Alt-Ac’s URI History: An Interview with Donna Bickford

If the term “alt-ac” is unfamiliar to you, it won’t be for long. The 2013 Modern Language Association Conference held a special session “How did I get here? Our ‘Altac’ jobs”; searching for “alt-ac” in the Chronicle of Higher Education returns around 60 results; and, the term is quickly becoming commonplace in academic departments. Alt-ac is short for “alternative academic,” referring to careers held by scholars in the academy that are outside of the traditional tenure track, often in administration.  Those in alt-ac careers are generally Ph.D.-holding staff members, who not only work in administration, but also research, write, and teach. While these “administrator scholars” are valuable assets to the university, the lack of a clear support system and lingering hierarchical tensions still needs to be addressed in order for universities, departments, and students to benefit fully from this resource. Attention has, therefore, turned to the need, at departmental- and university-levels, for further discussion of alt-ac careers and an array of related issues, including the growing use of adjuncts, digital humanities, and graduate/professional student preparation. While alt-ac careers do not “solve” the myriad hiring issues within the humanities, they are fast becoming recognized as legitimate and attractive options for those who do not see themselves in tenure-track positions, but who still have much to offer to the academy.

I was fortunate enough to conduct an e-interview with Donna Bickford, one of the leading voices in the alt-ac community, and an alum of the University of Rhode Island, having earned her Ph.D. in English. Links to her two Chronicle articles, co-written with Anne Mitchell Whisnant, can be found below, along with other pertinent writings on the present and future conditions of alt-ac careers.

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All American High: Writing about a 1980s Nostalgia Film

Keva Rosenfeld shooting All American High.
Keva Rosenfeld shooting All American High.

Last semester, I taught the course ENG 245, Introduction to Film Decades, with the theme “Teen Films of the 1980s.” I found that our classroom conversations often led students to puzzle over what teens were “really like” back in the 1980s. I would sometimes remind them that for those of us who grew up in that era, life was not, in fact, anything like a John Hughes film.

In my quest to find a documentary about teen life in the 1980s, I stumbled upon All American High, a film by Keva Rosenfeld , which was nominated for the 1987 Sundance Film Festival Documentary Grand Jury Prize and aired on PBS in 1988. As it turns out, the film had recently been remastered and has found a new audience nearly thirty years later; it will screen in the upcoming 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) as part of a program with the Austin Film Society.

So I decided to contact Keva Rosenfeld and interview him about the production and re-release of the film and its own portrait of teen life. As I discovered, the film, which was filmed about a contemporaneous moment, has now become something of a nostalgia film for the 1980s, in the Jamesonian sense. You can read the resulting interview at The Independent.

Tim Amidon Shares His Research on Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies

On December 6th, Tim Amidon (PhD candidate, Rhetoric and Composition) gave a Brown Tim basket_tendingBag talk in which he presented work from his dissertation, “‘You Can’t Just Learn That Knowledge—That Unspoken Knowledge’: Firefighters’ Multi-modal Literacies.”

Tim, who has been a firefighter for fifteen years, began his talk by explaining that firefighters are too often considered to be “people who do, not people who think.” The research he conducted—which included interviews and field observations—challenges that assumption, and it also challenges our understanding of literacy practices and knowledge work.

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Beazley Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason”

What is cool? Used so frequently in everyday vernacular, the “cool” has acquired various ambiguous shades of meaning. In a talk on December 4, Beazley Kanost (PhD candidate, Beazley cropped 3English) challenged our ordinary notions of the cool, taking up and carefully theorizing both the idea of the “cool” in 60s counter culture and the implications of the political stance that lies behind our assumptions about the “cool.” Kanost’s “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason” draws from her work on experimental film of the 60s, particularly material from her visit to the Shirley Clarke Papers archive at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in Madison, Wisconsin, funded by a graduate research grant from the University of Rhode Island Center for the Humanities. Central to Kanost’s argument is the way in which the subject of Clarke’s film projects is often the “cool man.”

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Writing and Rhetoric Students and Faculty Organize Interdisciplinary Humor Symposium

Comedy is no laughing matter, or at least, it’s not just a laughing matter. This year scholars and students at URI set out to afford humor the attention and respect it deserves through a series of events that will culminate in an all-day, interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday, March 22nd entitled “Open Mic, Open Minds: An Exploration of Social Issues Through Stand-up.”  Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Dr. Jeremiah Dyehouse is the faculty advisor to the committee, which includes Writing and Rhetoric Ph.D. students Krysten Manke and Jillian Belanger.

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Night of Poetry at the Wickford Art Association

On December 12th, 2013, students from Professor Peter Covino’s creative writing class held a public poetry reading at the Wickford Art Association. Students delighted a packed room of listeners as they read from chapbooks they created during the semester. The nine graduate students participating in the reading (calling themselves The Thunder Room Collective) were: Jenna Morton-Aiken, Derick Ariyam, Jessica Brigges, Julie Hassett, Mark Hinkley, Charles Kell, Danielle Sanfilippo, Rhiannon Sorrell, and Hillary Trimbach.

Charles       Rhiannon

 

Kenna Barrett Explores Turing’s “Test” and Automated Essay Evaluation

Kenna's Duck
What does Alan Turing’s famous thought experiment have to do with writing essays?

On Wednesday, November 13th, 2013, Kenna Barrett, (PhD candidate, English) delivered a talk exploring the possible relationship between Alan Turing’s commonly known “Turing Test” and Automated Essay Evaluation (AEE). Throughout what Barrett named an “interdisciplinary, work-in-progress” she explored parallels between the Turing Test’s questionable ability to produce human-like responses and AEE’s controversial abilities to “score” the writing of humans.

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URI English and LearningWorks for Kids Look Toward The Future

educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies
LearningWorks for Kids educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies

LearningWorks for Kids — a growing web start-up based in Wakefield, Rhode Island– has been home to a number of University of Rhode Island students and graduates. LearningWorks, which educates parents, teachers, and children about the educational benefits of games, apps, and other new technologies, has put students from a variety of disciplines at URI into critical roles within its organization. Amongst these disciplines the English department at URI has been strongly represented. Students and graduates of the English department have reveled in the opportunity to gain real-world experience in a rapidly growing market and LearningWorks has provided a unique opportunity to accomplish just that.

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“Envying the Poor” A Talk by Professor Carolyn Betensky

Dr. Carolyn Betensky’s talk based on her recent article “Envying the Poor: Contemporary and Nineteenth-Century Fantasies of Vulnerability” examines the envy of vulnerability as an underlying tension that structures relations between 19th-century bourgeois readers and literary representations of the working poor. What makes Dr. Betensky’s argument especially illuminating is its transhistorical significance; she offers a unique pairing between the nineteenth-century novel and the right-wing rhetoric of the 2012 presidential campaigns, highlighting “resentment from above” and “fantasies of mastery.” The contemporary relevance is grounded in Mitt Romney’s avowal that the discontent of the “99%” with the “1%” betrays “a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach.” At issue in both the nineteenth century and our present moment is the vulnerable poor’s alleged special power, as perceived by the rich, derived from the sympathy aroused by the “precarity” of their situation.

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PhD Student Beth Anish Chairs ACIS New England

The weekend of Nov. 1-2 was hectic yet exhilarating for Beth Anish, a PhD student in English at URI and an Assistant Professor at CCRI. Beth hosted the 2013 New England Regional Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies, which drew scholars from the entire eastern seaboard to the CCRI venue in Warwick, RI. As the conference theme Beth chose “the hybridity of Irish culture in Ireland or in diaspora.”

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