Revolution Lullabye

November 15, 2010

Spellmeyer, Bigger Than a Discipline

Spellmeyer, Kurt. “Bigger Than a Discipline?” .” 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. 278-294. Print.

Spellmeyer argues that instead of promoting rhetoric and composition as yet another academic discipline, we need to see the discipline for the promise and possibility of it being a metadiscipline, one whose work entails connecting fragmented ideas present at the specialized university and making sense of the vast production and circulation of knowledge that is the hallmark of our contemporary world and economy. He argues that separation from English would help composition and rhetoric take its place as a field that can understand how to connect, understand, and especially produce forms of knowledge that matter in society. He wants composition to be a practical field, its practitioners informed with “a working knowledge of economics, science, politics, history, and any other disciplines impinging on matters of broad public concern” so that we can work on real, actual problems in the world (287). He argues for the discipline to seek out connections with those who have power in the university – medicine, law, business, and science – and publish for public audiences instead of positioning themselves as yet another humanities-based discipline.

Notes and Quotes

“The fact remains that the one inescapable mission of the university is the continuous production of new knowledge, and this requires, in turn, the continuous displacement of knowledge no longer new” (290).

“Increasingly, our whole economy depends on the perpetual creation and circulation of knowledge” (279).

“I am suggesting that our proper concern may lie, not with creating another discipline that can take its conventional place beside the rest, but with the task of making visible the links between one ‘realm’ and another – not transcendent realms of timeless Being but mundane ones of transient information.” (279)

The lack of connection between the university and the real problems in the world “encourage my strong suspicion that the academic humanities have become, if not actually pernicious, then absolutely irrelevant” (283).

Selfe, Hawisher, and Ericsson, Status and Change

Selfe, Cynthia L., Gail E. Hawisher, and Patricia Ericsson. “Status and Change: The Role of Independent Composition Programs and the Dynamic Nature of Literacy.” .” 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. 268-277. Print.

The authors argue that the field, and independent writing programs and departments in particular, need to recognize the shifting nature of literacy and form programs and curriculums that address how technology is changing how we communicate and shifting how rhetoric is practiced. They note that the titles and focus of many of the stand-alone programs hint at a privileging of text-based, alphabetic literacy over other kinds of meaning-making that are so prevalent in the world today. Independent writing programs need to lead the way and  incorporate the “full range of composing strategies into their curricula” (272).

Notes and Quotes

See composition as a verbal, visual, aural, and oral art.

Miller, Managing to Make a Difference

Miller, Thomas P. “Managing to Make a Difference.” 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. 253-267. Print.

Miller argues that the discipline and independent writing programs and departments in particular need to draw on rhetorical theories and concepts to answer some of the challenges that stand-alone writing programs and departments face. He asks and explores the question, “What is rhetoric and what good is it?”, in order to point out the rich theories and ideas available to the field, a comprehensive history of rhetoric as a humanistic, pragmatic discipline. He disagrees with the idea that creating stand-alone departments with tenured faculty will increase the standing of the discipline at the university, questioning why rhetoric and composition would want to buy into a tenure system that privileges insular, specialized conversation separate from the practical outside world which is the place where civic rhetoric occurs. He argues that investing the teaching of writing with the power and practicality of rhetoric could help reverse the unethical treatment of contingent faculty; that the current university structure, with its positioning of writing as a skills-based course, is supported by the continual turnover of teachers. He uses the metaphor of bifocals to argue that independent writing programs need to continue shifting back and forth between attending to the local needs of their students and faculty and the larger moves in the field and the university structure, finding a progressive place where they can do civic rhetorical work.

Notes and Quotes

“Such systems for making the teaching of writing manageable can make it invisible, in part by keeping writing teachers moving on from institution to institution, where they become but fleeting shadows in crowded hallways who can be ignored by ‘regular’ faculty. The invisible men and women of the profession haunt our dreams as we haunt theirs, much like Ellison’s Invisible Man, whose main character looked to a prestigious college to gain professional standing and left with nightmares that his letter of recommendation amounted to a single line: keep this boy running. One way that the higher educational system has kept itself running is by keeping teachers of writing on the move, looking to find a place for themselves in a profession that has depended upon their absence for its sense of itself” (266).

“If rhetoric is to become an aid in negotiating the conflicted goals of writing programs, we must expand our fields of vision to include the domains where it has practical import” (265). Social movements, political movements, state educational systems, institutional reform, labor organizing, organizational communication

“What is rhetoric and what good is it?” – “A rhetorical stance is oriented to purposeful action, not merely criticizing or theorizing, but applying critical understanding to the question of what and how one should act in this situation here and now.” (260).

Some of the concepts he uses – phronesis (practical wisdom as an alternative to scientific inquiry); collapsing the binary of teaching and research by shifting to a third alternative: service (seeing differences as the possibility for a new alternative); rhetoric’s focus on the arts of citizenship (bridging the service orientation of composition with the university’s desire to be seen as an active member of its community); understanding the rhetorical situation and contextual resources of each writing program (designing within rhetorical constraints).

“Writing is everyone’s concern and nobody’s responsibility because prevailing reward systems devalue teaching in general and the teaching of writing in particular. In fairly systematic ways, college faculty have failed to come to terms with the fact that they teach for a living, because they have been rewarded for thinking otherwise” (254).

“I believe that some of the disabling dualisms that constrain our efforts can effectively mediated by rhetoric, if we view it as a pragmatic philosophy of social praxis and not simply a set of techniques for writing. When understood as a civic philosophy of deliberative action, rhetoric can help us bridge the gaps between professional discourses and personal forms of writing, between belletristic and utilitarian value systems, and between research and service missions, if we can put on our bifocals and shift our gaze back and forth between its immediate practical applications and more long-range reflections on the situations, audiences, and purposes that confront us” (256).

“One of the basic challenges that confront independent writing programs is to harness the power of providing an essential service without becoming defined as essentially a service provider” (256).

Enos, Keeping (in) Our Places, Keeping Our Two Faces

Enos, Theresa. “Keeping (in) Our Places, Keeping Our Two Faces.” .” 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. 247-252. Print.

Enos questions whether creating stand-alone departments of writing is really beneficial to the people in the field and the place of the discipline at the institution. She argues that the independent programs that seem to be emerging focus primarily on the more practical, career-oriented aspects of composition instead of on the histories, theories, and practices of rhetoric, a move she argues both hurts composition and rhetoric’s place in the university (perpetuates its identity as a skills-based discipline instead of a “metadiscipline” with both theory and methodology) and does not prepare undergraduates for graduate level work in rhetoric and composition. She wonders if the departmentalization of independent writing departments might further marginalize writing at the university.

Notes and Quotes

She points out that most independent programs and departments are housed in small liberal arts colleges and some 4-year universities; there are very few in comprehensive or research universities (she notes Syracuse as a primary exception to this, and also Syracuse, she points out, is one of the few stand-alone departments that houses a PhD program.)

Will PhDs in rhetoric/composition – or “composition specialists” as they’ll no doubt be named – be turned out only to become permanent non-tenure-track instructors?” (252)

Bishop, A Rose by Every Other Name

Bishop, Wendy. “A Rose by Every Other Name: The Excellent Problem of Independent Writing Programs.” .” 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. 233-246. Print.

Bishop reviews the other essays in the A Field of Dreams collection from her perspective: a comp/rhet faculty member in a large literature-heavy English department who has tried to maintain her own intellectual and administrative connections with English, only recently beginning to contemplate what it would mean for her and her institution to create an independent writing program. She looks at what is gained in independent programs – an increased respect for the research and teaching of composition (if not better working conditions for contingent faculty) – and what is lost – difficulty in attaining tenure, inability to solve institutional labor issues, bridging faculty whose alliances might be in competing departments, burn-out with the heavy load creating a program brings, affects on grad students and adjunct faculty who are excluded often from the decisions but still must continue their daily work in the middle of it.

Notes and Quotes

Corporate university and its effect on independent programs.


“Just like we claim in our writing classrooms – that a writer can’t write a better draft without learning about the failures of good attempts – so too we can’t learn to design better programs without experiencing problems on the road to improvement” (235).

“Compositionists use their intellect but often in service of action-oriented projects….They strike off across party lines, across class lines; and they fail to communicate primarily (or solely) by the book. Because of this, the field of composition has been misrepresented as anti-intellectual, atheoretical…and lacking in rigor” (237).

Crow, Wagering Tenure by Signing on with Independent Writing Programs

Crow, Angela. “Wagering Tenure by Signing on with Independent Writing Programs.” .” 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. 213-229. Print.

Crow describes the “tenure wager,” the multiple aspects of tenure – academic freedom, economic security, local v. disciplinary participation and focus – one must consider when choosing what institution to work for and how to prepare oneself for the tenure and promotion decision. She addresses three areas of concern for both tenure-track faculty and their senior faculty colleagues and department chairs: what the general local climate is like (strategic plans, departmental histories, mission, available funding, number of comp scholars to share administrative duties); the expectations for administrative labor (running programs, developing programs, training teachers, how administration will or won’t be counted as publications for scholarship); and the evaluation of administrative labor in tenure and promotion guidelines (get it in writing). She uses her experience at Georgia Southern to explain each of these areas of concern. She warns that creating independent writing programs requires a lot of labor, and argues that the field needs to be open in discussing this because it can have serious implications on junior faculty’s ability to get tenure.

Notes and Quotes

The catch-22: focusing on your scholarship at the expense of your department’s needs in order to gear up for tenure or working on largely invisible administrative tasks at the expense of getting publications – what is rewarded? What is important?

“Tenure is always a wager, and one hopes that a fit exists between the individual and the community, but composition traditions complicate the ability to wager tenure” (228).

She compares the position of a tenure-track professor in a fledging independent writing program or department and in a English program with a strong comp/rhet contingent that values the scholarship and research of composition and rhetoric. Which is really better?

Uses the cosmopolitan/local distinction to describe how a tenure-track professor’s own positioning in the field might be in jeopardy if she is engaged in the necessary administrative work to develop curriculum and an independent program or department.

Interesting conundrum: universities are more and more influenced by economics, market. All of a sudden, undervalued composition has more market value than composition.

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).

November 11, 2010

Yood, Revising the Dream

Yood, Jessica. “Revising the Dream: Graduate Students, Independent Writing Programs, and the Future of English Studies.” 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. 170-185. Print.

Yood uses reception theory – the idea that different constituencies in a single system process and understand change in different ways – to explain how the construction of an independent writing program has a different effect on graduate student identities and their perceptions of the field than it has on full-time faculty in the program. She uses her experiences and those of fellow graduate students at SUNY Stony Brook during the removal of composition from the English Department into an independent Program in Writing and Rhetoric, a move that was opposed by several writing faculty and English PhD graduate students because how it would fracture their integrated studies and research in literature and composition, reading and writing.  She shows the effect of the departmental split – which questioned the relationship between literature and composition – on her dissertation writing process and the dissertations of two of her fellow students, showing how they are reshaping knowledge and synthesizing what the discipline(s) of English Studies are about.

Notes and Quotes

Uses Niklas Luhmann (systems theorist) and E. Doyle McCarthy (1996) for theoretical framework: sociology of knowledge, systems theory.

“Our historical moment is characterized by a level of complexity that makes observing, recording, theorizing, or narrativizing especially difficult” (171). How to we understand change? How to we express that change?

“In order to understand how knowledge is made in a transforming cultural and disciplinary matrix, we need a dynamic reception-response approach that integrates experience and observation” (172).

Uses Farris and Anson to detail the shift in the mid-1990s in composition: PhD programs started, tenure-track jobs created, WAC programs, writing centers, technology programs.

Anson, Who Wants Composition

Anson, Chris. “Who Wants Composition: Reflections on the Rise and Fall of an Independent 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. 153-169. Print.

Anson describes the history of the stand-alone Program in Composition and Communication at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, which was created in the early 1980s, and explains how, because of struggles and moves for power and money within the English Department and university structure, that program was suddenly re-absorbed by the English Department in the summer of 1996 (who then removed Anson from the director’s position.) The Program had no major and had no tenure lines; the faculty and director of the Program had tenure lines in other departments. Anson argues that the implementation of a Responsibility Center Management (RCM) budget system at the university gave the English Department incentive to take back the Program in Composition because the Program’s large number of student tuition dollars and low teaching costs gave them a favorable budget, while the English Department’s low number of students and high teaching costs put them in a precarious situation.

Notes and Quotes

A WPA’s job can no longer be seen as “a hobby, to be set aside whenever the stacks of nineteenth-century literary criticism or the latest PMLA beckon. Composition is embracing new, burgeoning areas strongly connected to learning and literacy: innovations in technology, service learning, and multifaceted forms of assessment; advances in faculty development, such as reflective practice and the scholarship of teaching; analyses of increasingly diverse writing communities; college/high school articulation. To be a WPA means to be passionate and devote time to these connected areas” (166-167).

“In spite of the politics nad hierarchies in which we work as administrators of writing programs, it is the human moments, the connections we make and the lives we touch and improve, the ways we live and work in and through our places in higher education, that really matter.” People, not programs (168).

Maid, Creating Two Departments of Writing

Maid, Barry M. “Creating Two Departments of Writing: One Past and One Future.” 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. 130-149. Print.

Maid explains the difficulties and pitfalls in creating independent writing departments, using his experiences at University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Arizona State University East, where he helped develop stand-alone writing and rhetoric departments.

 Notes and Quotes

3 independent departments of writing in spring 1993: University of Texas at Austin, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and San Diego State University (w/ Shirly Rose and Sherry Little, discussed in Hindman’s article in this same collection.)

Methodology: insider account, was the WPA from 1982-1987; chair of the huge English Department from 1987-1993.

Warns that every story is individual to the institution, must be taken into context.

“In many ways, it’s easier to start a new program from scratch than to try to piece together remnants of other programs” (147).

Heartache, in-fighting, anger, ugliness

position of non-tenure-track instructors in the governance of a department

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