English Ph.D. Dissertations


The Phenomenon of Academic Labor in 21st Century Composition: A Heuristic For Textual Study

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Kei Nomaguchi (Other)

Third Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dan Bommarito (Committee Member)


This dissertation constructs a heuristic for textual analysis and uses a Heidegger-based hermeneutical phenomenology to extrapolate some contributing factors in managing academic labor that moved three nationally recognized writing program contexts toward a more equitable and sustainable ecology of academic labor. a This project asks what can be learned from examining n artifact record composed of scholarship and transactional documents produced in and around these writing program contexts. Under study here are the following three nationally recognized leaders and their writing programs: Elizabeth Wardle and her program at the University of Central Florida, Louise Wetherbee Phelps and the writing program at Syracuse University, and Doug Hesse’s writing program at the University of Denver. A heuristic, constructed in this project within Chapter 2, is applied to a body of writing-program-specific texts, in Chapter 3, to discern essential, context-specific, information about how labor affects each of the three programs. This resultant data are then interpreted for potential meanings in Chapter 4.The information gathered assesses who the stakeholders were, the definition and evidence of success, what were the changes that brought success, where did the exigency for change arise, and what were the steps toward success in each writing program context over time. This dissertation also examines some of the many effects that programmatic changes bring to the various writing program stakeholders. The project discusses the ways in which context specific definitions of success, and paths toward achieving that success, are not universal to all writing programs but may prove valuable as inspiration to other writing programs as they work to improve the quality of working and learning conditions that they offer.

The heuristic questions in this project are constructed from literature in the field of Composition and a consideration of the rhetorical concept of Stasis. That heuristic is then systematically applied to a second dataset consisting of scholarship and public documents that arose from each of the three contexts mentioned by the writers of the Indianapolis Resolution: namely University of Central Florida, Syracuse University, and the University of Denver. The text set from each context yields the answers that the heuristic asks of it resulting in a third dataset. Hermeneutic phenomenology is then employed to locate meaning in that third dataset, as interpreted by the researcher’s experiences in academia. The findings of the project take note of the patterns of similar activity that met the needs of the various stakeholders within their contexts that might be transferable across writing program contexts. Among other things, these data suggest that the quality of education rises, research in writing proliferates, and stakeholders experience a higher return on their risk investments as reliance on contingent labor in writing programs decreases. Among the contributions this project makes to the field of Rhetoric, Writing, and Composition are: First, a heuristic for textual analysis that may be used by other researchers and administrators; Second, the identification of some possible steps toward an equitable and sustainable ecology of academic labor, and finally, additions to the conversation over contingency and its place and scope in composition studies.