Revolution Lullabye

June 23, 2015

White, Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA

White, Edward M. “Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA.” Writing Program Administration 15:1-2 (Fall/Winter 1991), 3-12. Print.

White argues that WPAs have positions of power, and they must develop ways to wield that power with other faculty, department chairs, and administrators in order to protect their writing programs. White uses his own experience, when his WAC program was attacked, to explain strategies WPAs might take to assert their power. White’s argument is laced with military metaphors. White rejects the notion that the WPA position is powerless: instead, he argues, the WPA has inherent power (whether it is “official” or “unofficial”), and those who are unwilling to take on this power should reconsider whether or not they want to be a WPA. White believes that WPAs should be tenured faculty members so that they might be in the best position possible to argue for their programs (and, in turn, for the teaching of writing.)

Notable Notes

White tells a story about coordinating a WAC program (outside the English department), and the Dean telling him that he was losing budget, release time, faculty development money. Explains institutional politics – without a WPA at the table of chairs, no one could fight for WAC. White moved the WAC program out of the School of Humanities to the Office of Undergraduate Studies, where it was protected.

Compares university politics to “foreign relations” (3)

Explains that power moves are explained passively, as if they “were the most reasonable and logical consequence of facts out of anyone’s control” (3).

Explains that many WPAs identify as scholars and writers, not “administration,” even though that is the work that WPAs find themselves doing (5).

Does give the caveat that he was tenured and “knew the ropes” (6).

In his argument, White explains that WPAs need to know “where the enemies of our program lurk, what their motives and weapons are, and how we can marshal forces to combat them. We also need to see where our allies are and find out ways to strengthen them and to keep them friendly.” (6)

Admits that his approach/perspective may seem “overly military” but acknowledges that this is the name of the administrative game (6).

lists the data WPAs should have (7)

Argues against jWPAs – don’t put yourself in a compromised position, power-wise.

explains how WPAs can promote the teaching of writing in their programs (9)

advocates as a WPA/WAC coordinator focusing on younger, untenured faculty rather than bothering with converting the “untameable” tenured faculty.

The kinds of power a WPA has with administrators: 1. Having a good program that satisfies students (and faculty); 2. Writing well-written memos, reports; 3. Gathering data about writing skills of students; 4. The national professional network of WPAs, which is very supportive

A WPA’s power in relation to English Departments mirrors the contested relationship with rhetoric and composition and literature, it depends on how the local English department has worked out that relationship.

WPAs have the final power – “to resign” (11)

Quotable Quotes

“So I had absorbed from the atmosphere [his previous experience as an administrator] certain lessons: recognize the fact that all administration deals in power; power games demand aggressive players; assert that you have power (even if you don’t) and you can often wield it.” (3)

“But my campus experience made inescapable the fact that my job as WPA included being canny with power; the WAC program would have been doomed if I had not fought back against that ‘real power’ and defeated it. I had discovered a kind of power that does not appear in flow charts, power that most WPAs have, and I was able to use it to save the program. What I did was refuse to accept the condition of powerlessness” (5).

“We must empower ourselves to do our jobs” (6).

“WPAs in general live schizophrenically, hating power yet wielding it, devoid of official power (for the most part) yet responsible for large and complex programs” (6).

“If we really don’t want to deal in power, we had better step aside, or we will be doing more harm than good” (6).

“A careful WPA will use the three basic weapons of bureaucracy to deal with these bureaucratic foes: good arguments, good data, and good allies, mixed with caution and cunning.” (7)

“The most difficult part of being a WPA is combatting those who only have scorn for our enterprise” (8).

“As every WPA knows to his or her discomfort, the staff tend to view the WPA as the boss, no matter how little power the position may in fact hold. Of course, some WPAs are the boss, with the power and the burdens that the term suggests; but most have only the responsibility of recommending hiring and changes of status. But the major power that comes with being perceived as the boss is the opportunity to improve the teaching of writing” (9)

“Certainly, the most important aspect of the WPA’s job (after survival) is the improvement of instruction. And most WPAs have substantial real and perceived power to accomplish that end” (9)

“Power is ultimately a matter of perception.” (11)

Administrators usually view faculty members who administer programs (WPAs) as more powerful than these faculty members view themselves (11)

“The WPA has much power inherent in the position.”

“This paper is, I notice, governed by military metaphors, not the kind of thing we are used to reading in these polite pages about writing and teaching” (12).

“The only way to do the job of a WPA is to be aware of the power relationships we necessarily conduct, and to use the considerable power we have for the good of the program” (12).

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition.” College English 53.8 (1991): 863-885.

Phelps investigates what the field values and the theory/practice tension in the discipline and in the academy. She argues that theory does not necessarily govern practice: that practice can be critical and tacit and that activity produces knowledge. She extends a teacher’s critical reflection and practical experimentation outside an individual classroom or teacher by explaining how practical wisdom can be cultivated in a teaching community. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program as her site of research.

Notes and Quotes

explains what theory has to offer practice, and what practice has to offer theory

“The resistance of a wise practice to theory redeems us from the danger of claiming to predict or dictate human life rather than trying to explain or understand it. Practical wisdom reminds us that theoretical systems are never exhaustive or adequate to phenomena, and thus undercuts their totalizing tendencies. This is the humbling discipline that practice has to offer theory, in return for its freedom” (884).

teacher-talk and lore – these are often confined to an individual’s own classroom experience. She expands this through program, curriculum development to talk about how knowledge is produced in a teaching community.

practical knowledge depends on a immediate and deep back-talk, reflective cycle

Scholes, North, Stenhouse

“Making things and performing actions both require ‘calculative’ reasoning, under similar conditions of relativity and uncertainty. Interestingly, these are precisely the circumstances for reflective practice…they are the constraints under which human beings inhabit a world of choice calling for judgments based on inadequate knowledge and conflicting values. These circumstances of uncertainty, contingency, and conflict call for informal reasoning rather than the strict rules of formal logic and empirical proof” (876-878).

use as a counterpoint to interview experiences

December 30, 2010

Phelps, A Different Ideal and Its Practical Results

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “A Different Ideal – and Its Practical Results.” Modern Language Association, San Francisco, December 1991.

This MLA conference presentation is written in response to the CCCC Statement on Professional Standards, and Phelps questions the ideal teaching community and writing program structure that seems implied by the Statement – one in which the program is staffed entirely of tenured or tenurable teacher-scholars. Arguing (like others) that this homogeneous teaching faculty solution is an impossible fantasy, Phelps uses the Syracuse Writing Program to argue for a different kind of practical solution – one that relies on a heterogeneous teaching community. Phelps points out that the Statement “set off an internal class conflict” within the field, one that the field has largely ignored, between the teacher-practicioners, who make up the majority of those who teach college composition, and the tenured faculty and administrators who oversee writing programs. This divide parallels the “theory/practice” divide pervasive in the field and in English in general. Phelps also points out that the idea that the academy (except for the adjunct professors) is a homogeneous community is a complete myth -the academy is extremely hierarchal, with vast differences in prestige and pay that vary according to discipline, gender, etc. Phelps argues that arguing for a heterogenous teaching community, one where there is a position and value to part-time, non-tenured teaching force, is a practical and ethical goal at the university, one that could value diversity.

Notes and Quotes

“First, I want to object to the principle of solving problems by considering desires independent of realities. This approach strikes me as irresponsible and quixotic. I propose instead that, like engineers and architects, we design workable solutions as a relationship between our goals and reality constraints” (2).

“But my point is that the 4Cs Statement errs in trying to impose a universal answer when what is needed is imagination, flexibility, and fresh thinking about goals as well as means.” (3)

Syracuse Writing Program: creating a hybrid, heterogenous community isn’t easy. There are “difficult moral dilemmas of differential status and rewards” that the Program must deal with, and developed principles to guide decisions. They are:

  • “to distinguish the person and the respect due his or her contributions and personal dignity from level of pay, responsibilities, status, authority, ambition, or influence. These are often mixed in unexpected ways in a given individual.”
  • “to cultivate options for all members through a vigorous program of professional development. Employment is exploitation only where people have no choices. Also, professional development is an intrinsic reward that increases individuals’ marketability and variety of options.”
  • “to make merit rewards of all kinds (beyond decent, fair treatment and support for professional development) commensurate with our community values, which ultimately derive from the aim to offer our undergraduate students the best possible program.” (6)

These rewards include leadership positions, release time, merit pay, summer stipends

It is all about design, working in reality: “combining very hard work with a strategy of turning liabilities into assets to maximize good results in a realistic framework. There is no end point in such a design, only frameworks for progress.” (7)

December 7, 2010

Wallace, A One-Time Part-Timer’s Response

Wallace, M. Elizabeth. “A One-Time Part-Timer’s Response to the CCCC Statement of Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (Oct. 1991): 350-354.

Wallace argues for the legitimacy of part-time faculty positions as a viable alternative to the traditional (male-centered) full-time academic model. Part-time positions, she argues, are good for the academy because they allow for positions for those people who cannot work full-time (due to child care or family structure obligations) or who are professionals in another field and have expertise to lend, part-time, to building writing programs. She also suggests three appendices to the statement: 1. a list of books that hinted at the broad range of theory and research regarding writing and writing pedagogy (what the field is); 2. a plea to part-time faculty to carefully consider the political implications of accepting low-paying adjunct jobs; 3. a ballad (the “I’m Just a Poor Part-timin'”) – the statement, she argues, lacks affect.

December 3, 2010

Tuman, Unfinished Business

Tuman, Myron C. “Unfinished Business: Coming to Terms with the Wyoming Resolution.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 356-365. Print.

Tuman points to three unresolved issues in the Wyoming Resolution: 1. How do you both help those who currently teach composition – often without training or scholarly preparation – and increase the professionalism of the discipline and its teaching positions? 2. What constitutes professionalism for college writing teachers?(an academic or a practicioner model) and 3. How can vague promises of reform be made concrete into actual, doable systems and processes? He argues that the Wyoming Resolution “has been to place us on a headlong course toward becoming a two-tiered profession” – one with academic faculty managers and practicioner-teachers – because it will be far easier for the academy to improve the working conditions of the practicioners than change the entrenched academic tenure system. Not accepting the second-tier practicioner instructors means restructuring how writing is taught at the university, including perhaps giving up the first-year writing requirement because TAs and full-time faculty cannot possibly teach the numerous sections required.

Notes and Quotes

requiring composition instructors to have advanced training or degrees does not always work in the interest of the often local instructors who work in these part-time positions who do not and cannot compete nationally for tenure-line jobs.

“Thus, an unexpected outcome of reform has been the prospect of current instructors losing their positions, a far cry in the minds of many instructors from the better treatment they seemed originally promised” (357).

What does it mean to be a professional college writing teacher – do they need to do scholarship and research like faculty or are they practicioner-specialists, attending conferences like those in law and other practicioner fields but not do a lot of research. There needs to be a decision and then a structure put into place that adequately rewards and evaluates these positions – perhaps a “parallel but fully-equal pat of promotion and professional standing for practitioners” (359).

The practicioner idea is appealing because it will allow these teachers to continue teaching multiple sections of composition, whereas converting them to academic faculty positions would result in lower teaching loads, needing to hire more people to teach.

“As a result of these first two conditions [a need to staff small sections of lower-division courses and a desire by faculty to teach upper-division courses and have lower course loads], research institutions are under constant pressure to create (and, if eliminated, to re-create) a second-tier, ad hoc teaching faculty, one not protected by normal tenure provisions – in other words, the very situation the Wyoming Resolution is trying to redress (359-360).

Robinson, The CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards: A (Partly) Dissenting View

Robinson, William S. “The CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards: A (Partly) Dissenting View.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 345-350.

Robinson, who contends that writing teachers lack adequate training and professional development, argues that the CCCC Statements needs to “argue as forcefully for improved professionalism in the field as it does for improved status and working conditions” (345). Robinson claims that part of the low status of writing teachers come from their lack of training and knowledge about the field of rhetoric and composition, and in order to have a more professional, scholarly, and respected standing in the academy, they need to work to obtain the disciplinary knowledge they need in order to be writing specialists and experts.

Notes and Quotes

“But in addition to the injustices wrought upon many of us, injustices are wrought upon the students in composition classes taught by teachers who do not know their business. These teachers in turn are produced by English departments that do not hire and place in leadership positions persons genuinely qualified in composition or that hire a token person to whom no real authority will ever be given” (348).

How can you demand better treatment of your faculty when they are not considered professionals because they lack training and preparation for what they teach?

What is successful teaching? How is someone assessed on it? How is someone trained to do it?

December 2, 2010

Merrill, Farrell, et al, Symposium on the 1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards

Merrill, Robert, Thomas J. Farrell, et al. “Symposium on the ‘1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.’”  College Composition and Communication 43.2 (1992): 154-175. Print.

These five articles form a symposium to discuss the publication of the 1991 Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, which was published in CCC in May 1992. I’m going to briefly summarize each one.

Robert Merrill, “Against the ‘Statement'”
Merrill, a full-time professor and chair, argues against the Statement because of the implications and consequences of its recommendations. Universities could never afford hiring tenure-track professors to cover all the sections of composition that they teach, and even if they did, tenure-track professors would no longer be able to offer upper-division courses because their loads would be filled up with composition. Tenure-track literature professors are not trained to teach composition or hired to teach composition. Merrill argues that lecturers and instructors do a better job of teaching composition than , tenure-track faculty, and he would support tenuring them if they continued teaching their loads of composition. Instead of trying to get rid of the two-tiered system, he argues for making “the two tiers fit closer together” by improving the working conditions of writing specialists in English departments (158).

Thomas J. Farrell, “The Wyoming Resolution, Higher Wizardry, and the Importance of Writing Instruction.”
Farrell, an associate professor, argues that teachers and professors of composition and rhetoric need to be aware of their own rhetoric and use it more effectively in order to improve the status of the teachers of writing at the academy. He points out what the Progress Report is missing – a condemnation of the expensive growth in non-teaching managerial administrators at the academy, an argument of the value of good writing instruction for students to be successful in the workplace, which depends on deliberative rhetoric, and the intellectual value of learning rhetoric in order to be adaptable to different audiences and purposes.

Eileen E. Schell, “Teaching Under Unusual Conditions: Graduate Teaching Assistants and the CCCC’s ‘Progress Report'”
Schell, a graduate student at the time of writing this, argues that the Progress Report does not “fully address the complexities of the GTA’s position” (165). The title of the graduate teaching assistant is a misnomer, Schell argues, as the GTA in composition is often a full-fledged teacher but treated as a less-than-professional. GTAs also have a double work burden: being graduate students and university teachers.

Valerie Balester, “Revising the ‘Statement’: On the Work of Writing Centers”
Balester, an assistant professor, argues that the Statement does not address the unique needs of instructors and non-tenure-track administrators who work in writing centers and contends that the Statement sees writing centers as centers of service instead of locations where writing theory and pedagogy is dynamicly enacted.

Chris M. Anson and Greta Gaard, “Acting on the ‘Statement’: The All-Campus Model of Reform”
Anson, an associate professor, and Gaard, an assistnat professor, argue that in order to carry out the reforms included in the Statement, the field should not rely on individual actions of teachers and administrators alone nor on the broader moves of CCCC (as argued by James Sledd) but instead pursue local changes within institutions by collaborating between administrators, faculty, and instructors. They use their campus-wide retreats and workshops at the University of Minnestota in 1989 and 1991 as an example of this kind of reform.

Notes and Quotes

December 1, 2010

I’m Just a Poor Part-Timin’ Teacher

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“I’m Just a Poor Part-Timin’ Teacher.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 355.

A song written to the tune of “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” It draws on the ethos and pathos common of the 1960s civil rights/anti-war movement, very Peter, Paul, and Mary. The teacher is dedicated to her students, wants to work with them on their writing and finds great satisfaction from her work with them, but she must work at multiple institutions without benefits, security, or much pay.

“And yet I know my students need me/And yet I know I give my all./This is the work that I was trained for/Though I face losing it each fall.”

“I’m just a poor part-timin’ teacher/A readin’ essays until dawn/And the voices of my students/Rise from the page they draw me on/I want to hear those struggling voices/I want to hear them all my years – /But not if all my work in grad school/Makes my profession volunteer.”

November 22, 2010

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards, A Progress Report

CCCC Committee on Professional Standards. “A Progress Report from the CCCC Committee on Professional Standards.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 330-344.

In response to the 1987 Wyoming Resolution (which provisions were adopted unanimously by CCCC), CCCC established a Committee on Professional Standards, whose job was to circulate and oversee implementation of the CCCC Statement of Principles and Standards in the Postsecondary Teaching of Writing (passed in 1989 in response to the Wyoming Resolution.) This statement has been controversial, and this progress report is intended to clarify the CCCC’s position on professional standards for the postsecondary teaching of writing for the purpose of both discussion among members of the field and help in implementing the provisions of the statement and the Wyoming Resolution. This progress report outlines three recommendations to the field: 1. that CCCC follow case studies of faculty, administrators, and instructors trying to implement the Statement at their own institution; 2. that noncompliance be understood as actual resistance to change proposed at institutions; 3. that CCCC authorized a raise in dues to pay for an attorney/administrator to track the implementation of the statement. The CCCC Committee links good working conditions for teachers to good teaching and quality student education. The report argues that the treatment of writing teachers – who are denied time for research, scholarship, and pedagogical invention – is linked to the erosion of tenure, the disappearance of faculty governance, and the corporatization of the university. Thus, the poor treatment of writing instructors at many institutions should be of concern to all faculty. They argue that all teachers of writing should have access to full-time, tenured positions, and that untenured full-time positions or part-time positions should only be used as stop-gap measures as the university is working toward the conversion to tenure lines. They point out that it is the field’s job to argue for the importance of writing and good writing teachers at the university, citing that the field remains invisible to those in English departments and higher administation because the discipline doesn’t often overtly argue for its critical place in student education and many of the freshman English courses in higher education have little to no intellectual, scholarly grounding.

Notes and Quotes

problem: the unfair labor practices in the teaching of college writing are tied to 1. the position of the field at the university 2. the large percentage of women and minorities teaching writing: “the unjust class lines in the academy reproduce those of the culture at large. We do not think it is too far-fetched to describe most teachers of composition as professionally homeless persons” (336).

argues for all writing to be taught by full-time, tenure-track faculty (their ideal)

part-time positions should only constitute 10% of a institution’s writing faculty (336).

What did the Wyoming Resolution (1987) do? “The Wyoming Resolution contained three provisions: it asked for a definition of the minimum standards under which postsecondary writing teachers should be employed; it asked for the creation of some mechanism that would help teachers implement the standards on their campuses; and it asked that some means be found to enforce institutional compliance
with the standards. The Resolution called upon professional organizations to provide support for those who sought changes or reforms relevant to the teaching of writing at individual institutions.” (330).

Institutions (liberal arts, state universities, research universities, two-year colleges, etc) are funded and structured differently, and changes to the position of writing instructors must reflect the local context. But, conversations about the position of untenured and untenurable teaching assistants and part-time instructors must be had (in a way that does not jepordize their employment) with the entire teaching force, not just those who are tenured or who are tenurable.

Universities are increasingly relying on part-time instructors: tenure is drying up because the university is responding to market forces, drawing a larger percentage of their teaching labor from the pool of underpaid part-time instructors and graduate TAs.

The poor treatment of writing instructors is tied to the low regard of the field of composition and rhetoric.

Campbell, Two Memos to Colleagues

Campbell, Hugh. “Two Memos to Colleagues.” College Composition and Communication 42.3 (1991): 268-371. Print.

Campbell (which is a pseudonym) argues that, given the history and current state of the discipline of English, the current narrow understanding of the field of English (one limited to literary study and criticism) is unsufficient, and rather, faculty members in English need to expand their understanding of the field to one that studies issues of literacy and composition and rhetoric. He also argues for the necessity of a real, university-wide writing program, one that offers upper-division courses in advanced, technical, and professional writing, one that is anchored by a university-wide writing center that is designed for all (undergraduate, graduate, faculty, and community members) to come and use.

Notes and Quotes

“I do not understand why it should be more worthwhile or complex to interpret a work of fiction than a work of nonfiction. Furthermore, I am convinced that interpreting student writing is more difficult and potentially more rewarding than interpreting “imaginative” literature.” (369).

He sees composition and rhetoric as an integral part of English departments.

“The director of any writing program should be a tenured faculty mem-ber who (a) teaches writing and (b) publishes scholarship. This person should also be a writer in the broad sense: one who enjoys writing, not merely a com-petent drudge capable of doing an occasional satisfactory article for a scholarly journal and memos. I cannot stress this strongly enough: the head of a writing program should be more than an efficient administrator.” (371)


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