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Boots on the Ground: Negotiating Military Contexts as a Civilian WPA – Laura Davies #4c14

Boots on the Ground: Negotiating Military Contexts as a Civilian WPA – Laura Davies #4c14


In this short presentation, I’m going to
reflect on the work writing program administrators do and how institutional contexts shape our
work and our identities. First, a little of my context: On August 2, 2011, President Obama signed
the Budget Control Act of 2011 to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis. The act created a
“super committee” that needed to reduce the federal deficit by 1.2 trillion dollars
over 10 years. If the super committee failed, sequestration
would go into effect, cutting equal amounts from the defense and domestic federal budget.
Few thought the super committee would fail… …but it did. On March 1, 2013, sequestration
hit. Dozens of federally-funded programs were slashed, and the federal defense budget was
cut by $42.7 billion. For many American civilians, removed from
the military context, sequestration cuts seemed nebulous– just get rid of a F16 or two.
But the federal defense cuts were trickier than that: Military pay and military bases were exempt
from sequestration cuts, so the Pentagon made up its $42.7 billion cut in other ways. Flight hours were scaled back so that crews
were no longer combat ready. Routine maintenance was delayed. And, the Department of Defense’s
civilian employees, including everyone from commissary workers to librarians, were furloughed. I was one of those furloughed civilians paid
80% of my salary for eleven weeks. Under federal law, I could not work 100% of my job when
I was only being paid 80%. Which made me think, “How can someone be
an 80% writing program administrator and professor? What gets cut out, lost, left behind? How
do we quantify the work we do?” In his book, Terms of Work for Composition,
Bruce Horner discusses the “division of labor” between an academic’s intellectual
“work” (like their research) and their more institutionally-grounded “work” (like
their teaching or administration) Horner argues that metrics like credit hours
and course loads turn academic work into a commodity that can be bargained for. These
rudimentary measurements belie the truth: that good scholarship, good teaching, and
good administration depend on material conditions. So what happens to my research when I may
only “clock in” for 32 hours a week? What happens to my teaching? What happens to my
first-year writing program? Furlough law imagines labor as its least common
denominator: hours on a time card. Unfortunately, how we imagine labor for many of our non-tenure-track
colleagues is the same: a set stipend per course taught. What are these calculations
missing? I argue that these calculations are missing
the harder-to-quantify activities that transform teaching to critical engagement, that transform
administration to thoughtful leadership. Critical, engaged teaching and thoughtful
leadership require reflection, reflection emerges from activity and knowledge, and knowledge
develops through scholarship. And we can’t kid ourselves. This takes time. As a pre-tenure WPA, that I work more than
40 hours a week. I must invest the time in my future and my profession. I know that teaching
is more than having a warm body in the classroom. I know that administration is more than pushing
paperwork. When I cut back to 32 hours a week, I stopped
doing the activities that have long-term importance and require lots of time, like assessment
projects, and instead only addressed immediate needs and concerns, like answering emails. Running on 80% robbed my daily work of an
intellectual foundation, and this deprivation had a ripple effect on my teachers, my program,
and our students. It also deprived me, because truly, who am
I hurting but myself if I follow furlough law and only work at 80%? In our profession,
I’m a fool if I don’t stay productive, paid or unpaid. It’s time that we are honest about the work
we do. It’s time that we argue for more complex calculations of our work that don’t
divorce teaching and administration from their intellectual bedrock.


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