Revolution Lullabye

February 3, 2009

Phelps, The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs: Catalyst, Laboratory, and Pattern for Change.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Richard Bullock and John Trimbur. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1991. 155-170.

Instead of focusing on what the relationship between rhet/comp and literature can be in an English department, Phelps takes a step back, widens the scope, and discusses what a independent writing program can do for the institution as a whole. Higher education is going through a multifacted crisis (the devaluing of teaching and undergraduate education due to the focus on research, the absence of community due to specialization, and the employment of under-paid, under-trained part-time and graduate teachers), but the theoretical foundations of a writing program makes it a prime candidate for a site of institutional change: the field of composition highly values quality pedagogy and undergraduate education; a writing program serves the whole institution and therefore must reach out across disciplines; and the large, diverse cohort of teachers allows for the construction of professional communities. Writing programs must confront several challenges to be viable. In addition to negotiating the local political and institutional constraints of each university, writing programs have unique budget, space, technology, labor, tenure, evaluation, and structural needs that must be administratively met in order for the writing program to be viable.

Quotable Quotes

“The most important contribution I think writing programs can make, though, with respect to higher education at large, is to exemplify the struggle to foster community in the face of the prevailing mood of skepticism, critique of all cultural institutions and their traditions, radical individualism, and loss of fellowship that troubles our colleges and universities” (167) – through community building and professional development of professors, part-time, grad students, undergraduates

“With luck, and propitious local circumstances, this situational fit enables writing programs to become a positive force for change by enacting their own logic: operating experimentally and hypothetically; nuturing a fragile sense of community in talk, text, and collaborative work; and seeking interdependencies where they can find them.” (168)

“the concrete practices of community” (167)

Notable Notes

rhetorical concept of kairos – fitting into the historical and situational context – by having writing programs lead institutional change (168) 

the field of rhetoric/composition as a model, a logic for writing programs to develop and follow

get out of the trap of quibbling over departmental structure

use Syracuse as a model

Ernest Boyer (Carnegie Foundation) – higher ed reform that Phelps bases her argument for writing programs on

Themes of the disciplines that work for institutional change:

  1. writing helps students become active learners and meaning-makers
  2. common literacy strategies adapted for diverse rhetorical situations
  3. collaborative work
  4. communicate patiently through hands-on talk and text – create a community (163)

Challenges 164-166

Writing program acts as collaborator and as a catalyst, an experimenter, for change.

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