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).

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January 4, 2013

Valentino, Serving Those Who Have Served

Valentino, Marilyn J. “Serving Those Who Have Served: Preparing for Student Veterans in our Writing Programs, Classes, and Writing Centers.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 164-178.

This article, which is from the author’s 2012 CWPA address, explains several strategies writing teachers and writing program administrators can take in order to accommodate the specific needs of veterans in their classrooms and writing programs.  Valentino cites the increase of student veterans (and children and parents of veterans) at American colleges and universities. She stresses the diversity of the veteran population, she argues that writing teachers and WPAs need to be prepared to help veterans make a successful transition into college life. Some of her suggestions include resisting “profiling” student veterans, giving student veterans the option to talk or write about their war experiences (or not), being attune to other civilian students’ attitudes or comments to student veterans, and making assignment and classroom expectations clear from the get-go.  Her article also provides some helpful statistics about student veteran demographics.

May 1, 2009

Hamp-Lyons and Condon, Questioning Assumptions about Portfolio-Based Assessment

Hamp-Lyons, Liz and William Condon. “Questioning Assumptions about Portfolio-Based Assessment.” CCC 44.2 (1993): 176-190. In Assessing Writing. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 315-329.

The authors argue that portfolio-based assessments are not inherently better, more valid, or more ethical than other kinds of writing assessments. It takes much critical reflection and work on the part of WPAs and writing instructors to make portfolio grading, which is more time consuming, a better assessment. They point out that more texts and genres doesn’t always make scoring decisions easier, that pedagogical and curricular values aren’t taken into account because they are not articulated, and that collaborative portfolio grading is often conflict-ridden, for it is hard to build consensus over assessment and instruction values. They do not argue to abandon portfolios, just to warn that certain stipulations – like criteria and conversations about program goals and values – must be in place to make portfolios a better assessment.

Quotable Quotes

“Increased accuracy is not an inherent virtue of portfolio assessment” (327).

February 3, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, Burton, A Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, eds. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2002.

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

January 23, 2009

Ohmann, “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language”

Ohmann, Richard. “Use Definite, Specific, Concrete Language.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 3rd ed. 310-318.

Ohmann’s essay argues against the writing handbook maxim (specifically Strunk & White) repeated in his title, claiming that the move to push students to replace abstract words and phrases with specific, often sensory details, limits their ability to tackle complex, abstract ideas, which require students to operate in generalities. Students may not easily or clearly write in abstractions, Ohmann writes, but steering them away from this difficult, intelligent work in the writing classroom deprives them of the chance to mature as analytical, abstract thinkers and writers. Ohmann uses examples from three popular current writing handbooks (all published in 1978), pointing out five common consequences of asking students to load their writing with specific adjectives and nouns: ahistoricism (emphasis on the present moment), empiricism (reliance on sensory information), fragmentation (ignorance of social and historical context or relationships), solipism (emphasis on the individual writer’s feelings and experiences), and denial of conflict (absence of questioning or things left up to the reader’s interpretation.)

Quotable Quotes

The maxim to use definite, specific, and concrete language will “push the student writer always to toward the langauge that most nearly reproduces the immediate experience and away from the language that might be used to understand it, transform it, and relate it to everything else” (317).

A student who takes the maxim to the extreme “will lose the thread of any analysis in a barrage of sensory impressions, irrelevant details, and personalized or random responses” (314).

“Abstract nouns refer to the world in a way quite different from concrete nouns” (315) They form chains of relationships in meaning

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