#4C16 Recap, deep in the something of Texas

The CCCCs in Houston just wrapped up, and since I’ve posted recaps of my experiences with the conference for at least a dozen years ago, I figure I had better post something again, even if it was mostly for myself.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to go.


I have been at a point in my career for a while now where I don’t really need to go to conferences for the CV entry, so I want to/need to get to a place where I go to conferences being held in places I want to go (Vegas, for example) or sorta want to go (Tampa), or places that are close enough to drive (Indianapolis). Houston was none of these things for me, and since I had been to the CCCCs (and/or the ATTW) every year for the last six or seven or so years, I was ready for a break.

Then Annette teamed up with my writing/English Ed colleagues Ann Blakeslee and Cathy Fleischer on a panel, and I thought it would have been kind of odd for her to go to my field’s main conference of the year while I stayed home. Through a conversation I got into on the WPA-L mailing list, I ended up on a roundtable discussion about MFA degrees in writing studies organized by Duane Roen. So off to Houston I went after all. Here’s a rundown of how things went (from my POV):

  • We ended up staying at the conference hotel, which was too expensive to begin with and I made it more expensive because by the time I got around to making a reservation, all that was left was on the “executive” levels. But I have to say it was pretty sweet– continental breakfast and afternoon hors d’oeuvres included. The conference center was great too; it’s always a plus when you can get where you want with an escalator.
  • The first thing I went to was the roundtable I was on, which was chaired/organized by Duane and included John Peterson, Marjorie Stewart, and Steve Bailey. I thought it went quite well, and I was a little worried about it because I was afraid it was going to be a discussion about how the MFA makes one just as qualified for a tenure-track position in composition and rhetoric as someone with a PhD in comp/rhet. That wasn’t the case (maybe because three out of four of us also had PhDs in comp/rhet, I don’t know); instead, the discussion was much more about hiring MFAs for non-tenure-track positions, and that in turn morphed into a discussion on the ongoing poor condition of the academic job market.
  • I went to a panel about Cultural-Historical Activity Theory which a) I didn’t know a whole lot about, and b) seemed to be a research methodology that most of the panelists/respondents thought was kind of not a great idea anyway. But one thing about this session was it highlighted for me the ways that the CCCCs is really a couple of different conferences. One version of the CCCCs is focused on first year composition; at least one other version is focused on research methodologies more about describing writing “in the world” and less in the classroom; and at least another version is a conference about rhetorical theory.
  • And I went to one other panel on Thursday, but I’ll be vague about that one. It was one of these sessions in a large room and with a big crowd, and at least one group of presenters started talking about something– again, I’m being vague on purpose here– that I thought was just a super-duper terrible idea, but everyone else in the room seemed to think it was a good idea. Maybe there were others in there who were as appalled as me, but I got up and left.
  • Eventually, Annette and I found our way to the annual Bedford St. Martins Macmillan party that was being held at Minute Maid Stadium. Funny story about that: we got there about two hours early because I had forgotten how they changed the start-time to more like 8 pm instead of 6 pm. When we showed up, there was us and a few other CCCCs folks poking around outside. Eventually, we found a very nice and official looking guy to let us in. Once we were inside, it was clear that the reason why there was no one else around was because the party wasn’t going to start for a couple of hours. No worries, we thought; we’ll just hang out in the stadium. Then that same nice and official looking guy found us in the stands and just as politely escorted us out of the stadium. Heh.
  • The “big panel” I went to on Friday was called “The Purposes of Required Writing?” that featured Chuck Bazerman, Doug Hesse, and Kathi Yancey– all huge names in the field, of course, and it was standing room only. I thought all three did great talks and Howard Tinberg did a good job as the respondent, but I have to say I thought there was frightfully little consideration of the problems of labor and first year composition. Maybe that’s just because that’s something that was on my mind after my own session the day before, maybe it’s because it comes up often enough in my current WPA work, but it seems to me that if there’s going to be a super-star panel pondering the question about the purposes (justifications) for requiring first year writing, then there’s a responsibility to acknowledge that we run these required writing programs on the backs of incredibly poorly paid teachers.
  • Annette and I both went to a great panel of very short presentations on social media by Ehren Pflufelder, Michael Faris, Randall Monty, Stephanie Vie, and Amber Buck. Good stuff, good discussion. The most amusing part for me is I was kind of not paying attention toward the end/during the Q&A when I heard Stephanie saying “Well, Steve Krause wrote an article on that, right Steve?” Heh. But I caught on eventually.
  • The last panel I went to was one about the Arizona State University “Global Freshman Academy” MOOCs– specifically the first year writing MOOC. I’ve blogged about this before actually, here and most recently in December, here. I feel a little guilty about that one because I wasn’t exactly a ray of sunshine in the discussion, and I also was in this weird place of having edited a book on MOOCs that they all mentioned reading. But we muddled through.
  • Maybe even more important was Annette and I (along with some other EMU folk) got to have lunch with/hang out with our former neighbor and colleague Kate Pantelides for lunch, and a bunch of us EMU folks got to lunch with our incoming colleague Logan Bearden– so that was all cool.
  • Then on Saturday, we got out of there– or at least out of the conference area– to take in a little more of Houston and to catch up with an old friend of Annette’s. Houston is kind of  weird, as far as I can tell. Where we were was kind of “downtown,” but it was also like a neutron bomb had gone off– pretty much the only people we saw were somehow involved in the conference. We went out to this place called the George Ranch Historical Park which was probably 40 miles from the conference hotel, and it was pretty much zone free suburban sprawl the entire way.
  • Speaking of which, the ranch/park was kind of fun. It’s one of these places that has historical reenactors taking on different roles and telling the story of what was an enormous family-held ranch that had been in operation in various ways from the 1830s until some time in the middle of the 20th century. There was even a reenactment of a battle on the land known as the “Runaway Scrape,” which was apparently a pretty important campaign during the Texas Revolution. Funniest line for me from the tour guide/reenactment leader: “Folks, if you could get behind that fence please because the Mexican army is about to advance.”

So all in all, pretty good CCCCs. As I have said often before, I’m not in a position to complain too much about what does or doesn’t happen at the conference because I’m not willing to get involved with NCTE or the planning of it. There were lots of good things about it, some not so good, some interesting gossip and rumors on the state of affairs of the NCTE and CCCC in general. But other than the fact that it was in Houston, it was a good CCCCs for me.



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