4C's the day

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I know that the discussion is pretty well over by this point, but like Jenny, I found myself today with a couple more thoughts that I wanted to throw up here. Jenny's right, I think, to ask what's going to happen when the organization moves up from what I think is its current plateau. There have been a number of recent initiatives designed to get the organization growing again, but not a lot of reflection (that I've seen, anyway) about what's going to happen if those initiatives succeed. If the conference doesn't grow (or change), I don't think they will, but at the very least, the issues are closely related.

I also wanted to shout out to John, whose replies (esp. over at Clancy's) were remarkably measured, fair, and informative. It would have been really easy for John to take offense at all of our bitching, or to take it personally, and he didn't. Instead, he provided some really good background on the organization and encouraged us to turn our critiques into positive contributions. The problems I have with CCCC are problems with the system, and problems with an organization that began as a tight-knit community, grew to become much larger, without changing its policies to match that growth.

Anyhow. Jenny asks:

And here's the big question that I wish someone would actually say publicly (and not just in the bars): When was the last time you went to a panel--NOT because you knew the folks or you wanted to see a star--and actually walked away with some seriously valuable ideas? When was the last time you went to a panel and walked away feeling like it was a waste of time? Which one happens to you more often? (I'm going on a limb here and saying that the first one isn't the more frequent.)

Isn't this a problem?

Oh yes, yes it is. The problem, and forgive me if this sounds too harsh or cynical, is that our flagship conference is not about valuable ideas. It's about "getting on the program," so that our home departments will underwrite a trip for us. That's not to say that people don't try (myself included), and it's not to say that there are no valuable ideas being circulated, but the fact of the matter is that, and I said this in a CCCC presentation a couple of years ago, the scholarship that most of us produce for the conference is disposable. I can't count the number of times I've been to sessions where presenters bragged about writing it on the plane or changed their topic entirely. The problem is that I'm at the point where it's not worth the potential waste of my time to go to a session on the off chance that it'll be valuable--I've lost that bet almost every time I've gone to one.

Lest I be accused of complete pessimism, though, here are three modest proposals for addressing that problem, for potentially improving the quality of the conference:

Book of the Year: Every year, several books in our field are nominated for a book of the year award (and one or two receive it). Plan a series of sessions, each of which focuses on one of the BOTY nominees. Allow the author to hand-pick 2-3 people to give presentations about the book and then the author would be a respondent. Participants in the BOTY series would be allowed to do a second presentation (assuming that their proposal had been accepted).

CCCC Yearbook: Publish the best conference papers, say 3-4 from each major area, annually as a conference proceedings. Make the deadline for submission a month before the conference itself. The review process for this wouldn't have to begin until after the conference, but my guess is that the desire for publication would result in far fewer people willing to write it on the plane.

Graduate Student Awards: This isn't too different from the proceedings idea. Create a handful of awards for best graduate student papers. Put the deadline at the tail end of the fall semester, and for each area, award one full ride to CCCC: travel, hotel, meals. And label the award winners within the body of the program (i.e., not just a list at the beginning).

None of these are earth-shattering ideas. But they have one thing in common to my mind. If we're all sick of a system that seems to be getting more and more cynical and less and less valuable, then let's rethink some of what we do, and imagine ways to reward the people who don't waste our time. But we're not stupid. We put effort into our presentations commensurate to the perceived return on that investment, and perhaps a little more, but that's it. If the only "return" is a slot on the program, then small wonder that people don't take the presentations seriously. If we hope to change that, there need to be incentives to do so.


It might be time to break CCCC into a series of smaller conferences organized around SIGs or similar groups. Like ACM has done. That's a little more radical than Jenny's idea, but it seems to work for ACM.

In San Antonio we talked about ways to fix CCCC. Given the One Big Conference structure, here are my favorite of those ideas, also in a group of three:

1) Get serious about Saturday. The half-day model is flawed. Sessions should run all day on Saturday, or not at all. Right now, everyone leaves Saturday morning except presenters. How is that a good thing?

2) Dump the theme. That, more than anything, would move papers away from lousy disposable scholarship. Instead of "here's something sorta related to the theme that I dashed out before the proposal deadline and then wrote on the plane six months later," everyone presents their best intellectual work.

3) Move the all-stars out of the main schedule. I once presented opposite Maya Angelou. I think five people showed up. And *I* wanted to see Maya, too. WPA-L shows that we can remember what folks said at CCCC, and talk about it as a field (I'm thinking of Kathi's keynote in San Antonio). But that's neutered if 200 or so of us have to present at the time. Not to mention, so much for having a discussion at/after your panel...

There are more things to say, of course, but that's enough for now.

I like these ideas! Thanks for such a proactive post.

BTW: People brag about writing their papers on the plane?! I guess I haven't heard that yet. One of the mock titles at Jenny's was "You'll Never Guess Why I Wrote This on the Plane!" but I thought it was because it was obvious to the audience that the presenter wrote it right before the presentation, not because the presenter came right out and said it.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Collin vs. Blog is the academic blog of the year! This post was so thoughtful. Plus you have robots. I bow before you.

Clancy, my all-time worst session was one where the first speaker got up and, yes, bragged about the fact that he wrote his presentation on the plane, and then explained that he wasn't really interested in the topic he had submitted for his proposal, and so was going to do something different.

It still pisses me off. All we have to go on are those titles, and similarly, we have to trust that people who do get accepted are going to make some sort of good faith effort. That year, I hadn't submitted but went anyway and paid out of my own pocket to do so. And so, I waited about five minutes, and then made as loud and as obvious a departure as I could. From that, I've taken two things. First, I remain convinced that the process is too easy--I understand the reasons for making it easier, but I disagree with them. And second, I try to approach my own presentations with the attitude that there are going to be audience members who don't know me, and who have had to pay their own way to be there--anything less than that level of preparation is disrespectful, imo.

I'd like to recommend, as a kind of adjundant to Collin's observation above, that in addition to Grad Student travel grants/awards, some also be set aside for non-TT/adjunct faculty, many (most) of whom pay out-of-pocket to attend 4Cs, and who get no institutional consideration for completing the kind of work that might land them on the program.

If the Conference is truly committed to adjunct issues, it'd be nice if more resources were committed to the Adjunct Issues SIG (I'm presuming it's still extant) and something beyond noting that adjuncts have it oh-so very rough.

There is, of course, the possibility that this is an issue of perception (or PR), but in my 7-odd years of CCCC membership, I rarely saw anything actively addressing non-TT concerns in any but the vaguest terms.

I once got up and walked out of a session when the first presenter led with, "I've changed my topic..."

And I should note that "Dump the theme" is Collin's idea. (Right?)

Hey all~~

John pointed folks on the new CCCC listserv to this discussion, so I wandered on over.

Just a couple of comments on the program, from the perspective of someone who was program chair 2 years ago. The Berkenkotter and Huckin work, as usual, is good. But it's also not quite current. We now have a Stage 2 review process, for instance, that affects the program. One of those folks, at one of those review sessions I attended, was smart about reminding us that what we think is cool may not be what others need or what they appreciate. There is an art to assembing a program that speaks to what is a diverse audience, and it is surely a work in progress.

Do people exhibit bad behavior, from time to time, and fail to prepare? You bet. Can you predict it and thus eliminate it from the program? Alas, no. But for every off-the-cuff paper I've seen, I've seen at least 10 that were carefully prepared and reasoned, and some, like Todd Taylor's in NYC, that were simply outrageous (in a good sense ;)

John is right, too, that program chairs can eliminate proposals that were in effect put on through a high ranking. I have to say that I can't imagine doing that. If you have a process, and we do, you need to honor it, and we do.

About the program reviewers. By the time you get to be program chair, you have met a lot of people ;) But you could never have enough friends to do all the work that has to get done, including program review. I have continued to meet new and terrific people as I have looked for folks who wanted to do the work of the Cs.
Still looking, btw, so if you are interested, speak up! ;)

About the program format, the ideas here *are* worth considering. In an official capacity, could I share them with the officers? Or would one/some of you like to forward them to us to think with?

About supporting adjuncts, we do have a Professional Edquity Project (see the url below) that supports the attendance of adjunct faculty. To date, that fund has never been exhuasted. So if you have nominees, please send them to Kristen McGowan at kmcgowan@ncte.org At the suggestion of a Dean, btw, we are working hard to get *matching* support from the institutions, so I see some progress there as well. We will also be highlighting a full day's worth of programming for adjunct faculty at San Francisco.

You can read more about it on the CCC Chair's Blog later this week--at http://rhetcomp.gsu.edu/blogs/CCCC_Chair/



Second thoughts.

If you want to use my posting as a proofreading exercise, please do.

I mean, how many misspellings can one have in a post?

Or was this an electronic edition of Joe Williams' "The Phenomenology of Error"? :)


Because of John's postings about this blog on the CCCC Talk listserv, I got to hear some of these ideas. Otherwise, chances are pretty good that I wouldn't have happened across the discussion, and I virtually live online. John's point about making coherent arguments to the officers and executive committee is spot on; that's where change will come from. I appreciate Kathi's having clarified several things about the process and about current organizational initiatives. And I'm pondering some of the ideas here. Rude, I know, to post and run, but I'll just confess that I won't likely be able to follow this blog.

Doug Hesse, Program Chair at CCCC San Antonio

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on September 16, 2004 10:48 PM.

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