Revolution Lullabye

November 15, 2010

O’Neill and Schendel, Locating Writing Programs in Research Universities

O’Neill, Peggy and Ellen Schendel. “Locating Writing Programs in Research Universities.” 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. 186-211. Print.

The authors, after describing the results from a survey of AAU writing programs, focus on two independent programs: Harvard’s Expository Writing Program, which has always been an independent program since its founding in 1872, and Syracuse’s Writing Program. Through their description of these two programs, O’Neill and Schendel point out some conclusions about the implications of independent writing programs and departments. The independence of the programs – especially those without departmental status – does not solve the labor issue, as most are still staffed with contingent labor and are placed outside the knowledge-making structure that is so highly valued by the university. They draw on Richard Miller’s and Kurt Spellmeyer’s arguments – that instead of working to departmentalize composition and insist that all composition courses be taught by tenure-track faculty (an impossible demand), composition should work on improving the lives of its instructors by embracing the realities of the emerging corporate structure of the university and focusing on its service role.

Notes and Quotes

“If the university is changing, as many people argue, focusing on traditional academic rewards may not best serve compositionists or their students” (209).

The Harvard program has recently been overhauled by its director Nancy Sommers, who has 1. improved the position and pay of the instructors, now called preceptors and considered experts of academic writing, 2. introduced a WAC program with a WID emphasis, 3. strengthened the research orientation of the program, and 4. moved to its own building in the center of campus.  The Writing Program at Harvard has its own budget, several endowments, including an endowed directorship (though the director is not a faculty member with tenure.)

Syracuse description is placed in other notes. Focus on the role of full-time faculty with tenure in the program, full-time administrative staff, flexibility of program/departmental status, how the CCR program affects the identity of the program.

At large universities, writing programs are usually housed in English, directed by an English faculty member, and staffed by English grad students and adjunct instructors.

Found these independent programs: Columbia (mid-1990s), Cornell (1982), Duke (1994, 2000), Harvard (1872), Princeton (1991), University of Colorado (1987), University of Rochester (1997), Yale (1977). Found these independent departments (maybe not in name, but because of status, tenured faculty, etc.): University of Iowa Dept. of Rhetoric (1988), Michigan State Dept. of American Thought and Language (1946), University of Minnesota St. Paul Dept. of Rhetoric, Syracuse University Writing Program (1986). There are others who did not respond to the survey.

All have different reasons, institutional histories of why they are independent programs, but many are to centralize writing instruction, build interdisciplinary support for WAC, need a bigger administrative structure than can usually be allowed within a program.

“What ‘counts’ as a writing program is very different from institution to institution” (193).

Composition research/administration seems to be much more valued than composition teaching (hire tenure-track to administer; adjuncts to teach.)

“Tenure, although it is under attack and revision at many institutions, still confers privilege, status, resources, and benefits on those who receive it. Not having tenure clearly marks writing instructors, administrators, and scholars as somehow outside the academic mainstream of the university hierarchy” (194).


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