Revolution Lullabye

August 24, 2012

A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs

“A Symposium on Mentoring the Work of WPAs.” WPA 35.1 (Fall/Winter 2011): 148-166.

The symposium, which features five short essays, is presented in response to “The CWPA Mentoring Project and Survey Report” published in the fall/winter 2010 issue of WPA. This particular symposium focuses on the mentoring needs and experiences of new or beginning WPAs at non-R1 institutions, demonstrating the range of challenges faced by WPAs at American colleges and universities.

Joyce Olewski Inman, “Reflections on Year One as an Almost-WPA” 149-152

Inman is completing her PhD and simultaneously serving as a WPA at that institution, against the advice of her mentors. She points out how difficult it is to seek mentorship in her role as an “illigitimate” WPA, citing the rhetoric of CWPA resolutions that call for WPAs with terminal, specialized-in-composition degrees.

“I am hopeful it will lead to additional reflection on how our field might become more accepting of the fact that ideal circumstances rarely exist and more conscious of the ways our own rhetoric may be dismissive, not supportive, of WPAs who find themselves in these less than ideal situations” (152).

Kathryn Johnson Gindlesparger, “Snapshot of a Tenure Decision” 152-155

Gindlesparger is a full-time WPA in an admininistrative, not tenure-track faculty, line, and she writes about the benefits and consequences of converting her line into a faculty one. She specificately cites the relative freedom and safety of an administrative position and describes how the culture of a writing program is changed when its control moves from a full-time administrator to multiple faculty members taking on small administrative roles. She calls on CWPA to expand their mentoring to WPAs who are not on the tenure track.

Darci L. Thoune, “The Pleasures and Perils of Being First” 156-159

Thoune explains her position as the first-ever WPA at her institution, describing the challenge of creating a centralized program in a formerly decentralized non-tenure-track instructor system. She explains how one of her primary objectives was to learn about the culture of the department and program, something she did in part by observing classes. She explains how many of her early initiatives at professional development failed, but through those and attending the WPA conference, she decided to implement different, more successful ways to create commonality in the program and manage the many decisions she had to make as a WPA.

Collie Fulford, “Hit the Ground Listening: An Ethnographic Approach to New WPA Learning” 159-162

Fulford discusses how she used ethnographic approaches (especially listening and observing) to learn about the culture of her new department, a HBCU.  She explains, though, that there came a time where she had to stop listening and start speaking, start participating as a member, not just an observer, in the department and college community.

Tim McCormack, “Boss of Me: When the Former Adjunct Runs the Writing Shop”  163-166

McCormack discusses the difficulty in transitioning from an outspoken advocate of adjunct rights to becoming the WPA who did not always have to the power to do the things he thought as an adjunct a WPA should do.  He discusses how he has learned the complex context a WPA works in, and although he has been able to come to terms with some of the decisions he has had to make, he’s uncomfortable with the dissonance with the progressive stance our scholarship often takes about contingent labor and the day-to-day administrative decisions about contingent faculty WPAs need to make.

“My WPA role at the college has evolved from my unquestioning righteousness in support of adjunct faculty to a more nuanced understanding that includes making decisions based on what is good for the writing program and our students.”

February 23, 2009

McBeth, Memoranda of Fragile Machinery

McBeth, Mark. “Memoranda of Fragile Machinery: A Portrait of Shaughnessy as Intellectual-Bureaucrat.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 31:1-2, 2007.

McBeth, the WPA for ten years at the City College of New York, reconstructs Shaughnessy’s role as an administrator through both the archived material of the program, containing her published and unpublished administrative documents, and interviews with teachers and administrators who worked with her at CUNY. In this recovery project, McBeth presents an alternate perspective on the work of Shaughnessy, explicitly showing how her administrative work informed her ideas about basic writing, development of writers, and literacy, and how her work in managing a large writing program gave her a place where she could conduct and gather data for her research. McBeth describes the work of WPAs positively, contesting the pessamistic attitude that WPAs are just managers over a large system marked by unfair labor practices. McBeth argues that WPAs are more than just managers: they are intellectual-bureaucrats who use their knowledge and expertise in rhetoric and their understanding of the production of writing to lead effective, educationally sound, and progressive programs.

Quotable Quotes

“The oft-tedious bureaucratic labors we will inevitably face may not deter us from the publish-or-perish work we need to complete, but on the contrary, may lead us to it. Applying our scholarly scrutiny and creativity to the administrative positions we hold may prove to make the WPA’s labors both more fruitful and possibly more rewarding (perhaps even pleasurable.)” (62).

The records “show the intersection between her academic life as a scholar, teacher, and administrator and, additionally, how those roles necessarily coexist and inform one another.” (62).

Notable Notes

shows how Errors and Expectations is more than a pedagogy manual – it is an administrative argument about how to teach basic writing students and structure a program that will meet their needs.

mid-term and end-of-term evaluations were a key resource and research pool for Errors and Expectations

Phelps, Administration as Design Art

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Administration as Design Art.”

Writing program administrators should see themselves as designers, the programs and institutions they work in as designs and sites of design, and their work as WPAs as design art. Phelps draws on the work of the New London Group, Gunther Kress, and architects Karl Weith and Stewart Brand to offer a new lens to administrative work to not just see their work as design but to also challenge them to think of their programs as always designable, never concluding in a final design. Writing programs can be sites of institutional change if they continue designing and re-desigining after their initial structure is put into place, and writing programs have the unique complex, contradictory, and improvisational place in the academy to which enact change because they are a managable size with connections, like a sprawling network, across the campus. Phelps shows how crucial it is to reach out beyond one’s own discipline to find design inspiration in all different fields. Phelps also argues that a WPA does much more than design curriculum: the teaching staff, the physical space of the institution, the relationships with different deans and other departments and faculty – these all must be designed.

Quotable Quotes

Object: “to locate administration as design art at the juncture of the practical and productive arts” (7)

“This is the road I advocate for writing programs as transformers: design things that work, but are below the radar, friendly and sprawling, messy and temporary, constantly learning” (26)

“I suggest that it is a mistake to set up a writing program primarily as an instrument to critique or change an institution. It will do that as a consequence of your designing the program to meet the intrinsic goals of its situated design, because writing programs require institutional redesign to locate, support, and implement their characteristic purposes. But theprocess, or rather consequences, should be indirect and ordinary, not grandiose, direct, and instrumentalist.” (26)

Notable Notes

high road/low road of use

designs should not be fixed, they should never end

the challenge of administration is that you cannot design in a bubble: you must jump in and design something that you can’t have complete control, management, or knowledge of. That’s the downfall of the theories presented by Kress and the New London Group

the importance of the feedback loop: remaining sensitive to context, unpredictable, in the moment, temporary – like jazz improv

the importance of construction and building over analysis and critique

Questions: Why is this the way it is? Can it be designed better? Does it have to be this way?

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