Revolution Lullabye

November 10, 2010

Agnew and Dallas, Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing.” In 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. 38-49. Print.

The authors trace the issues that arose in the new independent department of Writing and Linguistics at Georgia Southern University, a large (60-plus faculty) department that was created top-down by the upper administration when the Department of English and Philosophy was divided in the fall of 1997. The authors claim that the department was so troubled and divisive because of three main issues: that the creation of the department was driven by administration, not the faculty within the department (who actually voted to keep the large English and philosophy department one or place them in a school together); that those with degrees in literature and literary studies were assigned – without asking them what they thought – to a department of writing – and the new department did not have a major, and therefore its central purpose was open to contestation. There were tensions between the seven newly hired rhet/comp faculty and the “senior” faculty and instructors in literature who had worked at the university for years: who decides curriculum? Who is in charge? Also, the department was seen at the university as a service department, adding low pay and low morale to the mix.

 Notes and Quotes

Interesting connection to SU Writing Program – the vast majority of the teachers in the new program were trained in literature, literary studies. How was this implosion sidestepped?

Aronson and Hansen, Writing Identity: The Independent Writing Department as a Disciplinary Center

Aronson, Anne and Craig Hansen. “Writing Identity: The Independent Writing Department as a Disciplinary Center.” In 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. 50-61. Print.

The authors, part of the independent Department of Writing at Metropolitan State University, explain how they have worked to redefine writing as a legitimate academic field, worthy of an undergraduate major, instead of a service course. They define the work they do in their department as perceiving writing as a practice, an art, and a profession, and comment on the tensions that naturally arise in a dual-identity department, one that administers the “service” course and holds its own undergraduate and graduate programs, one that must be both responsive to the needs of the university and the needs of its own students. They note the institutional circumstances that gave the Department of Writing more flexibility and freedom than other schools: it serves an older, diverse, urban-based, vocationally-oriented population, and the faculty do not meet as departments but rather as a whole university to make curriculum and policy decisions. The university, the authors note, has an “entrepreneurial feel” that has served this department well, which contains undergraduate programs in creative, professional, and technical writing, a master’s program in technical communication, a university writing center, and oversees the required first-year course. Some of the challenges of the administration of this program are due to large overhead costs and labor: the department relies heavily on adjunct teaching (“community faculty” teach 70-80% of the lower division courses), the faculty are unionized, the WPA also serves as chair.

Notes and Quotes

“The perception of writing as a service course is so pervasive in academic culture that any attempt to expand that perception creates dissonance” (50).

Two important administrative points that (usually) happen with an independent program: the program gets departmental consideration for budget, faculty, staffing. The WPA is on the same level as a department chair. (At SU, this had to be argued for, developed. It didn’t come naturally.)

Rehling, Small but Good

Rehling, Louise. “Small but Good: How a Specialized Writing Program Goes It Alone.” In 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. 62-74. Print.

Rehling explains the history of the creation and development of an independent Technical and Professional Writing Program at San Francisco State University, which oversees a small undergraduate major and certificate but does not have responsibility for any university-wide service courses. It is an interdisciplinary program, separate from English completely, and housed in the College of Humanities. The program is largely staffed by adjunct lecturers, who are required to hold a master’s degree and have both workplace writing experience and teaching training. It was a problem to recruit these adjuncts: they are in high demand in the industry in the Bay Area and the university compensation is extremely low. Also, having practitioner-lecturers was a problem: they required lots of help from the department with their teaching: classroom observations and feedback, help designing syllabi and class activities, discussing grading strategies and standards. The administrative work of this small department is extensive, and the university has one tenure-track faculty member overseeing the program. The TPW program does not have its own budget – its budget is determined on allocations  from the dean of the College of Humanities.

Notes and Quotes

The requirements for local expert practicioners to teach the courses validates the adjunct’s position in the department and the university – much like adjuncts in business, music, engineering are valued because of their expert knowledge.

Look at this case to compare budget, adjunct roles with SU Writing Program.

Deis, Frye, and Weese, Independence Fostering Community

Deis, Elizabeth J., Lowell T. Frye, and Katherine J. Weese. “Independence Fostering Community: The Benefits of an Independent Writing Program at a Small Liberal Arts College.” In 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. 75-89. Print.

The independent Department of Rhetoric at Hampden-Sydney College, a small liberal arts school, was created through an all-college, all-faculty decision in 1978 in order to centralize and improve writing instruction at the college through a required two-course sequence, proficiency exams, a campus-wide writing center, and faculty participation from across campus. (what they call an “informal approach to WAC”) (78). It is a program that is really “owned” by the entire campus, and therefore its curriculum arises out of what the entire faculty decides as what is important instead of following the trends and emerging research in composition and rhetoric. This works because it is such a small, cohesive school.

Notes and Quotes

Good discussion of proficiency exams, grammar exams, and introduction of a basic course before the sequence.  


Turner and Kearns, No Longer Discourse Technicians

Turner, Brian and Judith Kearns. “No Longer Discourse Technicians: Redefining Place and Purpose in an Independent Canadian Writing Program.” In 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. 90-103. Print.

The authors explain how the Centre for Academic Writing at the University of Winnipeg became independent from the English department and how that independence has affected the faculty and mission of the centre. The Writing Program was first founded in 1987 in the English Department and had the responsibility of administering and teaching the first-year course through a combination of tenure-track faculty and full-time instructions. The program, which contained no senior faculty, decided to become an independent center instead of a department in 1995, a decision that affected how rhetoric was perceived in the university (as service work, perhaps unworthy of tenure.) The faculty began to nominate each other to serve on university committees as a way to learn and influence the administrative procedures that would affect the program and its faculty. They also seized opportunities to create joint minor and major programs both within the university and with local colleges, working towards changing the center to departmental status that administers a joint major in rhetoric and communications.

Notes and Quotes

Importance of serving on university committees: learn procedures, increase the faculty and program’s visibility in a good way.

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