How Contingent Composition Faculty Members Reframe Professional Identity Through Faculty Learning Communities

Jennifer Messier

Major Professor: Michelle LaFrance, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: E. Shelley Reid, Paul Rogers

Online Location, WebEX
April 22, 2020, 11:00 AM to 03:00 PM


Contingent faculty members are a marginalized majority in the university. Composition, in particular, is disproportionately contingent due, in part, to the considerable number of instructors needed to teach the first-year writing course required at most universities. These instructors are typically underpaid, overworked, and excluded from membership in professional circles and functions. The faculty learning community, a relatively recent approach to professional development in the university, has been touted as a means of developing a more unified sense of professional community and identity amongst otherwise disparate (cross-disciplinary, cross-rank) faculty members, but lacks sufficient research on contingent faculty participation. In response to this gap, this study sought to understand how eleven contingent composition faculty members at a public research university understood professionalism and their own associated professional identities during and following their participation in semester-long faculty learning communities. Data collection included surveys, reflections, course documents, and semi-structured interviews. Data analysis followed grounded theory methodology. Findings indicated that contingent composition faculty members understood their professional identities as related to two largely inaccessible pathways of professional status: (1) membership as it relates to support, recognition, and collaboration, and (2) respect as it relates to compensation, security, and expertise. Findings also indicated that, of these two branches, participation in a faculty learning community afforded contingent composition faculty members with a sense of membership; however, in later semesters, this was perceived by contingent composition faculty members to be temporary, as the sense of membership that they experienced during the faculty learning community was thereafter suppressed by the lack of membership that they regularly experienced in the larger structural context of their work. Based on these findings, this study concludes that efforts to develop the professional identities of contingent composition faculty members through professional development opportunities, such as the faculty learning community, treat the symptoms rather than the underlying conditions of contingency, and thus only allow for professional identity through a fleeting semblance of membership.