Revolution Lullabye

July 2, 2015

Harrington, Fox, and Hogue: Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration

Harrington, Susanmarie, Steve Fox, and Tere Molinder Hogue. “Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 21.2/3(Spring 1998): 52-64.

The writers, who are all part of a collaborative WPA structure at their institution, use situations at their institution to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of collaborative administration. They maintain that collaborative administration is possible, and the diverse perspectives it invites has helped unite and strengthen their writing program. The writers do acknowledge that collaborative administration is difficult, and name four potential problems that emerge from collaborative administration:

  1. The tendency to focus inward instead of also collaborating with partners outside the writing program/department;
  2. The issues of authority and expertise created inside and outside the program because members of the collaborative administration have different titles, roles, positions, and responsibilities;
  3. The desire to avoid conflict in the decision-making process, which can create false consensus and silence dissenting opinions
  4. “Twin citizenship,” or how members of the writing program administration committee are torn between obligations and identities in the program, the institution, the community, and the discipline.

Notable Notes

They explain that there are few arguments/analyses of collaborative administration that address “how such partnerships come to be created in a hierarchal university environment, how power (even the decentralized, facilitated kind) is acquired, and how collaboration works on a daily basis” (53-54).

Collaborative administration is difficult, made more difficult because administration is not always recognized work/labor/scholarship in institutions, comp/lit divides in academic departments.

Gives their local context: there is no WPA, but rather a Writing Coordinating Committee

The Writing Coordinating Committee – both TT and NTT faculty. Partly conceived as a way to get NTT/adjunct faculty involved, “decentralize decision-making,” increase connection between composition research and teaching. (54)

Explanation of the composition of the Writing Coordinating Committee. 10 members. The chair (TT) rotates every two years. No release time for the chair. The NTT faculty have a 4/4 load, the TT have a 3/3 load, and some of the members of the Writing Coordinating Committee get a 1-2 course release per semester for WPA work. The NTT faculty do most of the WPA work on the committee

Uses Molly Wingate’s discussion of writing center politics to look at the collaboration, Wingate’s work draws on Werner Rings’ description of four kinds of collaboration: neutral collaboration, unconditional collaboration, conditional collaboration, and tactical collaboration (57)

Quotable Quotes

“Living the experience of a postmodern WPA can be complicated and troubling” (52) – arguing that the theories of postmodern WPA leadership – of being situated, contextual, in networks, collaborative – might be more difficult than we’re giving it credit in our scholarship.

“While the arguments for collaborative administration are clear, the political dimensions of collaboration and partnership have been undertheorized, and we use our insitituion’s administrative structure as a starting point for analysis” (54).

“On a broader level – and this is where the collaborative structure makes a difference – the committee seeks to coordinate the work of writing program faculty; to represent the interests of adjunct faculty in the department and the university; and to link the writing program with other offices on campus with an interest in writing” (56).

“The mix of experience, expertise, and perspective on the committee provides much-needed diversity, and compensates for individual shortcomings…No single person dominates the overall policy-making responsibility of the committee. The writing program does not speak with a single voice, but it does, on the whole, speak from consensus” (56).

Collaborative administration creates “a web of relationships” (56)

“Much of our energy (and specific responsibilities delineated by the department) is devoted to collaborating with each other; little to collaborating with other academic units” (58).

“Composition, like math or reading if not more so, invites Monday morning quarterbacks” (59).

“Individual committee members (and likely individual members of the writing faculty as well) have sometimes chosen silence over conflict, enabling what appears to be consensus, but actually creating imposed orthodoxy. The imposition of orthodoxy is no less unfortunate if accomplished via collaboration than if directed by a single person” (60).

“A cooperative administrative structure will not automatically promote pluralism. Without an agreement to converse and a willingness to explore disagreements, shared administration can degenerate into a front, masking the will to power of some dominant person or group on the committee or in the department. Our collective leadership must be authorized by the conversation of committee members – and by the conversation of the whole writing faculty” (61).

“Writing program administration is, in many ways, an exercise in power. As long as wirting programs are staffed by teaching assistants or part-time faculty, and as long as required writing courses are a key element of university general education requirements, writing program administrators will possess a great deal of power over the curriculum, teachers, and students. This power, something we don not often acknowledge in a discipline which privileges cooperation, collaboration, and empowering others, is not necessarily evil” (62).

“The unitary WPA retains certain advantages over a shifting, collaborative, contextual writing program administration. The locus of power is clear in the unitary model, and that clarity speeds communications (especially outside the department)” (63).

June 24, 2015

Hesse, Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise

Hesse, Douglas D. “Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource: A Guide to Reflective Institutional Practice. Eds. Stuart C. Brown and Theresa Enos. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2002. Print. 41-58. Print.

Hesse explains how WPAs can approach the political nature of their work in a way that is productive and ethical. He describes aspects of academic politics that affect a WPA: that disciplinary knowledge or credentials aren’t as highly valued in administration as one might think, and that most decisions circulate around the debate for material resources. His chapter discusses how a WPA must act politically, keeping in mind these two principles, in four different spheres: the department, the institution, the profession, and the public.

Notable Notes

In departmental politics – 1. know how things work and how things get done, 2. write down (and publish) policies (these are more efficient, have more authority, can be used for faculty development, focuses the work of the department) , 3. Develop an ethos grounded in “expertise, competence, sensitivity to local situations, and the pursuit of the greater good” (44), 4. Write reports that have hard data about the students and faculty in the writing courses; 5. Create structured processes with timetables to get things done – these establish legitimacy and help with efficiency.

In institutional politics – institutions are usually conservative, don’t change rapidly or easily (46). Gives two examples of his own political work – one successful, one not. His advice: 1. “Have a place at the table” in discussions that are ultimately about resources by being on university-wide committees (48), 2. Know the people you’re talking with and that you’re competing with, 3. Be known in informal situations as well as formal (“Come to the parties” (49)), 4. Frame arguments in terms of resources, not just philosophy/disciplinary knowledge

In disciplinary/professional politics – 1. Know the past and present work/guidelines/statements published by the discipline’s professional organization; 2. Get involved in the organizations, network and do good work, 3. Get disciplinary organizations to sponsor your work (example of the CWPA Outcomes Statement)

In the public and larger higher ed – 1. Write for public audiences, tell the story you do instead of responding to attacks or accusations; 2. Network with people in other institutions and work together to make change; 3. Get on committees – state assessment boards, other education boards

WPAs need to know how to argue for material resources (42).

He argues that WPAs should prepare themselves to do political work by paying attention to the history of higher ed, the conversations happening in higher ed scholarship and journals.

Quotable Quotes

“Though WPAs wearing the ermine mantle of composition czar may set the curriculum for a course, they rarely can unilaterally set class sizes or faculty salaries. They need action by individuals with the official power to do so. Because the quality of a writing program depends largely on the conditions in which the program exists, and because the WPA has limited control of those situations, political action is vital” (41-42).

“For a good deal of their work, WPAs simply must be politicians – and, of course, rhetoricians.” (41).

In departments: “But beyond the program, especially in academic structures increasingly (and paradoxically) organized hierarchically with a professional managerial administration, WPAs often have to act with a decisiveness that may exceed their democratic sensibilities” (43).

“Second, WPAs must separate political outcomes from senses of their own worth. Unfavorable outcomes invite WPAs to doubt their abilities. But resources are finite, and expertise is lodged many places in the academy and culture. In a world where even Richard Nixon can be twice reborn, it makes most sense to understand your personae as content expert and as politician to be entwined but ultimately separable, each with endless opportunity for extension and application” (57).

Meyers, Power, Fear, and the Life of the Junior WPA: Directions for New Conversations

Meyers, Susan. “Power, Fear, and the Life of the Junior WPA: Directions for New Conversations.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 33.1-2 (Fall/Winter 2009): 152-162. Print.

A review of two books:

Dew, Debra Frank and Alice Horning, eds. Untenured Faculty as Writing Program Administrators: Institutional Practices and Politics. West Lafayette: Parlor P, 2007.

Enos, Theresa and Shane Borrowman, eds. The Promise and Perils of Writing Program Administration. West Lafayette: Parlor P, 2008.

In her review of these two collections, which focus on junior (untenured) WPAs, Meyers uses her own perspective (as someone who is about to start a jWPA job) to explore the current conversations around jWPA work. Meyers points out the contradiction apparent in these two collections and in other conversations about jWPA work: many senior scholars in the field (Horning, White, Roen) warn junior faculty against accepting a jWPA position, yet many new faculty take on these positions because of the realities of the job market and because they have administrative coursework and training in their doctoral programs. Meyers explains that there are two repeated (and inextricably related) ideas that come up in conversations about jWPA work: power and tenure. She argues that the fear that saturates the narratives about jWPA work needs to be “managed”: “otherwise,” she points out, “we may become immobilized by fear itself, rather than working to improve our situations” (154).

Meyers names five categories of warnings she saw repeated in the collection: “problems of resources, politics, market forces, job advancement, and job satisfaction” (156). The most often-cited resources that jWPAs lack are time, credibility, and authority.

Meyers makes a distinction between power that emerges from control and power that emerges from authority. She advocates for jWPAs to work towards increasing their power via increasing their authority within their own institution, and she offers five strategies for doing so: 1. Know your context; 2. Be realistic with program design; 3. Do not be alone; 4. Understand your value; and 5. Use your rhetorical tools (160-161).

Notable Notes

The idea of the “fourth dimension” of jWPA work – administration. Make sure that this is visible in tenure and promotion files.

The fear in jWPA scholarship emerges from 1. The idea that WPA work won’t be valued in tenure and promotion and 2. That my administrative work will take up so much time that I won’t be able to do the other things I need to do in order to get tenure.

Central argument of Promise and Perils: “these testimonials and reflections suggest that a central peril of WPA work is the inherent conflict of scholar-administrator identities. In response, they call for more tenure-line positions and more explicit promotion criteria.” (155)

Untenured Faculty as Writing Program Administrators is more theoretically-minded, practical – making an argument against jWPAs but giving recommendations about how to structure these jobs ethically

We can increase our authority by demonstrating our value and the value of our programs, by developing strategies to negotiate for things that are important.

Quotable Quotes

“This sounds indeed like a no-win situation: As jWPAs, we are commissioned to do work that is not valued and that jeopardizes our future. In this context, we are never blessed with power. And that is, indeed, the fear: we are powerless now, and powerless we will remain. Unless, of course, we can find ways both of making ourselves valuable and of managing the obstacles that administrative work always entails” (154).

“The general message of both books is clear: The dangers that jWPAs face are real, and we have not yet done enough to address the situation” (152).

“Without the requisite authority—or even a clear set of objectives—in their work, jWPAs are more prone to becoming involved in a variety of levels of conflict. In large part, this potential for political tensions results from the nature of WPA work itself, as well as jWPAs’ novice stature. Although they are usually members of English departments, writing divisions, or other institutional units, jWPAs typically cross institutional lines, finding themselves involved in—and sometimes at odds with—the interests of both their home departments and their institutions at large.” (157).

“I believe that what WPAs should seek is power-via-authority, rather than power-via-control.” (159). How can we work “within the boundaries our institutions,” knowing that we can’t control them?

“Focus on what you can change in order to improve your job conditions, and resist feeling defeated by what you cannot. Alongside these efforts, we are reminded to keep in mind all of the other facets of our work that we likewise do control. From the rhetorical choices that we make as we strategize program changes to the attitudes that we maintain about our roles and identities in our institutions, we actually do control many aspects related to professional success.” (159-160).

June 9, 2015

Phelps, Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace

Phelps. Louise Wetherbee. “Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace.” Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Eds. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and Janet Emig. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995. Print. 289-339.

Phelps explores how women in the academy, specifically women writing program administrators, can take up, assume, and use power. She points out that when she became a writing program administrator, she did not have a model or theory available to her about how she, as a woman and as a compositionist, could accept and use the institutional power invested in her administrative position. Phelps argues against the idea that power is antithetical to feminist principles; rather, she argues for a conception of feminist power that is productive, generative, and expansive, one that allows for both a strong executive leader and distributed, collaborative, asymmetrical authority. She works in this essay to “construct a more adequately complex and nuanced feminism” (300). She asks “what it might be meant by feminist” in the context of assuming power and writing program administration (300).

Phelps uses her own experiences as the writing program administrator and Director of the Syracuse Writing Program to investigate the paradoxes and complexities of power for women, composition/writing programs, and female leaders in the academy and writing program administrators. Phelps discusses how she worked to create layered, asymmetrical groupings through the coordinating groups and other Writing Program task forces and committees. Phelps also describes the resistance she faced from her teachers when she asserted power or used rhetoric in a centralized, directed way (through talks to the program or published director’s writings.)

Phelps draws on the work done to explain the multifaceted feminization of composition within the academy (teaching as women’s work, nurturing work of the writing classroom, composition without institutional power or control, practice v. theory, low status of contingent faculty who teach composition, writing as skill.) She defines power as productive and generative, not coercive. Power, according to Phelps, can allow for positive influence, though she avoids sweeping utopian positions and generalizations. Phelps argues for the role of a strong executive in program leadership – a strong leader who can wield centralized authority can represent and argue for the program as a whole in an institutionally-recognizable way. At the end of her piece, Phelps calls for more work that interrogates her central paradox: the necessity of power within institutions and for leadership, and the implications of that power and its creations for feminists, for women, and for composition.

Notable Notes

Central architecture of the argument:

  1. “Invitation to Power” – reviews the feminization of composition, WPA work, and sexism in the academy. Calls for a definition/understanding of the feminist power, a model for how a feminist might use and assume power ethically and for good.
  1. “Constructing and Complicating the Feminist Workplace” – argues that the workplace of composition is already feminist (writing/English classroom gives discursive authority to women; composition classroom has embraced feminist pedagogical principles; the predominance of women within the workplace of composition means that women have a disproportionate chance to benefit from composition workplaces that give them opportunities to lead and learn). Explains her decision to become the WPA at Syracuse: “it was vaguely but genuinely a moral decision responding to the summons to take up responsibility toward others, to act on my convictions” (306). Describes how she envisioned developing an inquiry-based writing program that depended on the creative power of the teachers and her emerging ideas of what it meant to be a leader. Explains the paradox of power and agency and responsibility: agency is not ultimately freeing, with power comes discipline, rules, and responsibility, and professionalization will not improve the working conditions of all because not all will be able to participate. Explains how she built the program purposefully around asymmetry, not symmetry.
  2. “Lessons of the Feminist Workplace” – organized complexity, bravery

The WPA role itself is feminized – it is marginal, instable within the academy’s institutional structure: “More truly marginal than in the feminist sense, we are like animals of the tidal zone, neither sea nor land creatures” (291).

You have a choice, as a WPA, to accept or reject a position of power. But where does rejecting leave us? (292)

Names the problems of a utopian feminist vision, where power is shared equally, symmetrically, without hierarchy (293) – how this is not workable in a workplace. Names the potential negatives of a woman-centered workplace (301).

Explains how in her first few years as the Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, she did not see her situation as gendered (she did not recognize the reaction of others – both those teachers within the program and higher administrators – as rooted in sexism.) Phelps was more focused on the feminized status of composition within the university (specifically at Syracuse.) (296-297)

The reaction to women (and composition) – the reactions of “exclusion” and “devaluation” – “do not go away when the door opens a crack and we squeeze in” (299).

Phelps notes throughout that these memories – writing about these moments – is painful and hard.

De-centering authority (in a classroom, in a program) requires authority (304). To have the choice to de-center authority means that you have the institutional power to make that choice, decision.

Phelps discusses her reasons for taking up the position of Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, why she made this choice (306). At the time, it was not a gendered decision – she wanted to enact her vision of literacy, composition within a teaching community (306).

Discussion of how she thought through the ethics of WPA work, of relying on teacher’s intellectual energy, of coming to terms with contingent labor (308-310; especially her responsibility to the teachers and ethical employment on 313-315; giving teachers options through professional development 317-318).

The teaching community and empowering teachers’ own individual agency is central to her vision of the writing program (309-310)

The program’s most basic right: “Its right to try” (315) – that means the right of the teachers to try, to design, to grow, to experiment.

The material benefits a writing program can offer are never going to be enough to offset the work and low pay and low status of teaching composition (317).

Those teachers “who exploit these opportunities for development will gain options: they will have more choices about staying there or moving on” (318).

The “killer dichotomy” (Ann Berthoff) – that the ideal of a “flattened hierarchy”/symmetry and complete shared power versus the idea of a determinist hierarchy of power, that the power structure in place can’t be challenged or disrupted (320)

In her asymmetrical organization, she relied on three “significant asymmetries” – 1. “institutional authority”; 2. “attributes of competence”; and 3. “commitment or investment of oneself in the program.” Phelps tried to “subvert” #1 with #2 and #3, but maintained that #1 (executive power, authority through position or degree or credential) is important for the program as a whole and the people in it. (322)

Power as influence versus power as coercion (322-323)

She saw the empowerment of her program as emerging from three things: 1. Enabling conditions (both two-way communication and a director that encourages/articulates teachers’ own understandings of the program); 2. Structures (creating, revising structures and starting new traditions that form a community); 3. Exemplification (naming, modeling, “dramatizing” the principles and strategies of the program so that they are visible) (323-326)

Program v. department rhetoric (program as productive, community, cohesive) (327)

Discusses the importance of community in creating a program that works – people want to feel a sense of belonging (though the backlash against insular, “insider” communities.) Belonging to the community is a benefit for its members (327)

the idea that we are not in a utopia – we work in a workplace


Quotable Quotes

“As a writing program administrator, what I find incomplete or inadequate in these characterizations of feminization is that they fail to analyze the problem of empowerment or help us meet it when it actually comes – accompanied by its own paradoxes and discrepancies between appearance and reality, marked by lags, slippages, and regressions, but genuinely different for all that. The meaning of composition’s gendering is not immutably fixed but is suspectible to transformation (though not simple reversal) when its members, and particularly its women, begin to pursue their intellectual projects and enact their values with confidence and some measure of institutional support” (290-291).

“Yet analyses of composition as feminized can never fully anticipate the shift in the problem space that occurs when we begin to move into the tidal zone of power, nor the peculiar challenges of a transitional period. They do not contemplate the guilt and ambivalence and jealousies that will inevitably accompany accession to power; nor do they confront the radical transformation it requires in both strategies and moral understandings” (291-292).

“In short, our current understanding of the feminization of composition provides neither ethical nor strategic guidance in ‘right action,’ either for women who, as senior faculty and administrators, must learn to exercise power wisely or for the field as it begins to acquire resources, centrality to an institution’s mission, and the increased clout that goes with this position. Handling our own power, that is, coming to terms with the ineluctable authority of the writing teacher, is a central, unresolved problem for feminist classroom pedagogy. It becomes acute when the domains and forces involved are larger: programs, departments, institutions, disciplines, and the winds of social change that are sweeping over all of them” (293).

Reject pessimistic visions of power: “For the moment, I will simply say this: if as feminists we are arguing for broadly distributed power and access, we must be prepared to imagine that one can ethically have visions, lead, and wield power despite the imperfectability of institutions and the tragic limitations of human action” (293).

“What I missed here (just as well, since it might have paralyzed me with cynicism or despair) was the triple burden created for the woman leader in composition by the intertwinings of power with gender, teaching, and writing” (297).

“What I had yet to learn, on the bones, was the circuit of devaluation that runs from women in general to women’s work to composition as a feminized discipline and back to the concrete institutional project – the writing program as an enterprise, and its people. The program as a project is ignored as an intellectual force or set of ideas insofar as it is perceived as a bunch of women doing a remedial service; dismissed or critiqued (as requiring structure and external control) insofar as its practices are perceived as soft and feminine; vilified insofar as its values and leaders are perceived as dangerously, powerfully ‘feminist; or simply because it begins to be too successful in a competitive environment. Such attitudes get an extra jolt from the enormous ego investment most people have in their own writing and in moralistic beliefs about what counts as ‘good writing.’

Too often, these intense feelings are concentrated and discharged malevolently on the embodied persons of the women, teachers and leaders alike, who construct their program and teach composition with bravery, fear, and ambivalence.” (297-298). The whole writing program was devalued, suffered from layers of sexism

In the end, the story is about joy:

“Finally, though, these painful emotions are not at the core of my experience as a woman directing a writing program, nor should their distorting effects be allowed to define sourly the enterprise or the community. They are simply the penumbra. The core is joy: the fun, the ingenuity, the collaboration, the exhilaration when something works, the laughter, the leap, the learning. What compels my attention, my passion, and my intellectual interest as a feminist is the thrill of possibility in our accession to power; the moral, practical, and rhetorical complexities that we encounter in daily work on constructive projects in real-world contexts; the feminism that might arise in such a crucible” (299).

The organization of writing programs as unique in the academy: “As organizations, writing programs combine a certain boundedness, recognizability, and clear definition as communities (delimited in space, in membership, in curricular purposes) with diffusion and interpenetration into the academic context through cross-curricular activity and communication with students, faculty, and administrators in many units and at all levels of the university hierarchy” (308).

The importance of people in a writing program: “Despite my inexperience as an administrator, I assumed that the single most critical factor in the success of a programmatic enterprise is smart, dedicated people: faculty and staff who are intellectually and morally engaged in working for shared goals” (308)

Phelps’ vision of her role as WPA, in regards to starting an inquiry-based writing program that relied on and valued the teachers: “I tried to place teachers’ own reflective thought and collaboration at the center of curriculum development and their intelligent, caring, and responsible interaction with students at the heart of learning” (309).

And this: Her leadership “lay rather in the idea of forming and orchestrating the activity of a teaching community in which people would be authorized and supported to teach flexibly within a broad framework of common goals, to invent curriculum together, to build a program that would finally have intellectual and educative value not only for the students taught but also for the university, the discipline, and for educational theory and practice” (309).

“Agency does not imply absolute power or freedom to do anything you please. Indeed, I discovered, there is a ratio between power and discipline: the greater your authority, the more visible and multiple the disciplines (rules, orders, structures) you must both accept for yourself and impose on others” (311).

“Leadership involves more than generative (‘maternal’ or enabling power)…It requires leaders also to channel, constrain, and judge the actions of others” (311).

“Diffusion of power is the diffusion of problems of power” (311-312).

“An increase in authority, voice, and autonomy is not an unqualified good in and of itself” (312) What teachers in the Syracuse Writing Program quickly discovered. If professionalization is offered and encouraged, it puts at a disadvantage those who cannot or do not or will not take advantage of these opportunities, even if they are not required.

The writing program is not an utopia: “In treating teachers as moral agents – adults – and providing opportunities for curricular control and leadership, I exposed them, perhaps involuntarily, to new risks and pressures while possibly exploiting their capabilities and energy without adequate reward” (313).

“I assumed that inequalities of power as well as of hierarchy are inevitable in any large social organization, patriarchal or otherwise. The possibilities for sharing power among groups in the writing program are circumscribed by the specific social facts of its membership and the organization of the university as a political and bureaucratic workplace. I proposed to work with, rather than against, these real-world constraints” (320).

The asymmetrical power relations within the Syracuse Writing Program: “The social architecture of this program created new power: it generated or attracted energy, enabled novelty and change, created new order and legitimacy, and gave people more personal autonomy and scope for action” (323).

“In actual life, in political life specifically, I think that institutions and programs, like nations, survive and thrive only when people develop a powerful sense of belonging and loyalty to them, and do indeed serve them partly for their own sake: as embodiment, however flawed and mixed, of noble human purposes, as homes or places of work and life, and as human families and collectivities that they love. If there is any single claim that feminists, in composition and elsewhere, seem to be making, it is that women’s work in families and society (the invisible work of managing social interaction [DeVault; Fishman]) prepares them to understand and build such communities. Many of the ‘feminine principles’ I have described here and tried to follow as a leader (collaborative work, consensus building, conversation, professional development, deconstructive use of asymmetries) enact a conception of relations as intrinsically rewarding” (327).

“We are back to the point that power frightens people. Even the most benign power, and most especially collective power, is in part coercive, whether overtly, through rules and rulers, hegemonically, through structures tacitly assimilated, or interactionally, through rhetorical forces. Perhaps even constructive power made available to ourselves is frightening in the electricity it creates and the demands it generates” (328).

“The issue of power is assuredly among the most difficult that feminists face. Power is most often experienced as oppression, and hence the desire for it is frequently disavowed. Yet, insofar as power is the energy and control that gets things done, it is not only an ineluctable dimension of any situation, it is something that feminists require” Nina Baym, quoted in Phelps (329).

“The key to warriorship…is not being afraid of who you are…Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s greatest problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance and shyness, and face the world” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Remember I asked – and postponed answering – the more fundamental question, whether it is ever right to accept invitations to power in the academy. Given the willingness to teach writing, to work in any institution of American higher learning as a scholar or teacher, but especially in tenured of relative economic comfort and privilege, it seems to me the fundamental choice has already been made; what remains is just responsibility and the specific conditions that make it right or possible to take it” (332).

October 15, 2013

Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier, Directing First-Year Writing

Rose, Shirley K, Lisa S. Mastrangelo, and Barbara L’Eplattenier. “Directing First-Year Writing: The New Limits of Authority.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 43-66.

The authors repeated and expanded a study conducted by Gary A. Olson and Joseph M. Moxley in 1989 on the responsibilities, power, influence, and authority held by directors of first-year writing programs. The study is based on 312 responses to an online survey distributed through the WPA-L listserv and a direct-email list of department chairs, and respondents included WPAs, chairs of English or independent writing programs, directors of college writing programs or writing centers, and those who report to directors of first-year writing. In this article, the authors focus on two trends in their results: 1. the perceptions of the most important roles and responsibilities of the first-year composition director and 2. how administrative responsibilities differ among WPAs with tenure, WPAs without tenure but on the tenure track, and those WPAs who hold non-tenure-track administrative lines. What Rose, Mastrangelo, and L’Eplattenier note in their results is that, compared to Olson and Moxley’s 1989 study, the responsibilities that WPAs take on – hiring and training teaching staff, determining curriculum, developing assessment models, writing policy statements, and managing student/grade/personnel issues – are more often shared and negotiated among several people (most notably the chair and other members of a faculty council) depending the particular contexts of the institution, department, and the WPA herself (especially in regards to whether or not the WPA has tenure.) The authors argue that the WPA is not a powerless position (as Olson and Moxley contend); rather, through both new articulations of WPA theory through postmodern and feminist lenses as well as the growth of the discipline in the past 25 years, the WPA position has become more situated, negotiated, and nuanced.

Notable Notes

NTT WPAs (those not on the tenure track) are often given roles “related to management and supervision” like supervision and hiring of teaching staff, scheduling and staffing, establishing common syllabi, handling disputes and political problems (61-62)

not-yet-tenured WPAs are often given responsibilities that are “clearly pedagogical rather than political in focus,” probably out of a desire to protect new faculty pre-tenure and because many are fresh out of graduate school with a current understanding of comp theory and pedagogy (60).

as compared to the 1989 Olson and Moxley survey, many respondents noted curriculum and assessment as WPA responsibilities, probably due to pressures on higher education and accreditation (55)

most important responsibility of the first-year writing director (as noted by chairs in the 1989 survey, chairs in the 2012 survey, and 2012 directors of first-year writing) is communicating well (which includes staying in touch with the chair, being accessible, etc.) (53)

explains definitions of power, authority, and influence described by David V.J. Bell and used by Thomas Ambrose in his article “WPA Work at the Small College or University.” (51)

interesting power dynamic present in many of the responses: female WPA/male chair

limitations – very few (5) responses from two-year schools, which further emphasizes the invisibility of the 2-year college WPA in our scholarship (47)

WPAs as “middle management” (45).

Quotable Quotes

“Although Olson and Moxley defined power in the duties of a writing program director and concluded that composition directors were relatively powerless, respondents to our survey suggest that our understanding of the situated and strategic negotiation of WPA agency has become more nuanced, accounting for the agency of others with whom we work as well as our own” (63).

“Our discipline’s understanding of power, especially as it relates to writing program administration, and how it functions has shifted dramatically in the last quarter of a century due to feminist, Foucauldian, and post-Foucauldian theory, as well as our own maturing as a discipline. THe power of writing program directors, whether they are first-year program directors or other program directors, continues to be a topic of interest to composition studies scholars because power itself is so fluid and complicated” (63).

“The WPA’s job is now recognized as collaborative and inter relational, with the WPA observing and interacting daily with constituencies who have multiple – and sometimes contradictory – agendas” (50).

“We draw from the survey results, respondents free-text comments, and the literature to suggest that a more useful method of thinking about WPA’s agency is to recognize that these different political instruments are always negotiated, that they are consistently and constantly changing, and that the rhetorical situation in all of its complexity always impacts a WPA’s ability to make change. A rhetorically and politically astute WPA can examine which political instrument – influence, power, or authority – would have the greatest impact, as well as the compromises and negotiations she or he is willing to make to accomplish his or her long- and short-term goals” (51-52).

“A WPA’s activities create cultural capital that determines his or her role within the institution” (45).

September 4, 2012

Penrose, Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession

Penrose, Ann M. “Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession: Expertise, Autonomy, Community in Composition Teaching.” WPA 35.2 (Spring 2012): 108-126.

Penrose analyzes the factors that constitute professional identity – dynamic expertise, autonomy and authority, and participation in a professional community – and argues that this definition of a professional could be a new way WPAs can articulate the goals they have for their non-tenure-track instructors and for improving their instructors’ material working conditions.

Penrose argues that the fractured nature of the field and the work of composition instructors – that the field, though broadly coherent, can look very different through the vantage points of sub-specialties, individual research agendas, and composition curricula and programs – leads to non-tenure-track composition instructors feeling like they don’t belong in the professional composition community.  Penrose calls on WPAs to make concerted, continual efforts to cultivate a professional composition community for their non-tenure-track instructors and graduate TAs, calling the instructors’ attention to the ways they are building their multifaceted professional identites, shared language, and common values.

Penrose argues that having a vision of what a professional composition instructor is will help in WPAs arguments for offering professional development and improving instructors’ working conditions.

Notable Notes

looks at research in what makes a professional and a professional community in history, sociology, higher education

even composition programs all founded on the WPA outcomes can look widely different

professional development can seem coercive – as a way to regulate, to supervise – not as a continued process of shared learning. They can be disruptive to autonomy and authority. (116)

studies show that high levels of professional identity among K-12 teachers lead to greater student learning (110).

trend from the autonomous professional (shut my classroom door) to the collaborative professional from the 1980s and beyond (111)

current pressures in politics to deprofessionalize education, to turn it away from an authoritative community that regulates itself, has the danger of making teaching an amateur enterprise, where teachers implement and reproduce but do not create or add to the knowledge base of the community (111)

definition of profession (112): specialized expert with dynamic knowledge base, has rights and privileges, and member of a social community with shared languages, values

Quotable Quotes

“The concept of professional identity is particularly intriguing in our field, where staffing practices intersect with disciplinary indeterminacy to create a teaching community comprising professionals with widely varying preparation, knowledge, philosophical commitments, and disciplinary allegiances.” (109)

“The diversity of perspectives that we value in theory and entertain in our disciplinary scholarship becomes complicated in the applied contexts of FYC programs, where contingent faculty are often hired to further others’ agendas rather than their own.” (109-110).

“Professional identities are not simply a matter of assigned status or recognition but self-images that influence behavior – determining, for example, where we seek our professional knowledge and to whom we consider ourselves accountable” (112)

“True professionals do not simply possess a body of knowledge but engage in continuing professional development and actively contribute to the community’s knowledge base” (113).

“Professions are dynamic social groups. Being a professional is not a matter of being free from community decisions but being part of them; not just of acquiring the profession’s knowledge but of contributing to it; not of working in isolation but of engaging with colleagues. Clearly we are aiming not for one of these identities – expert, autonomous agent, community member – but for all of them” (120).

“Understanding professionalism as collaborative provides useful perspective on the question of expertise, for it shifts attention from knowledge as static to knowledge as responsive and evolving” (120).

“Composition experts are identified not by the possession of a finite body of knowledge but by a rhetorical understanding that motivates them to assess, apply, and adapt their knowledge and develop new expertise as needed to meet teaching challenges in varied contexts” (121).

April 28, 2009

Yancey, Looking Back as We Look Forward

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Looking Back as We Look Forward: Historicizing Writing Assessment.” CCC 50 (1999): 483-503. Reprinted in Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 131-149.

Yancey divides the history of writing assessment into three “waves.” The first wave (1950-1970) focused on objective, non-essay testing that prioritized efficiency and reliability. The second wave (1970-1986) moved towards holistic scoring of essays, based on rubrics and scoring guides first developed through ETS and AP. The third wave (1986-present) expanded assessment to include portfolios (consisting of multiple examples of student writing) and larger, programmatic assessments. She looks at these waves from several perspectives: at how the concepts of reliability and validity are negotiated and valued; at the struggle between the knowledge of the assessment expert (and psychometrics) and the contextual, local knowledge of the non-expert teacher (and hermeneutics); and the move of assessment from outside and before the classroom to within and after the class. She voices concerns and directions for further scholarship and practice in writing assessment, challenging the field to look for ways to use assessment rhetorically and ethically to help students and programs develop and to produce scholarly knowledge.

Quotable Quotes

“It is the self we want to teach, that we hope will learn, but that we are often loathe to evaluate. What is the role of the person/al in any writing assessment?” (132).

Notable Notes

The role of the classroom teacher moving into writing assessment: in the 1st wave, testing specialists evaluated, but through the 2nd and 3rd waves, the roles of teacher and evaluator overlapped into the new discipline of writing assessment.

Questions: Who is authorized to speak about assessment? What is the purpose of writing assessment in education? Who shuold hold hte power?

the use of portfolios shifts the purpose and goals of the assessment: using pass/fail instead of scoring and communal grading moves more towards assessing a program and establishing community values than individual student assessment. Use different stakeholders to read?

waves fall into each other, aren’t strict lines that categorize what’s happening.

February 22, 2009

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth Anniversary  Speech.” In The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry into Action and Reflection. Eds. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1998.


This version that I am reading and taking notes on is the uncut version. The  speech was significantly cut in the collection.


This article combines the tenth anniversary speech Phelps gives to the Syracuse University Writing Program in 1997 with her analysis and reflection on speech as a form  of administrative rhetoric and highlights the intellectual work of both administration and leadership. The speech is divided into three sections – narrative, analysis, and reflection – which are based on the common moves taught in the Syracuse writing studios. Phelps shows how the Writing Program, founded in 1986, can be described as a sort of “Great Group,” who risked chaos in a outpouring of inventiveness and creativity in the early  years of the program. This complex open system became self-organizing, subcritical, and more orderly as the Program reached relatively high “fitness peaks.” However, in order to remain responsive and relevant to changing context, Phelps argues that the Program must be inventive still by bringing in new faculty and new leadership, developing new programs like the graduate program and a major, and by constantly searching out large and small opportunities to connect with other departments, colleges, and outside organizations that will allow the Program to grow, expand, and evolve. Phelps then steps outside her speech and analyzes it as a form of administrative rhetoric, arguing that WPAs, especially women, must not cede their authority as a leader. Rather, they should embrace the public form of administrative rhetoric in the form of speeches for they provide an opportunity to explain to the community that they lead the ideas and principles inherent in their organizing narrative. Strong reflective leadership is not coercive; it is necessary for the survival of a complex, dynamic organization like a writing program.


Quotable Quotes


“The Writing Program chose the Great Group model, where disparate people are drawn together by mutual commitment to a project and became energized by the power of collaboration, because we believed that it is a social structure more conducive to creativity and more successful in the long run.

In that choice, we risked chaos.”


“If the early development of the Writing Program represented the gamble of falling into chaos, after ten years one must imagine that we now risk the possibility of too much order. We are likely to find ourselves trapped on relatively high fitness peaks, where there is a big cost for coming down and trying another one that isn’t likely to prove that much better.” – reminds me of Jefferson/Adams, a  revolution every generation, tension and questioning whether the next wave is going to be as good as what you got already


“I came ever more strongly to believe that it is right for writing program administrators to aspire to leadership as an honorable role, to explore and analyze the role of rhetoric in administration, to make creative and ethical use of the rhetorical power their office (and their training) lends them.”



Notable Notes


Great Groups


Important sources: Bennis and Biderman (Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration); Gould (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History); Kaufmann (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity); Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)


Reference to working on institutional invention piece


Used reflections from people who were in the early years of the program


WP wasn’t an  exact Great Group  because the people involved were so heterogeneous; not everyone bought into the idea, so that caused conflict and pain.


Ecological/systems  model


In a complex open system, there must be smaller, more local groups with autonomy that can grow and evolve, together creating a network to form the entire system


Evolution isn’t a linear path – there comes a point where there is an explosion of creativity (supracritical) that then is tamed by a learning or S-curve, when you reach high fitness peaks.


That “cascade of novelty in uncoordinated, chaotic interactions” was the fear of those who wanted a common text and curriculum.


Coevolving systems


Move from romance into a fruitful marriage


WPA is a “convenient euphemism” for administrators who don’t want to take on the name of leader – why are we so reluctant to use power wisely?


Speech as intellectual work of a writing program administrator

February 19, 2009

Mortensen and Kirsch, On Authority in the Study of Writing

Mortensen, Peter and Gisa E. Kirsch. “On Authority in the Study of Writing.” CCC 44.4 (Dec 1993) 556-572.

Reimagining authority as informed by an “ethic of care” creates a new, more dialogic form of authority than the authoritarian, autonomous model of authority that divorces authority from a contextual, material reality. Mortensen and Kirsch use a feminist framework to conceive of their alternate authority, showing how authority established through dialogue, connectedness, and collaboration in context can transform how we teach students about the kinds of authority they might construct in their writing and the kinds of authority they might encounter and enact. Mortensen and Kirsch do not reject a notion of authority, pointing out that sometimes, it serves both the teacher and the student for the teacher to take a more authoritative stance in the classroom, arguing that exercising authority (when that authority is informed by an ethics of care – a responsibility to your obligations as a teacher) is not coercion. Ultimately, Mortensen and Kirsch hope to open up ways to compose academic arguements without resorting to traditional automonous, partriarchal authority, allowing for academic discourse that is more collaborative, dialogic, and exploratory.

Quotable Quotes

“Unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous…care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain” (565).

We need to “shape what authority does rather than simply attempting to alter what it is.” (566).

Notable Notes

breaks down two views of authority: that you gain it through assimiliation to the standards and conventions of a discourse community; that it is inherently bad, uncritical, and repressive

authority as gendered

there is no independent, autonomous authority. It is always in context.

autonomous authority even surfaces in process pedagogy – the writer’s voice is introspective and autonomous. Even with the social turn – authority was foundational, part of the community, something to assimilate to, not constantly negotiated and emerging.

Giroux Schooling

Berkenkotter, Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts

Berkenkotter, Carol. “Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts.” CCC 35.3 (October 1984) 312-319.

The field promotes peer-response, whether through writers groups or class workshops, as an important element in the writing process, yet it is unclear how helpful peer critique is to students who are, sometimes for the first time, emerging as writers with a sense of authority over their texts. Berkenkotter shows the range of responses students might have to peer response through three case studies, each of a student who has recorded his or her composing and revision process in a series of think-aloud protocols and whose peer workshop groups and teacher conferences were tape recorded as well. One student resisted all peer critique; another student listened to peer critique but did not completely cede his own vision and authority of his writing; the third student ceded too much of her own authority, changing her essay in ways that her peers suggested but that she did not completely agree with. Teachers need to keep these varying reactions to peer response in mind when constructing their pedagogy.

Notable Notes

some students feel responsibility to writers; others do not know how to compromise their needs and the readers’ needs.

tenuous situation with a student who is just emerging as a writer

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