Revolution Lullabye

November 9, 2010

Royer and Gilles, The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing

Royer, Daniel J., and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.” A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Ed. Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 21-37. Print.

The authors explain how an independent department of academic, creative, and professional writing was created at Grand Valley State University in 1999. The move towards creating a stand-alone department was a decision made within the larger, literature-centered English department: after a composition specialist was hired in the early 1990s to administer the program, more and more tenure-track faculty in composition and rhetoric were added, the first-year writing curriculum was revamped, and the composition program won supporters across campus and in the administration. Royer and Gilles argue that much of the desire to create an independent program arose from a question of values: the rhetoric and composition faculty wanted to teach –and were willing to teach multiple sections of composition – in a community that valued the teaching of writing instead of in one that thought of it, as the authors write, as “cleaning the toilet” (23). The new department was created around two ideas: 1. that that those with PhD s in rhetoric and composition are trained to teach more than just the required first-year course, so the department developed an undergraduate major to create the vertical curriculum needed for faculty to teach upper-division electives and 2. that teaching first-year writing was a valued part of every person’s teaching responsibility. Royer and Gilles argue that placing rhetoric and composition in a separate department allows the discipline to be taught alongside and with other liberal arts and sciences rather than being placed underneath them, as preparation and support for other fields’ specialized study.

Quotes and Notes

“The point was about the value of composition within the academic unit. If the department reluctantly valued composition at the rate of one course a year, then to teach three or four courses a year would be a way of devaluing oneself and one’s work vis-à-vis what the departmental community claims, in practice, is important” (28).

Important point that connects to Syracuse: that GVSU hired its first rhet/comp specialist in 1990, around the same time that many other institutions in the country did (22). The thought was “simply to hire one or two composition specialists who could direct the program and keep the other faculty abreast of the latest developments in the field” (22).

Benefits of independence: focus on the discipline (at GVSU – academic, professional, creative writing); valuing of the teaching of academic writing, open lines of communication with other departments instead of being inside English, hiring and budget (and #s of major students) goes directly to the writing program instead of being administered through English.

Staffed some courses with postdoc fellows.

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Crow and O’Neill, Introduction: Cautionary Tales about Change

Crow, Angela and Peggy O’Neill. “Introduction: Cautionary Tales about Change.” In A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Eds. O’Neill, Crow, and Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 1-18.

This introduction provides an overview for some of the issues present in independent or stand-alone writing programs and departments. They argue that the move toward independent programs and departments allows the field the opportunity to define themselves as something other than different from literature. The authors, who along with Larry Burton have co-edited this edited collection, focus the book on the question, “What happens when rhet/comp separates from literature, forming two different departments?” They emphasize the importance of local context and histories in the formation and development of independent programs and departments, local situations that shape what the program or department looks like administratively, what kinds of programs it is responsible for, and how it is seen intellectually by itself and on campus. The chapters include descriptions of how individual independent writing programs were created and developed, relying on the case study and narrative to explain the challenges that the faculty and administrators of the stand-alone writing units faced. These local histories point to some of the issues and implications for the field to consider as writing faculty move into independent programs and departments, such as questions regarding tenure, staffing, and composition’s connection to service and teaching. The collected essays in show that, with independence, there is both loss and gain. The third section has scholars from the field comment on the implications for the discipline of independent writing programs and departments.

Quotes & Notes

“The creation of stand-alone writing units – whether programs or departments – provides us with an opportunity to define ourselves in new ways instead of against literature and literary scholarship. It is a chance to begin new and better academic traditions where we can enact what we value instead of spending our energy defending it” (9)

thinking of Latour – how the field is defined by how it is acting in each particular local context.

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