Revolution Lullabye

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).

Bousquet, Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA

Bousquet, Marc. “Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA.” JAC 22.3 (2002): 493-526. Print.

Bousquet argues that composition has become complacent in the larger corporate university system, citing scholarship that promotes a “pragmatist” approach to writing program administration and rejects critical theory as “idealist.” Bousquet contends that real institutional change is only possible through collective action, and he points to both history and current union movements for better working conditions and pay for graduate students and adjuncts as evidence that change emerges from the action of collective labor, not by individuals, such as “lower management” WPAs. Bousquet’s argument relies on a Marxist reading of WPA work and current WPA scholarship, and his argument is a response to Porter et al’s Braddock-winning essay about institutional change and critique. Bousquet ultimate argument is that composition (as a field) and composition teachers would be best served if WPAs stepped away from their roles as lower managers, a role in which they support and enact the interests of the managerial university. Bousquet believes that composition should look like other academic disciplines, without a lower-level “manager” (WPA) and with tenure-track faculty lines, not adjunct labor or non-tenure-track instructorships or “parafaculty.”

Notable Notes

Central question: has composition/WPA strayed too far? Has it bought into the rhetoric of university management? And central claim: that organized labor and collection action is the only way to change the status quo and problems of composition labor, not WPAs. He imagines a model without a WPA.

Sections of his argument:

The Heroic WPA

  • Argues that the field has moved away from critical lenses and “toward institutionally focused pragmatism, toward acceptance of market logic, and toward increasing collaboration with a vocational and technical model of education” (495-496).
  • Defines the “heroic WPA” as a new figure in the field, connects it to Marx’s “’special kind of wage-laborer,’” “the members of the working class whose particular labor is to directly administer the labor of other members of their class at the frontline of the extraction of surplus value” (498).
  • Labels WPAs as “lower management,” who have as much in common with workers (or more) than they do with the higher class that they might identify with. Lower management historically has not made changes: “Lower management is particularly vulnerable, highly individuated, and easily replaced” (497). Lower management often is not tracked to upper management advancement.
  • Argues that when someone becomes a member of the lower management, their class does not change (still a member of the labor class), but their loyalties change. (498)
  • Asks who the term “compositionist” (or “we”) refers to – the teachers? The WPAs? Those who teach or those who supervise/theorize? The field writ large? Who does it represent? (499)
  • Ties the emergence of the comp/rhet discipline to shifting structure in undergrad institution in the 1970s: more students with less TT faculty.

The Intricate Evasions of As: How to Be One of the Gang

  • composition is trying to be “one of the gang” in the academic institution, a respected discipline. So there’s two layered legitimacy crises in comp: one among adjunct labor, the other around WPAs/compositionists (502)
  • WPAs/composition have accepted the realities of the corporate university instead of contending them. One example he gives is FT NTT lines, which Bousquet argues is a way to get around tenure and to assert more “managerial control” over composition teaching faculty (505) – he thinkis is a step backwards to remove tenure, not a step forward. Asks why this is happening primarily in comp, not in other fields (lit?) (506-507).
  • WPAs (lower management) do not have a good track record for changing the working conditions of adjunct composition faculty. Unions and collective action do have a good track record for this. (507).
  • WPAs are more vulnerable to academic capitalism, market logic than faculty, who can resist it to some extent (508).

The Hidden Idealism of Managerial ‘Materialism’

  • One piece of evidence he cites as comp/rhet and WPA’s acceptance of managerialism and the corporate university is the emergence of “pragmatism” in WPA scholarship (509), of rejecting “ideals” for “realities” (509).
  • The pragmatist/movement point of view critiques the critical point of view for being “idealist,” but pragmatists are their own breed of idealists, accepting a managerial point of view. (511)
  • Asks why collective action, rhetoric of change by those disenfranchised, is being challenged in the academy (513)? Why has composition accepted pragmatism? Why aren’t we more skeptical? (515)

Toward a New Class Consciousness in Composition: Writing without a WPA

  • argues against the possibility of joining WPA and teacher interests, it’s impossible to combine the interests of management and labor. Sees such rhetoric as undermining collective bargaining
  • why haven’t we made composition real, tenure-track faculty?
  • Argues that WPAs should “shed” their identity as lower management – their role to “control” or administer or supervise – and to join again with their faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Despite the evident sincerity of this line of inquiry [Porter et al, Harris, Miller, Murphy, Grimm], I’m profoundly unconvinced that a management theory of agency and what I call the rhetoric of “pleasing the prince” is particularly useful-much less necessary-to the project of transforming institutions. I prefer instead a labor theory of agency and a rhetoric of solidarity, aimed at constituting, nurturing, and empowering collective action by persons in groups.” (494).

“In this context, the ‘heroism’ of the heroic WPA consists precisely in his or her capacity to represent the interests of the ruling class as the interests of the workers (teachers and students) in their charge” (499).

“Understanding this intimacy as a structural relationship requires careful examination of the possibility that the heroic narrative of disciplinary “success” for professional and managerial compositionists has depended in part on the continuing failure of the labor struggle.” (499)

“Clearly, the emergence of rhetoric and composition into some form of (marginal) respectability and (institutional-bureaucratic) validity has a great deal to do with its usefulness to upper management in its legitimating the practice of deploying a revolving labor force of graduate employees and other contingent teachers to teach writing. The discipline’s enormous usefulness to academic capitalism-in delivering cheap teaching, training a supervisory class for the cheap teachers, and producing a group of intellectuals who theorize and legitimate this scene of managed labor-has to be given at least as much credit in this expansion as the heroic efforts that Porter and his coauthors call the WP A’s “strong track record for enacting change” (614)” (500).

“In my view, the problem of composition labor’s felt exteriority to the gang of professors cannot be separated from the problem of composition management’s felt exteriority to the gang of disciplines: the two structures of feeling are inseparably related along the “degree zero” of the material specificity of composition work-which is to say, work conducted in the scene of managed para-faculty labor.” (502)

“Professional composition, in my view, will never feel like “one of the gang” of disciplines until its labor patterns are more like those in other fields. (Of course, this equivalence could easily come about by the frightening but very real possibility-evidenced by clear statistical trends-that labor patterns in other disciplines will become more like those in composition, rather than the other way around.) To put it in blunt terms, so long as composition’s discourse remains a management science– or, alternatively, until history, engineering, and philosophy are management sciences to the same extent-it is likely to fail to enjoy the status it seeks: the status of a discipline among peers.” (502-503).

Contends that WPAs have less power than they think: “However, whether they do so logically, intuitively, or from the experience of essaying numerous “rhetorical strategies” with disappointing results, most also understand that there is little they can do about the labor system, either as individuals or as administrators. Indeed, perhaps the most important realization of the administrative subjectivity is that “having” administrative power is to be subject to administrative imperatives-that is, to be individually powerless before a version of “necessity” originating from some other source.” (507-508).

“The installation of managerialism as the core subjectivity of the discipline of rhetoric and composition is therefore not so much an indicator of the field’s “success” as evidence of its particular susceptibility, the very terms of its intellectual evolution intertwined with the university’s accelerated move toward corporate partnership, executive control, and acceptance of profitability and accumulation as values in decision making.” (508).

“Pragmatist idealizations of the market conceal the human agency in the creation and maintenance of markets” (510) – the idea that people created these economies and institutions, deliberately choosing market/corporate/private sectors over public

“In all of these and most responsible materialist accounts, human agency drives history. But in the pragmatist-managerial version of materialism, collective human agencies are conspicuously absent.” (511)

“In holding our gaze on the managerialism of composition discourse, we ultimately need to ask, cui bono? Who benefits?” (513).

“Furthermore, what a large sector of composition labor (graduate employees and former graduate employees working off the tenure track) “really wants” is not to be treated as colleagues, but instead to be colleagues. Nearly every participant in the composition conversation would like to see writing instructors become “more like” faculty – to have the chance to govern, enjoy an intellectual life, develop as an instructor, and enjoy better pay, benefits, protections, and security. But this hasn’t translated into a consensus among professional and managerial compositionists that writing instructors should actually be faculty. Why not? Isn’t composition work faculty work? Or is composition’s “faculty work” the supervision of parafaculty? “ (516).

Argues for a “new class consciousness” in composition that is grounded in “movement unionism” that unites all faculty “on the common experience of selling one’s labor in order to live and on the desire – widespread in the academy, but also common in many sectors of service work – to “be productive” for society rather than capital” (517).

“…perhaps the professional and managerial compositionist can likewise shed the desire for control and embrace the reality of collective agency. Are we so sure after all that what the professional compositionist “really wants” is “more control” over people he or she must creatively “treat as colleagues”? Perhaps what the professional compositionist really wants is to lay down the “requirement” to serve as WPA instead and to become a colleague among colleagues.” (517-518).

“In order to realize the scene of lower management learning to practice “institutional critique” and the “arts of solidarity” from labor, we will eventually have to reconsider the limits to thought imposed by pragmatism and to learn once again to question the “inevitability” of the scene of managed labor to composition. In my view, composition’s best chance to contribute to a better world and to achieve disciplinary status depend on learning to write as colleagues among colleagues-a condition predicated on working toward a university without a WPA.” (518).

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 22, 2013

Toth, Griffiths, and Thirolf, Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty

Toth, Christina M., Brett M. Griffiths, and Kathryn Thirolf. “‘Distinct and Significant’: Professional Identities of Two-Year College English Faculty.” College Composition and Communication 65.1 (September 2013): 90-116.

This article brings together three separate studies that investigate the professional identities of two-year college English faculty. Together, the studies assert that two-year college English faculty members have a distinct identity and specific professional challenges and opportunities unique to their institutional positions. The authors call for more inclusivity and attention to the needs of two-year college faculty in the discipline’s main professional organizations (CCCC, NCTE, etc.); better graduate student training to prepare two-year college faculty for their particular profession; and more disciplinary action directed at the contingent labor issue, which is one reason why two-year college English faculty feel marginalized and lack professional autonomy.

Notable Notes

The three studies (all use interviews, coding of transcripts as main methodology)

1. “Professional Organizations and Transdiciplinary Cosmopolitanism” – looks at the professional organizations that two-year college English faculty belong to. Findings: many belong to several (national/regional/local) and many two-year college English faculty members more readily identify with the professional organizations that focus on the needs of two-year college faculty and students (like TYCA or developmental education organizations) than disciplinary ones like CCCC because two-year college issues seem marginalized in the discipline-specific organizations.

2. “Positioning and Footing of Two-Year College English Faculty” – examines how two-year college English faculty assert their professional identity and autonomy at their own institutions. Findings: participation in professional organizations or in professional activities like research/textbook writing increases faculty members’ ability to enact change at the departmental level of their institution (things like curriculum, assessment, placement.) Many faculty members at two-year institutions feel constrained by outdated departmental policies and curriculum – these faculty members have more autonomy in the classroom rather than the department.

3. “Organizational Socialization of Part-TIme English Faculty” – looks at how beginning two-year college English faculty (3 years or less) are socialized in the profession by their local institution and department. Findings: departments/programs need to make an effort to introduce new faculty into the institutional and disciplinary norms and values of teaching English at a two-year college, but this is best done through informal connections/mentoring that encourages the professional identity of two-year college faculty instead of more patronizing, forced workshops or mentoring.

70% of two-year college faculty are contingent (106)

50% of all college composition courses are taught at two-year schools (93)

Quotable Quotes

“[The studies] demonstrate that two-year college English faculty face distinct constraints – as well as opportunities – in enacting their professional identities” (111).

“Activities that positioned incoming adjunct faculty as professoinals and colleagues fostered professionalization more than mandatory trainings and required mentoring” (110).

“Together, these studies suggest that professional autonomy is a compex construction derived not only from professional expertise, but also from shared recognition of that expertise by departmental colleagues, administrators, and policymakers” (112).

“Even though faculty drew on disciplinary knowledge within their classrooms, they often did not perceive themselves to have the authority- the footing – to assert their understanding of those norms and goals to effect departmental change” (104-105).

“This cosmopolitan translation from national disciplinary conversations to local context reflects the distinctive professional profile of two-year college English faculty: the kinds of pedagogical and administrative knowledge required in the two-year college English profession are often highly situated and context-specific” (98).

June 12, 2013

Halpern, The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of Undisciplined Writing on Disciplined Instructors

Halpern, Faye. “The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of ‘Undisciplined Writing’ on Disciplined Instructors.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 10-26.

Halpern uses her experience as a preceptor (full-time instructor) in the Harvard Expository Writing Program, an independent writing program that hires instructors from across the disciplines to teach an ‘undisciplined’ approach to academic writing, to discuss the effects of programmatic philosophies on the professional development and disciplinary identity of their instructors. Much of the scholarship on independent writing programs have focused on how stand-alone programs affect the identity and working conditions/relationships of the full-time faculty; Halpern’s article provides an in-depth look at how administrative decisions like the creation of independent writing programs or the adoption of particular writing curriculum affect instructors both while they are teaching in the program and after they leave and teach or work elsewhere.

Halpern argues that there is a problem with freestanding/independent writing programs like Harvard’s or Duke’s because the transdisciplinary nature of the programs leaves instructors without a solid disciplinary identity. Halpern points out that these independent writing programs often function as happy intellectual islands, developing their own theories, terms, and language. When instructors (whose positions are really not meant to be permanent positions but rather post-doc-like instructorships) leave, they are not well-prepared to enter into the disciplinary conversations and debates that characterize most academic departments. Halpern argues that WPAs and full-time faculty at independent writing programs need to consider the professional development needs and disciplinary identities of their instructors, preparing them not just to be successful teachers in that particular environment but also at other institutions.

Notable Notes

transdisciplinarity (11) – what writing shares across disciplines instead of what makes each discipline’s writing distinct

the effect of liberation, freedom, and independence on all stakeholders

the many ways it is difficult for an instructor to move from an instructorship to a tenure-track position (16-17)

characteristic of American colleges/universities/academic departments; thinking in terms of disciplinarity (20-21)

important effect: your graduate school training and early jobs have a profound effect on how you view yourself as a teacher and and academic, where you place yourself in the field (22-23)

connection to Duke (in article), possible connection to Syracuse and the Writing Program’s effect on the professional development and identity of the instructors

list of terms used by the Harvard Expos program – creation of a discourse community (13)

Quotable Quotes

“Academic expertise usually involves learning a discipline, but that is precisely not what I learned at Expos: I learned how to move beyond my discipline” (15).

“Perhaps one of the hardest things for a program to do is to acknowledge its own partiality. I mean ‘partiality’ in two senses: programs are partial to their own methods, and their methods constitute only one approach, an approach that intersects inevitably with the work of others” (23).


January 10, 2013

Kerschbaum, Avoiding the Difference Fixation

Kerschbaum, Stephaine L. “Avoiding the Difference Fixation: Identity Categories, Markers of Difference, and the Teaching of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 63.4 (June 2012): 616-644.

Kerschebaum, challenging the idea of difference as categorical and static, offers up a definition of difference as dynamic, emergent, and relational.  Difference, she argues, is rhetorical and therefore cannot be fixed.  In order to find and identify difference, teachers need to be attune to “markers of difference,” which emerge in communicative acts.  Kerschebaum uses a short transcript of two students discussing an essay draft in a peer review to demonstrate how these markers of difference affect relationships and identities.  She calls on teachers of writing to be more attentive to the markers of difference that emerge in the classroom and to use these markers to talk about and address difference in a way that resists categories and stable identities.

Notable Notes

fixing difference v. marking difference (619)

uses Bakhtin to describe how difference is emergent, dynamic, and relational (624-627)

human beings rely on categorical identification to make meaning, but those categories are not always or ever accurate (622)

uses her own experiences as a deaf woman to explain how difference emerges through relationships

reviews scholarship in writing studies on recognizing and understanding the nature of difference

suggests that attention to markers of difference in classroom interactions can help cultivate three habits of mind from the Framework openness, flexibility, metacognition

Quotable Quotes

“A marker-based orientation to difference is crucial for contemporary writing research because when we write and read, we wrestle with not just texts, but with selves” (623).

“The remainder of this article, then, suggests a new approach to difference in which teachers and researchers can practice a kind of attention to difference that cultivates awarenesss of new details, provides opportunity to interpret and re-interpret thsoe details, and contextualizes them within specific moments of writing, teaching, and learning” (622).

“Difference is not ‘out there’ waiting to be found and identified but is always coming-to-be through the here-and-now of interaction” (626).

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).

August 29, 2012

Blakely and Pagnac, Pausing in the Whirlwind

Blakely, Barbara J. and Susan B. Pagnac. “Pausing in the Whirlwind: A Campus Place-Based Curriculum in a Multimodal Foundation Communication Course.”  WPA 35.2 (Spring 2012): 11-37.

Blakely and Pagnac describe the place-based curriculum of one of Iowa State University’s two multimodal communication foundation courses, arguing that a course that centers on the place students are at (the college campus) results in deep student engagement, attachment, and opportunities for students to analyze and make arguments grounded in history and context across genres and modes.

In their description of the course, Blakely and Pagnac draw on numerous theories of place, space, and place-based pedagogy, including Thomas Grunewald, Yi-Fu Tuan, David Orr, and Robert Thayer. They point out that place is often an ignored part of the rhetorical landscape: it is so ubiquitous it is unseen.  The course they describe helps students see the arguments of their campus architecture, spaces, and organizations, encouraging them to draw connections between the stated educational missions of their institution and how those values are made manifest and interpreted by the lived spaces they occupy.

Notable Notes

one central goal: get students aware, cognizant

assignment sequence:

1. narrative of a place; 2. deep mapping and letter writing about a place on campus (the relationships people form with places); 3. exploring a campus program or orgnaization and analyzing its connection to the university mission; 4. understanding campus art and architecture; 5. repurposing their analyses into visual and oral communication projects; 6. semester reflection

great citations across sociology, higher ed, architecture for place-based pedagogy arguments: Willaim Least Heat-Moon PrairyErth (A Deep Map)

course helped students transition, form attachments, create a new identity – a good time (first-year students) for students to explore campus identities and their own]

course design is flexible but coherent across sections – meets the needs of individual students and instructors

readily accessible and relevent content to write about

Quoatable Quotes

“place is profoundly pedagogical” – Thomas Gruenewald “Foundations” 621 (qtd. 13)

“Campuses are planned and designed to embody educational purpose and institutional mission and values in various ways” (17).

“Place is a central influence in our experiences and developing sense of self.” (18)


May 23, 2011

Micciche, Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar

Micciche,  Laura. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” CCC 55.4 (June 2004): 716-737.

Micciche argues that teaching grammar rhetorically prepares students to be effective rhetoricians and communicators, and that explicitly teaching students how language functions and constructs realities is in lines with the goals of liberating education. Micciche breaks down the binary between formal, overt grammatical instruction and inventive thinking and composing, arguing that grammar should not be a consideration for the final draft but one that spurs thinking and writing. Rhetorical grammar leads to questioning relationships between people and ideas and the cultural and ideological foundations upon which knowledge is made.

Micciche used Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar and Crowley’s Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students as anchor texts to teach her students rhetorical grammar.

Notes and Quotes

Rhetorical grammar underscores the purposeful use of language – that people’s grammatical choices do make a difference.

A closeness to language

“The chief reason for teaching rhetorical grammar in writing classes is that doing so is central to teaching thinking. The ability to develop sentences and form paragraphs that serve a particular purpose requires a conceptual ability to envision relationships between ideas. Such relationships involve processes of identification with an imagined or real reader and reflection on the way our language invites and/or alienates readers. The grammatical choices we make, including pronoun use, active or passive verb constructions, and sentence patterns- represent relations between writers and the world they live in. Word choice and sentence structure are an expression of the way we attend to the words of others, the way we position ourselves in relation to others. In this sense, writing involves cognitive skills at the level of idea development and at the sentence level. How we put our ideas into words and comprehensible forms is a dynamic process rather than one with clear boundaries between what we say and how we say it.” (719)

“When we broaden the goals of rhetorical grammar, it’s possible to see how the intimate study of language it encourages has enormous potential for studying language as central to constructions of identity and culture.” (721)

Sentence-level choices give clues to an author’s ideas about power, identity, culture

Pedagogy, commonplace books: “My course is based on the assumption that learning how to use grammar to best effect requires lots of practice and a good deal of exposure to varied writing styles. To this end, students maintain a commonplace book throughout the semester in which they imitate and record passages of their own choosing.” (723-724) Gives students the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between how something is said and what is said and also gives them the chance to practice identifying and using grammatical terms and structures. – gives students a framework and vocabulary

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