Labor Resource Center Academic Labor Syllabus

This syllabus was created in the spirit of Candice Benbow’s “Lemonade Syllabus” and other collections of references and resources that provide context for current events. In that way, it can be used by individuals who want to learn more about the topic of academic labor in composition. It has also been designed to be adapted–whole or in part–to the classroom.

As with all syllabi, the labor syllabus is partial and dynamic. While I have worked to make the materials intersectional in terms of looking at labor at cross-axes with race, class, gender, region, sexuality, and other identities, there is much room for improvement.

If you see glaring mistakes or areas where you feel more attention is clearly needed, please email Casie Fedukovich.


Introduction to Labor Issues in Composition

Department of English/Writing Studies, Generic University

Scope of the class

Upper-division undergraduate to graduate. Because of the value of multiple perspectives, ideally team-taught and supported by representative faculty with current experience teaching first-year writing, including non-tenure track, tenure track, and tenured faculty and graduate teaching assistants.

Course description 

This course provides an introduction to labor issues in academia, focusing specifically on the discipline of composition (variously titled first-year writing or first-year composition). We will explore broad contexts and histories that have influenced current labor trends before moving into specific inquiries into labor problems in composition, including exploring a field of scholarship recently termed “contingency studies.” We will examine multiple perspectives, including those in academia, such as Writing Program Administrators (WPAs), faculty, and graduate students, and those outside academia, such as government agencies and reports in popular media.

Learning objectives

  1. To understand both histories and the current issues in academia labor.
  2. To inquire into the complex relationships among global labor markets, local governments, institutions, departments, and faculty.
  3. To explore trends in academic labor and responses to those trends.
  4. To apply course readings and discussions to an exploration of a specific topic in labor and to propose a study that looks into that problem.

In this seminar, we will explore a range of issues related to the academic labor market, especially as it is realized through the discipline of composition. We will frame the idea of labor broadly to include perspectives from a number of stakeholders, from bureaucrats conducting research into post-secondary education to graduate students teaching first-year writing. We will consider a range of questions, focusing on the following: What is academic labor? Who does it? What trends can we describe in issues such as hiring and work load? In what ways do we see labor issues intersecting with teaching and learning? How is labor commodified and formalized? What responses to labor challenges have arisen? What might come next in responses to these labor challenges? Further, I invite each of you to continue to generate these kinds of questions on your own as we move through the semester.

You will also be asked to develop your own unique focus on a topic related to academic labor. Our “pathfinding project” will ask you to research and write a focused exploratory literature review and a research proposal.

Major Assignments

Labor and Literacy Narrative: This personal narrative will serve two functions: 1) it will introduce you to me and 2) it will prompt you to think critically about how your own labor history(ies) interact with your relationship to literacy and your  perceptions of academic labor.

Writing Program Profile: You will make contact with a Writing Program Administrator (WPA) at another institution for the purposes of learning more about how one program responds to local labor needs and challenges.  We will generate a list of questions together in class.

Exploratory Literature Review: As the title suggests, you will work with me to focus your ideas into an area of inquiry and complete an exploratory literature review into that topic. The review will be exploratory because, as is the nature of research, you should be surprised by some of your findings and may need to recalibrate your focus along the way. The purpose of the ELR is to map the scholarly territory into one topic in labor studies in composition, using as many sources as you feel are necessary to identify a synthetic “gap” in research.

Research Proposal: This proposal responds to the gap you’ve identified in your literature review. You will propose a study that explores some element of a topic that you feel has been left out or understudied.

Pathfinding Essay: The pathfinding essay addresses why you are interested in the focused topic you chose, how you came to the topic, what your sources have taught you about the history of labor in composition (or broadly in academia), and most importantly, what you will do next (more reading, research, taking additional courses, attending conferences, contacting allies at other institutions, teaching, writing, direct action/activism, etc.).

Your labor and literacy narrative, literature review, research proposal, and pathfinding essay work together to constitute your “Pathfinding Project.” During our final exam period, you will present to the class your path through labor studies in composition.

Unit 1Charting the Course

Guiding questions: What is academic labor? Why is it a problem? What is labor? How does the system of academia reinforce its labor practices?
Possible Readings:


Unit 2: Mapping the Territory

Guiding Questions: What (global, local) systems affect academic labor?
Possible Readings:


Unit 3: Narrowing the Scope

Guiding Questions: What conversations are prevalent in labor studies in composition? What factors influence labor in composition? 

Possible Readings

Position Statements 

Terms of Work 

Brief history of Composition paradigms: CTR, Process Theories, Social Epistemic/Social Constructionism.

Zooming In: Research into Contingency

Resolutions and Responses


Unit 4Pushing the Boundaries, Redrawing the Map

Guiding Questions: What is the nature of “resistance” in academic labor?  How has scholarship responded? 
Possible Readings:


Capstone UnitCharting Your Own Path

Guiding Questions: What can be done? What is your role? Where do you see your influence?