Working With Human Subjects

Interview-Based Study Methods

Elizabeth Boyle

Female Adjunct Faculty: A Feminist Examination of Working Conditions for Instructors of Composition in Local and National Contexts


Data Collection Procedure: Temporary faculty members are a reality in English departments: Nearly one-third of English faculty at four-year colleges and universities are on temporary appointments (CCCC). But the fact that women fill those temporary appointments 67 percent of the time while men fill them 33 percent of the time is worth questioning (qtd in Schell 5). The goal of this study is to determine the working conditions of female instructors of composition. This topic is of particular relevance to women because they compose a disproportionate number of instructors of composition in English departments both locally and nationally. I will examine the dynamics of composition instructor work conditions for women in the local context (the Colorado State University English department) in relation to composition instructor work conditions as they are discussed theoretically and in national contexts.

The official Colorado State University (CSU) manual recognizes two types of faculty: tenure track and temporary. The temporary faculty consists of two groups: instructors, whom the university contracts to work one semester at a time, and special instructors, whom the university contracts to work for a year or more at a time. For the purposes of this study, I will not differentiate between instructors or special instructors; I will consider both groups to be adjunct faculty, working on a temporary, non-tenure track basis for the university and will refer to these faculty members as instructors.

In an effort to understand the subjective experiences of those who have worked as or interacted with composition instructors, I will conduct interviews lasting approximately 45 minutes each with female composition instructors and writing program administrators (WPAs) at CSU. I have chosen to conduct interviews because this type of data collection method gives voice to subjects and lets them share their subjective experiences and perceptions of situations. As Adri Smaling puts it, the qualitative interview “allows for the participation of the interviewee in the interview process. The interviewee can influence the order, the (re)formulation and the interpretation of the interview questions as well as choose his or her own individual answers and clarify their contextual meaning” (25). The interviews for this project will consist of close- and open-ended questions that ask interviewees to reflect on the working conditions and relationships experienced by instructors in their English departments. The questions will also ask informants to share their opinions about the influences of gender on career choices and working conditions and relationships.

The interview questions will be posed in an unbiased and non-inflammatory manner in an effort to be sympathetic to what potentially may be a highly sensitive subject with faculty and administrators alike, but as Wendy Bishop points out, qualitative researchers always undertake social negotiations when they are working with human subjects (71). To maintain anonymity, each participant will choose a pseudonym before his or her interview begins. Any information obtained during the interviews will be kept confidential: Tapes and transcripts will be coded using the corresponding interviewee’s pseudonym. I will permit informants to see final drafts of any transcripts or analysis to assure them anonymity and accurate representation.

The interviews will be structured and largely scripted to avoid digressions and variations in data. However, I will include probing questions and comments when necessary for clarification. Interviews will be conducted in the offices of the subjects.

Setting: Colorado State University (CSU) CSU is a land grant institution located in Fort Collins, Colorado. The university has 24,700 students, eight colleges and over 150 programs of study. CSU employs 1,520 faculty members, 960 of which are on tenure-track appointments.

CSU English Department and Composition Program I selected The English department at CSU due to the availability of informants and because as a student and teaching assistant in composition, I was aware of the vital role of instructors in our department. CSU’s English department has 41 tenure-track faculty members and 37 instructors. Twenty-two of the tenure-track faculty are men and 19 are women; eleven of the instructors are men and 26 are women. Graduate programs in the department include master’s programs in Communication Development, Creative Writing, Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, Teaching, and TESL/TEFL. The Composition program employs approximately 30 graduate teaching assistants who teach freshman composition.

Selection of Informants: Female Composition Instructors I will invite all of my informants to take part in an interview by sending them an email message that requests their involvement and assures confidentiality. I will choose five female composition instructors in the English department at CSU to invite for participation in an interview. Because the situation in the local context reflects the national trend of a disproportionate population of women serving as instructors of composition, I feel that a focus on exclusively women will render more results.

Potential informants will be chosen based on whether they would be a representative in a cross-section of the instructors of composition in the English department based on the amount of experience she has working as an instructor of composition at CSU. In addition to finding a sampling of interviewees that would be representative of the instructor population so that I represent the context fairly, I have chosen to seek out interviewees based on this criteria modeled after interviews Eileen Schell conducted for her landmark book Gypsy Academics and Mother Teachers in which she interviewed women who represented a range in their level of teaching experience. I will interview instructors of composition who have worked at CSU for 1-2, 3-5, 5-7, 7-10, and 10-15 years. The administrative interviewees will have no less than 10 years experience working at CSU as WPAs.

I will work with this set of informants because they have dealt with on personal, daily levels the conditions that instructors meet. Their knowledge and opinions of the social and political situations in the department will allow me a glimpse of the instructors’ perceptions.

Writing Program Administrators I will invite the two WPAs from the English department to participate in an individual interview. As WPAs, these professors are involved in the hiring and managing of instructors. The close professional relationships they have established with these faculty members will have provided distinct perspectives. The WPAs maintain the composition program, so they work closely with instructors, but as administrators, they are representatives of the department, its goals and ideals. The WPAs, as full-time tenure (track) faculty, might also share insight as to how such faculty members view instructors and their work. Because the administrators will not be asked to reflect on their own experiences as instructors if they have such experience—they will be asked to reflect on the conditions of instructors in the department and nationally—I will invite both males and females to participate.

Text I took out but might want to put back in or rework for non-H100 purposesThe interviews will be structured and largely scripted to avoid digressions and variations in data. However, I will include probing questions and comments when necessary, and follow-up interviews are possible if time restraints affect initial interviews or if further clarification or explanation is necessary with any informant. Nonverbal observation will accompany audio recordings and written notes during the interviews. The nonverbal element of data collection will be minimal; however, as the position of the instructor in the university is a political and sensitive one, such clues might be informative. Interviews will be conducted in the offices of the subjects.

-Explain racial, ethnic, age diversity in actual methods section once you have this information.

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