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Okay, so the elections in question aren't actually "special." I just happened to like the way those words fit together. Derek and I were chatting the other day about our annual CCCC elections, and about how possible a blog-driven write-in campaign might be. Anyway, in the process of explaining what we were talking about, I suggested that the CCCC Executive Committee is a lot like the Student Council of the profession. I didn't really mean to make that sound as snarky as it probably did, but the analogy stuck in my head, and was recalled to me again as I perused the ballot (mine was sent to my school address and thus arrived 5-7 days later).

There's certainly one sense in which the analogy holds: I think, for the most part, people vote by name recognition. Maybe I'm woefully underestimating my colleagues across the country, but my guess is that few people read the mini-position statements, and then vote for the person they don't know. Setting aside for the moment the implied damage that my own apparent disciplinary anonymity will have on my upcoming campaign (I still love that entry, btw), I have to wonder what effect this ultimately has.

I'm not going to launch into a line-by-line and guess whether this person belongs there and that person doesn't--I know many many of the folks on the EC, and I don't dispute that they care about the field, etc etc. But in order to win, you must achieve a certain degree of visibility--heck, in order to be nominated, you must be visible. It's worth asking, then, exactly how people are/become visible in the discipline, how it is that certain names in the discipline circulate more widely than others. It's also fair, imho, to ask where it is that they circulate. Like I've argued with respect to conference reviewers, I would be surprised to learn that EC membership isn't in part driven by association with "major programs," or parallel institutions (like the WPA listserv, for instance).

(Which would seem to make a case that, were we r/c bloggers ever to choose, we might actually make for a decent sized bloc of votes)

At the very least, we might argue that if research is one of the routes to disciplinary visibility, then there is something a little centripetal about placing the most visible researchers in charge of decisions that affect the kind/quality of research in the field. I'm thinking here of Rich Haswell's essay on the organization's withdrawal of support for (if not outright abandonment of) a certain kind of research (replicable, aggregable, and data supported). Interestingly enough, Chris Anson made a call for a renewed focus on this kind of work at WPA this summer. For my part, I'm interested in this because it's a turn I'm finding in my own interests, one that goes against the grain of a lot of what gets published in our field.

But back to the EC. It would be hard, I'm guessing, for them to think in the long-term ways that Haswell does in his article. First, their terms are short. Second, I think a certain amount of their time is taken with just getting up to speed. Third, it's volunteer work. Fourth, a lot of their energy is devoted to smaller-scalle and shorter-timeframe issues. None of these are criticisms--it's just the way things are set up. But I have to wonder about stuff like this, from one of the candidate statements:

The EC is filled with hard-working folks who care what the membership thinks, but no mechanism exists to ensure that these good colleagues actually know the wishes of the membership.

Eek. Whether or not this is true, it doesn't make the EC look particularly good. And I think about the work being done by other colleagues of ours on building the visibility of our discipline, and wonder why the heck that isn't/wasn't an issue years and years ago for past ECs. I think about the implications of Haswell's essay, about the way that the highest ranking elected body of representatives in our discipline has, consciously or unconsciously, steered the field away from certain kinds of work.

In these ways alone, the EC has actually had a massive effect on the field, which is where the analogy with student councils doesn't hold, to be sure. At the same time, I don't think that I'm the only one who's mind would jump to the "student council" analogy, and that actually is worrisome to me. I don't see a lot of differences among the "position statements," I see a lot of "name brand" colleagues on the EC, and I don't really hear a lot about what they do, both short-term and long-term. It doesn't make the EC ineffectual, but it also doesn't make them particulary accountable, either.

I guess I'm arriving at the slapdash conclusion that there's something disproportionate to me between the impact of the group and the way it gets assembled. Undoubtedly, there's a lot more to this committee and the process than I'm aware of, but still, I can't help but feel like this is an "election" where my vote doesn't make much difference. Not that that stopped me from voting. But still.

That is all.


As someone passed over for the Exec Committee election, I found myself thinking about this same stuff. Of course, most of the names do represent very accomplished folks in the field. But I immediately checked off all my votes through associations I had with the names--I like her, I don't care for him, she's had an article I really liked, etc. It was only when I didn't know the names that I visited that little election blurb the candidates wrote. Does that logic make CCCC any better? I doubt it.

Nice exploration here. I'm honestly more comfortable being if not out of at least on the edge of the loop, and your thoughts make me plenty content with that spot. I do, see the key point in the way such bodies shape the discipline. Another part of an idea is that the service nature of the work perpetuates the make-up of the group-- as you say, those without the recognized name probably don't have time to participate so, admirably, those putting more into service do, but since that service is devalued, fresh people or insights don't invest time in the process or the group.

I can see how this might boil down to similar research genre issues. One can count articles, but how would you measure innovative EC work?

Exactly, Dan. No one's running for re-election, although I suppose one could site certain kinds of work as service at a home institution. But it still runs up against accountability issues--almost nothing that I saw in those statements could actually be defended in an "I accomplished this" sort of way.

I find the C's overwhelming, and I've yet to feel like my voting has been as informed as I'd like it to be.
I think the C's needs to spend some time thinking about how it can plug into what's going on today. Can we forgo a conference one year and have a massive professional retreat and figure out what we all want from the C's and how to get it? Your student council metaphor works in this way: student councils perpetuate the status quo, which is fine, but even the status and the quo do change. And I do recognize that there are innovative thinkers and doers in the field,butthe way the information is gathered and transmitted, even with the web site at NCTE, is not really forward thinking/using. Okay, the heads of the affiliates have blogs now, and that's a step in the right direction, but still. . .

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