Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yancey's "Delivering Composition" (Chapter 1 of the Book by the Same Title

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. "Delivering Composition: A Vocabulary for Discussion." Ed. Kathleen Blake Yancey. Delivering Composition. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 2006. Print.

The project of this book, as Yancey outlines in the preface, is to examine what college composition looks like in a variety of contexts. Her first chapter then seeks to define the three essential concepts at the heart of this issue: college, composition and delivery. She begins with college, which she explains is no longer a single site, but rather something that takes place at multiple sites, "physical and virtual, informal and formal, official and just-in-time" (4). Next she takes a close look at the path of composition from the paradigm shift from current-traditional into process and from print based composition to writing for the screen. What it means to compose, much less to teach composing has clearly changed and is continuing to do so. Finally she examines the varied elements of college composition delivery from the physicality of the classroom spaces to who is delivering the subject. These varied sites and agents of delivery greatly influence the course being composed. As colleges, society and other circumstances continue to evolve, the delivery of composition will also and thus is a subject that is due great consideration.

Discussion: This piece serves as an excellent primer for the recent C's CFP that Yancey sent out via the WPA Listserv. It's additionally a nice breakdown of the college composition's background. I think this piece serves as a nice piece for a WPA class, particularly one that cannot assume all students have taken a class in this history of the field. It's interesting to me too that many of the debates of our field can be nicely tied to the defining of these three concepts.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Glau's "Hard Work and Hard Data"

Glau, Gregory R. “Hard Work and Hard Data: Using Statistics to Help your Program.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource.  Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 291-302. Based upon a C’s presentation from 1999.

This piece addresses statistical research in the life of the WPA. The author indicates the types of questions an administrator might get from a variety of sources that would be best responded to through researched data. To prepare for such occasions, Glau recommends that administrators prepare themselves by asking questions related to their programs and seeking the answers and analyzing the results they receive. He provides a series of Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions to help guide WPAs in developing questions relevant to their institutional context. Then, the author provides guidance on presenting this information to key audiences, particularly in graphic form.

Discussion: With specific case study examples and many probing questions, this piece is useful to helping WPAs consider the way statistics can be useful in helping them understand their program better, respond to inquires and even advertise and advocate for their program. Introductions to statistical practices in the life of an administrator such as these are particularly useful since firm experience with statistical research cannot be expected of all humanities scholars.

Anson's "Figuring it Out"

Anson, Chris M. “Figuring it Out: Writing Program in the Context of University Budgets.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 233-252.
In this article, the author addresses the important issue of the writing program budget. Since, like so many things related to writing program administration, the budget is varied from institution to institution and will come with idiosyncrasies at each, Anson suggests the process of visual mapping as a means through which greater understanding of the budgetary situation can be developed. He first recommends drawing out the expenses of the program and categorizing those. Next, the sources of income and their expected (allowed) uses can be mapped, including sources of income that are variable or only hypothetical (grant money). With these issues outlined so that they can be clearly observed, the author suggests the WPA can then begin to think about budgetary problems and map those as well. With the budget and budget related problems mapped clearly, the administrator can then begin to think about the ideological and political problems that feed into the financial concerns of the program. Intimate knowledge of one’s budget, in the way mapping provides, will help the administrator deal with changes in circumstances and rising problems which are certain to develop.

Discussion: This piece gives a detailed case study into one institution’s budgetary concerns to help the reader see the layers involved in budgeting at an institution along with a creative way to help the reader learn to understand the unique situation of a budget when the assume a position wherein they are in charge of budgetary issues. Useful—I think it would be useful and interesting to give students in a WPA class a situation and example spreadsheets and ask them to map the budget in this way.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Schell's Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change

Schell, Eileen E. “Part-Time/Adjunct Issues: Working Toward Change.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 181-201. 

This article provides and overview of the state of labor issues and working conditions for part-time and contingent faculty members. After reviewing the statistics presented by the Coalition on the Academic Work Force survey (published by MLA in 1999), the author explains the tensions created by the academy’s great dependence on part-time labor. She then presents four strategies for addressing and improving the working conditions of these part-time and non-tenure track workers: “the conversionist (converting part-time positions into full-time, tenure-track lines), reformists (improving existing working conditions of part-time and non-tenure-track positions), unionist/collectivist (addressing work conditions through unionization, collective bargaining, and community organizing), and abolitionist strategies (abolishing the first-year writing requirement and reforming labor conditions)” (188). Each of these paths are not without their challenges, barriers or drawbacks. Finally she presents the four elements part-time and contingent faculty need to be successful: “compensation, contracts, conditions that enable quality teaching and coalition building” (196) .

Discussion: this article presents good materials and keen observation about the injustices of adjunct labor—ones I am all too aware of as the program head of adjuncts on my campus. Unfortunately, the paths that are presented are not practical for my context—as I suspect they would not be for many institutions. I don’t finish this article with hope that I can enact change in my context. While I agree that the elements she presents would improve working conditions the path to achieving those elements is not a clear one. I think this article is useful in the way it demonstrates the institutional strains that lead to poor conditions for adjunct faculty and I think it’s important that individuals see how multilayered this problem is. However, it would be easy, I think, for someone who isn’t in tune with the complexity of the institutional context to simply look at suggestions such as the one to follow the C’s guidelines for class size and provide office-space and simply think—yes, let’s do that and things will improve. Even something that might seem as simple as improving office-space for adjunct faculty is a layered and political issue, at least at my institution.

Another thing that strikes me as I read this piece is the lack of tenured faculty at my college. The article bemoans to decline of tenure and indicates our need to protect it from becoming extinct, but it is gone at my institution. Save for a few faculty who have been in my department for over 40 years, no one has tenure or the ability to obtain it. We have multi-year contracts as full-time permanent faculty—three one year contracts, then one three year, and then contracts of five years after that. I never consider myself contingent faculty because I have a multi-year contract despite my lack of tenure and am able to move up the promotion ranks. Contingent full-time faculty at our campus, in my mine are the one-year restricted positions (who must re-interview to get permanent positions) or the full-time lectureships that are currently proposed by our state system. I’m interested to explore further labor issues at other institutions where tenure has been abolished—and the politics of that very decision.

Phelps' "Turtles All the Way Down"

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee.  "Turtles All The Way Down:  Educationing Academic Leaders."  The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 3-39. 

This article explores the case of leadership development in the academy and specifically with relationship to WPA work. Leadership development is not something that is well addressed as an aspect of training the future professoriate, which is problematic considering the complexity of academic leadership. The article explores the issues of professionalism and power associated with administration. These leaders must fight for their work to be considered intellectual work relevant to promotion and tenure and must carefully navigate ideologies related to the use of power with their own negotiate of the power their position affords them. The often-clashing domains of the discipline, collegium, and workplace complicate issues of identity for the academic leader. Individuals in varied leadership roles with in a department can struggle to “negotiat[e] and reconcil[e] multiple identities as practical learner, researchers, employees, disciplinary colleagues, administrators, student peers, co-teachers, family members, and community activists” (21).

To make things more complex: while the academic enterprise is perceived as holding the public good at the heart of its mission, faculty are able to operate under their own perception of the public good regardless of their specific context, but administrators necessarily must consider public good within its local context—thus they are bound to their institution more directly. As leadership is a deeply complex experience, leadership education is extremely important to consider. Phelps examines the benefits of triangulated approach to leadership education that allows for formal learning, experiential learning (indirect, observation based) and pragmatic learning. The formal and practical learning models fed into one another in a recursive manner which lead to a rich learning environment. The department as a whole when leadership education is not taken as something merely for graduate students, but rather something that engages members of the department from multiple generation working together to create opportunities for the three modes of learning to take place.

Discussion: This piece is really important to me because it strikes a cord directly with a tension I have felt as an administrator that I could not always properly articulate. It’s easy to say that one feels like they’re going to the “dark side” by becoming an administrator, but that is woefully reductive in articulating the struggle a faculty member feels with coming to terms with his or her identity as an administrator and faculty member. Part of my greatest struggle in the last year has been in determining issues of my own professional identity and how schizophrenic it has felt. Moral dilemmas are commonplace. Merely months ago, I spent an hour on the phone with a dear mentor of mine (Paul Heilker) asking how he slept at night knowing how “troubling, conflicted and difficult” (Phelps 21) the moral choices of administration truly were.

These conflicts seem even more pronounced as I attempt to reconcile my dissertation emphasis on guerrilla rhetoric with my administrative work, which at times feels anything but guerrilla. Phelps does help me reconcile the two a bit, however. She says, “[t]he ethics of administrative leadership are preconditioned on faith in the global potential of higher education institutions to further the public good. It would be impossible to view the academic enterprise itself in moral terms if it were devoted simply to self-aggrandizement…” (22). This notion of academic leadership being motivated by the good of the people relates quite well to Carlos Marighella’s notion of the urban guerrilla. He maintains, “the urban guerrilla defends a just cause, which is the people's cause” (Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla Kindle Location 168-169). It is this emphasis on the cause of the people, rather than focus on one’s self that distinguishes a guerrilla from one who is simply rebellious, or an outlaw, to use Marighella’s term. Unfortunately, institutions are critiqued for falling away from this value for narcissistically motivated purposes. The tension between these two mindsets, Phelps explains, has always been a staple in American academic professionalism. But, I digress (this is what happens when comprehensive exam reading and independent study reading come together)…my own personal interest in this piece aside, this is rich with information on professionalization and power dynamics and certainly a keeper for WPA course development.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Selections from The Writing Program Administrator's Resource

White, Edward M. “Teaching a Graduate Program in Writing Program Administration.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 101-112.

This article examines the experiences the author and Theresa Enos had in teaching a PhD class in WPA. The piece shares a syllabus, schedule, and lessons learned from the teaching of a WPA class. The author indicates how surprised he was to learn how little students really understood of how academia worked and how insolated they were from the reality of the struggles end within their own field (i.e. the poor status of rhetoric and composition faculty were perceived as a historical issue). The piece explores the strengths and weaknesses of the course design and acknowledges how vast the field of WPA really is. Not matter how one decides to craft a WPA course, he argues, material will be left out. In covering material in the class, or even keeping up with ever evolving literature of the field, White simply laments, “we all did the best we could and that unremitting guilt was part of WPA baggage” (109).

Discussion: This piece certainly reflects the struggle Louise, Mark and I have already addressed to some extent in considering how Mark and I might design a new WPA course for Louise to teach—we are knowingly omitting important, even necessary information in designing this course. As such, I think this piece is important for the class to read. I think it’s a useful reminder that the class will not and cannot be all-inclusive. This class only helps those of us interested in WPA work get our feet wet and learn some of the basics. Keeping up will be a career long endeavor. I just tweeted this morning that the deeper I get into WPA literature the more I feel I have to learn. It’s certainly nice to know Ed White feels the same way. ☺

Schwalm, David E. “Writing Program Administration as Preparation for an Administrative Career.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. Print. 125-135.

This article uses the experiences from the author’s fifteen years of experience in varied levels of academic administration (from WPA to vise provost) to examine the differences between faculty and administrators and to demonstrate how WPA work is effective preparation for a career in upper level administration in the academy, if one so desires. The article makes some generalizations about the nature of faculty members versus administrators that present faculty in a fairly negative, but not undeserved, light. The essential message is that the position faculty hold in the institution allows them to be fairly self-focused, while administrators (good ones at least) must look outside themselves and their context. In the end, the piece argues a quasi-administrator position like the WPA helps a faculty member to develop administrator qualities because he or she gains through the unique position of the role an understanding of the power of knowledge, friendships, persuasion and empathy, all skills that are useful to an effective administrator.

Discussion: This piece actually cracked me up at several points. Schwalm’s characterization of faculty is a bit too true at times. His “nerd hypothesis of administrative failure,” was particularly amusing: "A nerd, whatever virtues or vices he or she may have, is someone who is uncomfortable at a cocktail party with strangers. There are some nerds who are content to be heads-down computer programmers, work in offices by themselves, grow rich, and raise socially adjusted children with perfect teeth. Others who are more resentful pursue the revenge of the nerds by becoming teachers or ministers--specifically because those positions carry with them power over others which the nerd could not win by dint of his or her own personality and social skills. That's bad enough, but Woe unto us all when one of these becomes an academic administrator!" (129). I find this piece really interesting in presenting the administration not as the dark side, but as a side with different concerns from the faculty. It articulates the necessity for faculty and administrators to act differently because of their particular roles. It makes sense. It’s useful. I do wonder, however, how faculty without administrative aspirations, or students how have never taught or been in administration, would respond to his tongue-in-cheek treatment of the faculty ranks.

Selections from Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers

The pieces in this text all have the same basic format: they introduce an institutional context and set of challenges to allow the reader to speculate how they might address such situations. Then, they provide insight into how actual administrators at the institutions handled the circumstances, or in the case where the situation presented wasn’t an exact replica of a real life situation, they provide suggestions for addressing these circumstances. As a whole, I think these scenarios are useful to helping readers understand the vast array of contexts and challenges that might meet at WPA. Published in 1999, many of these scenarios clearly date themselves, while others seem more timeless. I think these are useful to have new or potential WPAs review, but do wish an updated version of the text existed. One thing that I think would be particularly useful is to have students in a WPA class use the genre presented in this text to chart the state of their own program, whether it is one they are leading, one they are a student within or even one they are observing as part of an interview/observation study.

A bit more on the individual situations in the pieces I explored:

Bullock, Richard. “In Pursuit of Competence: Preparing New Graduate Teaching Assistants for the Classroom.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 3-13.

This selection deals with TA training. Teaching Assistants at a mid-sized, state supported institution are struggling greatly with their first semester of teaching and clearly need more preparation, but the master’s program is reluctant to add additional required credits to their load specifically for teacher training related activities.

Cooper, Allene, Martha Sipe, Teresa Dewey, and Stephanie Hunt. “What Happens When Discourse Communities Collide? Portfolio Assessment and Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 44-52.

In this scenario, the Writing Program Director pilots a portfolio system for assessing exit competencies of first-year writing students. This pilot is an attempt to replace an outdated exam, develop dialogue across program faculty (full-time, part-time and TA) and to meet assessment criteria established by the administration. In addition, to negotiation these goals, the WPA must address building tensions between TA and adjunct faculty.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Mobilizing Human Resources to Re(Form) a Writing Program.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 73-96.

This scenario paints the picture of the fictitious Cicero University. Cicero is a university in reform. The institution’s new president is beginning an effort to reduce the college’s overall size, while also attempting to recruit in such a way as to diversify the population. Meanwhile, the Writing Program itself is still relatively new, only existing for three prior years. The mix of faculty supporting the program (an autonomous entity separate from the English department) consists of only one other compositionist (also new to the program) and a mix of part time faculty and TAs, but the number of TAs has been reduced. The administrator is tasked with modernizing methods of writing instruction, creating philosophical coherence and adding value to other degree programs.

Kimball, Sara E. “Computers in the Writing Center.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 133-145.

This piece finds its context in the writing center of an institution. This center operates with its own budget and is in the process of developing a plan for creating and maintaining online writing center services. The administrator must determine the needs that can be met through online services and how he/she will implement, staff and maintain them. Special consideration should be given to who the audience for the online services will be and how training in software programs will be facilitated (and funded).

Maid, Barry. “How WPAs Can Learn to Use Power to Their Own Advantage.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 202-211.

This selection takes place at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1982. The department is composed largely of literature faculty who are active publishers, but who must teach first-year writing as about half of their load. The first-year sequence has an exit exam at the end of each class. As the newly appointed WPA, the reader must determine how to address the curriculum in a context wherein most faculty teach to the tests and very little actual writing takes place. You are in the position where you must remove the test to create a new curriculum that will actually enact change, but you must do so in such a way as to use your power as WPA, but not offend those in the program who have say over your tenure decision.

Haviland, Carol Peterson and Edward M. White. “How Can Physical Space and Administrative Structure Shape Writing Programs, Writing Centers, and WAC Projects.” Administrative Problem-Solving for Writing Programs and Writing Centers. Ed. Linda Myers-Breslin. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999. Print. 212-222.

This scenario looks closely at where aspects of the writing program are located within an institution. It asks the reader to address how he/she might respond to issues related to the location of a program. It addresses not only issues of where physical office space is located and the politics of those locations, but also where within the institutional context different aspects of the program (writing center, WAC, etc) are located, whose power are they under, and why.


I find this genre really useful for helping me think about how WPA work gets done. In addition to the selections that I’ve reviewed (those that were used in the 2010 WPA class), I would really be interested to take a closer look at these selections soon:

  • Paul Bodmer’s “Introducing a Developmental Writing Program at a Small, Rural Two-Year College.” 
  • Howard Tinberg’s “Examining Our Assumptions as Gatekeepers: A Two-Year College Propsective.” 
  • Rita Malenczyk’s “Productive Change in a Turbulent Atmosphere: Pipe Dream or Possibility.” 
  • Ben W. McClelland’s “A New Millennium for the Writing Program: Introducing Authority and Change to Traditional Folks Who Employ Time-Worn Practices.”