Steffen, Heather


Heather Steffen comes to the Writing Program from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, where she recently completed a Ph.D. in Literary and Cultural Studies and taught first-year writing and American literature for ten years. Before that, she earned an MA in Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon and a BA in English at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Heather’s research focuses on academic labor, the history of the U.S. university, American literature/culture at the turn of the last century, and the new field of Critical University Studies. Her dissertation, Academic Labor in an Age of Change: Criticism of the U.S. University, 1890-1930, examined how critical writing by professors and other stakeholders affected the structure of the American research university at the moment it first took shape and how these early higher ed critics set the terms of a 125-year-long critical tradition that is flourishing in our time. She has also published and presented on graduate student labor, humanities doctoral education, student internship labor, academic fiction, and teaching the university in the composition classroom. 

As a teacher, Heather is committed to teaching about the university to undergraduates because she believes that every student can and should develop an informed, critical perspective on the institution in which they live, study, and work. She uses critical university studies as a course topic because it also means students have an automatic “in” to the material, making it easier to meet them where they really are and to demonstrate writing as a relevant, engaging process. This year at UCSB, Heather will be teaching Writing 2, Writing for the Humanities, and Writing and Public Discourse.

Considering herself a bit of an academic jack of all trades and realizing that the real work of the university happens (sometimes too) often in the committee meeting or the conference hotel, Heather has also been involved in a lot of professional service and hopes to continue this work at UCSB. She currently serves as a Regional Delegate to the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly (MLA DA), as Co-Chair of the MLA DA’s Humanities Workforce Subcommittee, and as a member of the MLA Radical Caucus’ Steering Committee. In the past, Heather has served on the MLA’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession, as a conference organizer and researcher for the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers, and as Managing Editor of the minnesota review, along with many departmental and college-wide service positions at Carnegie Mellon.

Heather moved to Santa Barbara in January with her partner, Patrick, who is a postdoc in the UCSB Materials Department and UCSB Unit Chair of UAW Local 5810, her dog/monster Desmond, and her cat Bear.  Before beginning at UCSB, Heather has been working at Tri-Counties Regional Center (a nonprofit serving individuals with intellectual disabilities) and as a freelance editor and researcher.



South Hall 4723

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English Department
UC Santa Barbara
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