings and projects that I was developing, works that he would refer to in the book project that he developed for the program. My first memory is of him challenging CUNY administration about LBW and the kind of research methodologies that would produce a text that could have impact on the larger field. He was my researcher-practitioner model when I too became a facilitator for the program. He also modeled for me methods for pushing the boundaries of composition research and the best practices to which it is related.
As an assistant professor directing a secondary urban education program at Rutgers University-Newark, I looked from afar as McBeth built a new writing curriculum at John Jay College. Given McBeth’s knowledge of and experiences with literacies and composition studies across secondary and post-secondary research areas, it was only natural for me to stay abreast of the writing curriculum here. As a teacher educator at the time, I was all too clear that designing a curriculum and leading teachers to implement it are hardly the same thing. While it is certainly common knowledge at John Jay College that McBeth initiated our current writing program, planting the seeds for First Year Writing (FYW), Writing Across the Curriculum, and a modernized Writing Center, what might not be as clear is that his colleagues across the country also know him in this capacity.
Next, as an advanced assistant professor at St. John University directing a FYW program in an Institute for Writing Studies, I watched how McBeth was merging research and teaching, the main focus of the Institute in which I worked. When I decided that I wanted to leave administration, return to the classroom, and work at a public institution, John Jay College’s Writing Program was a main attraction because it has managed to accomplish what few other public colleges have done: create an innovative program based on authentic writing and composing for large numbers of young people whose educational histories have rarely empowered them. While there are certainly other institutions in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area that can boast a large working class, culturally diverse student population, including the previous colleges where I have worked, this is the only such public institution that has moved beyond what educational theorists call the Civil Rights issue of this moment in schooling: moving beyond “minimal competency” literacy via basic skills and drills (see and read Gary’s Orfield’s American Educational Research Association/AERA 2013 Brown Lecture in Education Research). That John Jay has managed to do this is no small feat. Given the widespread knowledge of McBeth’s contribution in building the writing curriculum here, it is imperative that we not merely see him as the original administrator and/or designer of the writing program; he is the author of it. That McBeth has authored a program here with such minimal resources, has performed so many leadership roles in the field’s organizations, and has maintained a scholarly presence in journals and conferences is nothing short of amazing. John Jay College has managed to realize, in many ways, the kind of vision that Adam Banks, current chair of the Conference of College Composition and Communication, discusses in relation to the possibilities of contemporary writing programs in his very recent 2015 Chair’s Address.
As a new WPA, I was also reading McBeth’s scholarship about assessment, classrooms, and WPA. His authoring of WPA here at John Jay coincides with his print publications in the field; those publications direct programs across the country, thus, making him an author of WPA not merely at John Jay but at other institutions. His most current CV celebrates more than ten research articles and book chapters about assessment, curriculum development, labor, archival educational histories, diversity, and basic writing. He has consistently presented new research related to WPA, rhetoric, and the teaching of writing for twenty years at Conference of College Composition and Communication. He has presented new work at the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA) Conference for the past six years; he has also presented heavily at regional conferences as well as the Conference on Lavender Languages and Linguistics. This constant presence in the field’s professional organizations and in the field’s composition journals has propelled his leadership with multiple editorial boards and professional executive boards including: Peitho, College Composition and Communication, Council of Writing Program Administrators (which he also co-chaired in 2012), Writing Program Administration, Present Tense, College English, Journal of Basic Writing, Journal of Information Fluency.
Later, as an associate professor of English and a WPA in the tri-state area, I incorporated the Mina Shaughnessy Speaker Series, another project McBeth was connected to, with the graduate courses I was teaching. Similarly, the WPA Metropolitan Affiliate, a consortium which McBeth co-founded, was also a central point of focus in my graduate English courses. Both of these projects, in fact, provided a space for McBeth’s and my own graduate students to meet one another and build collegial relationships. These are central spaces in which current theories and practices related to composition-rhetoric are exchanged in the tri-state area. Thus, McBeth has been instrumental in not only helping to run many of the field’s organizations but also in establishing them.
Alongside my desire to contextualize the nature of my attraction to the writing program here at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, I am also contending that McBeth’s WPA work is authored. More than twenty years ago, the Portland Resolution, a position/policy statement accepted at the 1992 meeting of the Conference of College Composition and Communication (CCCC), was designed to help WPAs develop quality writing programs at their institutions and articulate the terrain of their work. Central to that development was the understanding that WPA work is scholarship, especially since WPA now has its own journals, conference, extant literature, and subdivisions within composition studies. It is exactly for these reasons that WPA is marked differently from other administrative assignments that college faculty engage. Connection to the published scholarship and professional organizations of WPA are considered key means for understanding how to run progressive writing programs; implementing such programs is the intellectual work. Thus, for more than twenty years now, the field has demanded and institutions have, in turn, honored processes where the evaluation of WPAs comply with what the 1992 Portland Resolution requests: “consider the important scholarly contributions each WPA makes by virtue of designing, developing, and implementing a writing program.” Five years prior to the Portland Resolution, the 1987 CCCC position statement, “Scholarship in Composition: Guidelines for Faculty, Deans, and Department Chairs” argued that, in the interest of equity, administrative contributions of WPAs be given significant weight during tenure with outside evaluators who would study the WPA’s administrative service. It seems safe to say that the widespread recognition and acceptance of these terms of WPA work underlies why we are in a position to award writing programs with certificates of excellence today, which our writing program has won. With so many international campuses using the best writing programs in the United States as their example, the international impact of this award is also now obvious. It is also worth noting here that McBeth has also ensured that the writing program’s success today is not solely contingent upon his own charismatic leadership, a central concern in much WPA scholarship. McBeth’s original curriculum and his leadership in faculty searches has resulted in a thriving programmatic culture carried forward by the now tireless WPA work of Tim McCormack and Tara Pauliny. McBeth’s authoring, thus, encompassed long-range purpose and planning.
I have shared McBeth’s profile here as a way to substantiate my request for your support. In this way, I am hoping that you will not view my concerns as my own individualist or personal issues but as part of a larger (and historical) discussion in our discipline.
Thank you for this opportunity to advocate so strongly for such an important colleague and for your support of the writing program and composition-rhetoric studies at John Jay College.
Carmen Kynard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English
 Tenure track faculty have a 4/3 teaching load at John Jay College with 27 students in a composition class. Lecturers carry a 5/4 load. Though WPAs have a 9-month faculty contract, they work through the summer without a stipend, pay increase, or release time, though outcomes assessment is mandated of them. We have minimal travel funds, no research start-up funds, and no merit pay increases. A little more than 60% of our courses are taught by adjuncts. As a point of comparison, as a first year writing director at St. John’s University where I was previously employed, I received a 10K stipend in addition to my annual salary, an administrative assistant who I shared with only the WAC director (who had the same package as I did), 4K per year in travel funds. My load was 1/1 and my class size was 20. Because the charter of that college included the commitment to always enroll at least 40% of students who have lived below the poverty line and offer them full scholarships (which came with the college’s ranking as the third most diverse college in the country), new labor arrangements for first year writing (FYW) faculty were created as part of a social justice focus. This meant that 75% of our FYW faculty had full-time, tenure track lines and taught three classes per semester, received 2K in travel funds, and 2K for membership fees to professional organizations and journals (there was a commitment on the part of the university to further increase the number of full-time faculty teaching). As should go without saying here, working with faculty who are not overwhelmed with their work lessens the emotional and psychic toll on a WPA. I have taken the time to offer these details to stress that this labor arrangement for the St John’s directors was in no way competitive with what many first year writing directors, for instance, across the country receive today, especially at research universities. What made my previous college distinct was the percentage of full-time faculty teaching FYW courses only. I hope to communicate a sense of weight here: I chose to leave the resources that I have detailed here in order to work at what I saw as the only program in the tri-state area committed to progressive literacy teaching to racially diverse, working class, first-generation college students.