INSIDE Chico State
0 January 25, 2001
Volume 31 Number 9
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Tom Fox is Outstanding Professor for 2000-2001

Tom Fox, Department of English, Outstanding Professor, 2000 - 2001
Tom Fox, Department of English, Outstanding Professor, 2000 - 2001

(Photo by Jeff Teeter)

"The overall aim of my professional life has been to work in various sites in the academy to make literacy instruction democratic and effective."

-- Tom Fox

Teacher of composition, administrator of writing programs, and scholar of composition studies -- these are the academic roles in which Tom Fox has excelled and for which he has been chosen as the 2001 Outstanding Professor by the Faculty Recognition and Support committee.

His most recent book Defending Access: A Critique of Standards in Higher Education (Boynton/Cook -- Heinemann, 1999) combines theory and practice in the same way that Fox's academic career has done. Defending Access presents Fox's proposition that the American belief in "bureaucratic, state-imposed standards" limits the access to education of non-white groups. Fox uses both ethnographic accounts of classrooms and specific accounts of the process of change in which Fox and three of his colleagues engaged to reform writing programs on the CSU, Chico campus.

Fox explores both the ways in which writing and language have been used historically in the university, and the ways in which the idea of "standards" continues to be misunderstood and misused for exclusion. The damage of this to higher education, as explained by David Bleich, University of Rochester, in a review in the Journal of Advanced Composition is that, "Almost invisibly, the processes of learning take on the need to maintain standards, instead of the need to discover or achieve something new and helpful."

Bleich writes, "Fox provides a rare integration of feeling for the subject matter with a sense of academic politics." He describes how Fox "walks the line between maintaining a view of 'saving the world' through a forceful literacy pedagogy, on the one hand, and 'doing what one can,' on the other."

This integration -- of pedagogy with practice, of teaching with scholarship, and of activism with persistence ["doing what one can" in Bleich's words] -- is so much a part of Fox's approach to his work that his notable achievements seem to flow with ease and complimentarity from one professional area to another.

"Integrating scholarship, program administration, and teaching does not pose much of a problem for me," said Fox in a statement of philosophy. "A typical day for me involves all of these activities. Because of my academic background in rhetoric and composition, I see my scholarship, teaching, and administration as similar rhetorical acts."

He describes the way he watches the back of the class in his role as composition program coordinator. "Who's not speaking? Why? My discussions with teachers concentrate on ensuring that everyone gets a chance to meet our standards and that students aren't inadvertently excluded.ÉAs a teacher, I always teach to the back of the room and take interest in the ways those students make sense of the academic challenges they faceÉAs a writer, I challenge myself and my readers to examine and question undemocratic practices of our institutions, classrooms, and scholarship."

Fox's intellectual and ethical interests in composition and democracy have placed him at the center of local, state, and national change in approaches to the teaching of writing and the administration of writing programs. According to Fox, he did not necessarily set out to be a change agent, but his positions as the director of the Northern California Writing Project and as an associate director of the California Writing Project provided him with a forum, a place to be heard and be persuasive in his arguments for access.

He recalls the time he "gored a sacred cow" as chair of the leadership team for the state Writing Project. In the '80s, in response to a traditional and narrow approach to writing, many breakthroughs were made to focus on the "process" of writing, to demystify it, and to acknowledge the experience of the writer as valid. The pendulum swung to an "anti-academic" extreme, according to Fox, and he made a "sacred cow" speech that poked fun at the "pedagogy of personal narrative" and, for the executive group, proved to be a turning point in the group's assessment of the place academic writing should hold in the teaching of writing.

Fox has written two books in addition to Defending Access: Writing With: New Directions in Collaborative Teaching, Learning and Research (SUNY Press, 1994) and The Social Uses of Writing: Politics and Pedagogy (Ablex Publishing, 1990). He has published 16 professional articles and chapters in books. He has presented at over three dozen national conferences and a dozen local conferences. He has received over $1 million in grants to direct projects that improve writing skills in high schools and universities. He has secured funding for 11 years for the Northern California Writing Project. In 2000, that project was named "Exemplary Project from 1993 to the Present" by the National Writing Project.

Lynn Elliott, chair of the Department of English, said, "It is important to note that all of Tom's scholarship and the projects he directs are directly involved with student learning."

Thia Wolf, former coordinator of the CSU, Chico Writing Center, wrote in a supporting letter, "It is obvious to anyone reading Tom's vita that he is a productive scholar, but what may be unclear is how often he is invited to write forÉim-portant publications in the field. I cannot recall reading any article past 1992 dealing with race and gender issues in literacy instruction that does not cite Tom's work. Éthe CSU, Chico Writing Program has become synonymous with his name."

And what does Fox say about receiving this important honor from his colleagues? "I was not expecting it. I was more speechless when I was told than I can remember ever being. I kept thinking, 'How am I different than I was in 1986 when I came to Chico as a new Ph.D.?' Nevertheless, I am very pleased."

Fox's wife is Jean Schuldberg. She is finishing her Ph.D. at the University of San Francisco and also works part time in the School of Social Work at CSU, Chico. Tom and Jean have three children -- Nicky 18, Louise, 16, and Joey, 10.

Kathleen McPartland
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