Revolution Lullabye

April 6, 2009

Phelps, Turtles All the Way Down

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Turtles All the Way Down: Educating Academic Leaders.” In The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Brown and Enos. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002.

Leadership education should be an integral part of any graduate student’s program, and composition and rhetoric programs are positioned to be leaders in that movement because many of their graduates will go on to quickly assume administrative roles (WPA, writing center, WAC director.) Phelps explains that the WPA straddles the “bright line” between faculty and administration, and the way to negotiate this line is to have a positive understanding of leadership. Phelps argues for WPAs to embrace their leadership roles by recognizing power as productive, ethical, and legitimate. Power does not reside with the individual; it is a force, an action that organizations depend on for survival. Phelps advocates for practical and reflective education in leadership and explains the “administrative fellow” model she piloted at Syracuse, which drew on Lave and Wagner’s theories of situated learning to allow for legitimate peripheral practice.

Quotable Quotes

“What is needed is an ethical ideal that envisions responsible, strong leadership as a conceptual possibility, not an oxymoron.” (19)

:The authority of an administrator is not a personal attribute or possession, despite those who improperly personalize it. The administrator with integrity assimilates personal motives to the social motives of the enterprise” (25) – James Madison, for the good of the office/the institution

Notable Notes

Gertrude Himmelfarb – need to recognize the good inherent in central leadership and power; distributed, collaborative power is not always good or effective. Don’t assign gender to kinds of power

new university – professionalization, recognizing administrative work as scholarship – leads to needing more faculty as leaders

systems are leaders on top of leaders (turtles all the way down) at a variety of scales

Lave/Wagner’s theories don’t account for the necessity of continued reflection and some direct learning

three spheres of activity in professionalization – the discipline, the collegium, and the workplace – WPAs negotiate their identity in all three of these, always changing and dynamic – it is an activity system

WPAs fear power from above and their own power

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