Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2015

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).

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June 23, 2015

Kinney, Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University

Kinney, Kelly. “Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 32.3 (Spring 2009): 37-48. Print.

Kinney enters the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition and argues that in writing programs throughout the U.S., these full-time lines, though not on the “faculty ladder,” do result in less exploitation of composition faculty. She uses her own experience as an ABD fellow in the Grand Valley State University’s Department of Writing (an independent writing program) to argue that these kinds of positions can not only give composition instructors greater stability and better wages and benefits but also can help create institutional environments that support and value the teaching of writing.

Kinney resists arguments made by Sledd, Bousquet, and others, who saw WPAs who created non-tenure-track composition lines as either complacent with the larger corporate university structure or as eroding the possibility of more tenure-lines. Kinney is pragmatic in her analysis, arguing that WPAs have the power to negotiate for better models for employing composition faculty.

Notable Notes

Discusses the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition: is it creating “boss compositionists,” with just a few tenured WPAs overseeing large masses of teachers, or is it a way that WPAs are trying to rectify the poor wages and working conditions of part-time, adjunct contingent labor?

Cites the major debate between James Sledd and Joseph Harris in CCC (September 2001), uses it to frame the discussion around non-tenure-track composition appointments. In this essay Kinney is responding to Sledd, who saw WPAs as complacent in higher administration’s plans to exploit composition labor.

Her admin work as a doctoral student slowed down her progress toward degree, ran out of her stipend. At the end of her 4th year she became a fellow at GVSU

Discusses the problem of putting pressure on grad students to professionalize, diversify, which slows down their progress (and many never finish). She argues though that her fellowship helped her on the job market and gave her a decent wage as she finished her PhD.

Defines “situated leadership” (a term coined by Sullivan et al), “a concept which reinterprets the ethic of service and helps theorize active ways of applying institutional critique.” WPAs should be rhetorical in how they administrate (40) Kinney argues that he WPAs at GVSU practiced “situated leadership” – reflective, critical analysis of situations, understanding the local context and situatedness.

The Department of Writing at GVSU had 2 kinds of FT NTT positions that had good wages and benefits: “the real improvements in work life for composition instructors are not to be underestimated” (41). One kind was a fellow for ABDs, MFAs, and PhDs. Fellows had conference support and had schedules to allow for scholarship, no service obligations. The second line was Affiliate Faculty positions – again, good wages, renewable 3-year contracts

This Department of Writing is independent of the English Department, and so was able to hire instructors who wanted to teach writing.

Key concept to her argument: the commitment to writing and composition, both the teaching and the field

Argues that FT NTT lines are a step up for composition instructors, who historically have been some of the most marginalized and vulnerable contingent faculty, rejects the “preoccupation with tenure lines,” saying that this position does not help these faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Although always influenced by institutional constraints, WPAs can be powerful advocates for traditionally exploited writing instructors” (38).

“I found administrative work politically empowering. It gave me a sneak peak into the mechanisms of university bureaucracy, allowed me to see how incremental change was possible, and taught me how I might become an agent in institutional reform” (39).

“Critique is slow to effect change, and often neglects institution-specific exigencies.” (40).

“Through their commitment to the teaching of writing as a legitimate academic pursuit—a commitment that necessitated creating quality working conditions for all writing instructors—Grand Valley’s WPAs were able to attract and maintain a stable, experienced, and well-credentialed staff of composition faculty, committed pedagogues eager to engage in innovative practices such as directed self-placement, multi-grader portfolio assessment, and the development of an undergraduate writing major” (43).

“When ladder faculty ignore their non-tenure-track colleagues by single-mindedly campaigning for tenure-track positions, exploitation ensues.” (44)

makes the point that negotiation is necessary, utopia is not possible with academic labor unions. Compromise is the name of the game:

“Although some equate all forms of administration with a dance with the devil—and of course there’s an undeniably romantic appeal to such an equation and dismissal—most people involved with the labor movement understand that negotiation is at the heart of collective struggle. As we move toward better working conditions for composition instructors, we must continue to negotiate with the corporate university” (45)

“Perhaps the biggest professional compensation I received at Grand Valley, then, was not the solid wages and scholarly status I earned as a Composition Fellow, but the administrative imagination to envision better working conditions for all writing instructors, but particularly adjunct workers. Because of the time I’ve spent in a department that fosters equitable working conditions, I have recognized the power of administrative agency, and the empowering potential of WPA work” (45) – the real gift of her position as fellow at GVSU

Wants to “work together to realize alternative labor possibilities” (46).

White, Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA

White, Edward M. “Use It or Lose It: Power and the WPA.” Writing Program Administration 15:1-2 (Fall/Winter 1991), 3-12. Print.

White argues that WPAs have positions of power, and they must develop ways to wield that power with other faculty, department chairs, and administrators in order to protect their writing programs. White uses his own experience, when his WAC program was attacked, to explain strategies WPAs might take to assert their power. White’s argument is laced with military metaphors. White rejects the notion that the WPA position is powerless: instead, he argues, the WPA has inherent power (whether it is “official” or “unofficial”), and those who are unwilling to take on this power should reconsider whether or not they want to be a WPA. White believes that WPAs should be tenured faculty members so that they might be in the best position possible to argue for their programs (and, in turn, for the teaching of writing.)

Notable Notes

White tells a story about coordinating a WAC program (outside the English department), and the Dean telling him that he was losing budget, release time, faculty development money. Explains institutional politics – without a WPA at the table of chairs, no one could fight for WAC. White moved the WAC program out of the School of Humanities to the Office of Undergraduate Studies, where it was protected.

Compares university politics to “foreign relations” (3)

Explains that power moves are explained passively, as if they “were the most reasonable and logical consequence of facts out of anyone’s control” (3).

Explains that many WPAs identify as scholars and writers, not “administration,” even though that is the work that WPAs find themselves doing (5).

Does give the caveat that he was tenured and “knew the ropes” (6).

In his argument, White explains that WPAs need to know “where the enemies of our program lurk, what their motives and weapons are, and how we can marshal forces to combat them. We also need to see where our allies are and find out ways to strengthen them and to keep them friendly.” (6)

Admits that his approach/perspective may seem “overly military” but acknowledges that this is the name of the administrative game (6).

lists the data WPAs should have (7)

Argues against jWPAs – don’t put yourself in a compromised position, power-wise.

explains how WPAs can promote the teaching of writing in their programs (9)

advocates as a WPA/WAC coordinator focusing on younger, untenured faculty rather than bothering with converting the “untameable” tenured faculty.

The kinds of power a WPA has with administrators: 1. Having a good program that satisfies students (and faculty); 2. Writing well-written memos, reports; 3. Gathering data about writing skills of students; 4. The national professional network of WPAs, which is very supportive

A WPA’s power in relation to English Departments mirrors the contested relationship with rhetoric and composition and literature, it depends on how the local English department has worked out that relationship.

WPAs have the final power – “to resign” (11)

Quotable Quotes

“So I had absorbed from the atmosphere [his previous experience as an administrator] certain lessons: recognize the fact that all administration deals in power; power games demand aggressive players; assert that you have power (even if you don’t) and you can often wield it.” (3)

“But my campus experience made inescapable the fact that my job as WPA included being canny with power; the WAC program would have been doomed if I had not fought back against that ‘real power’ and defeated it. I had discovered a kind of power that does not appear in flow charts, power that most WPAs have, and I was able to use it to save the program. What I did was refuse to accept the condition of powerlessness” (5).

“We must empower ourselves to do our jobs” (6).

“WPAs in general live schizophrenically, hating power yet wielding it, devoid of official power (for the most part) yet responsible for large and complex programs” (6).

“If we really don’t want to deal in power, we had better step aside, or we will be doing more harm than good” (6).

“A careful WPA will use the three basic weapons of bureaucracy to deal with these bureaucratic foes: good arguments, good data, and good allies, mixed with caution and cunning.” (7)

“The most difficult part of being a WPA is combatting those who only have scorn for our enterprise” (8).

“As every WPA knows to his or her discomfort, the staff tend to view the WPA as the boss, no matter how little power the position may in fact hold. Of course, some WPAs are the boss, with the power and the burdens that the term suggests; but most have only the responsibility of recommending hiring and changes of status. But the major power that comes with being perceived as the boss is the opportunity to improve the teaching of writing” (9)

“Certainly, the most important aspect of the WPA’s job (after survival) is the improvement of instruction. And most WPAs have substantial real and perceived power to accomplish that end” (9)

“Power is ultimately a matter of perception.” (11)

Administrators usually view faculty members who administer programs (WPAs) as more powerful than these faculty members view themselves (11)

“The WPA has much power inherent in the position.”

“This paper is, I notice, governed by military metaphors, not the kind of thing we are used to reading in these polite pages about writing and teaching” (12).

“The only way to do the job of a WPA is to be aware of the power relationships we necessarily conduct, and to use the considerable power we have for the good of the program” (12).

April 6, 2009

Horning, Ethics and the jWPA

Horning, Alice. “Ethics and the jWPA.” In Untenured Faculty as Writing Program Administrators: Institutional Practices and Politics. Eds. Dew and Horning. West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2007. 40-57.

Horning argues that it is unethical for untenured faculty members to serve as writing program administrators. She defends her claim by using the ethical arguments of W.D. Ross (who draws on Biblical teachings, especially from the Old Testament) and Kant. jWPAs don’t have the expertise and experience that they need to be cross-curricular, all-university faces of writing programs and to do the managerial duties (scheduling, changing curriculum, hiring, firing) that are required of a WPA. Veteran faculty and senior WPAs in the field need to look out for jWPAs – even those who want the challenge of the position – by issuing a national policy statement against it.

Quotable Quotes

“It is unethical with junior faculty without tenure to hold WPA positions.” (40).

Notable Notes

WD Ross – Deuteronomy 22:10 – it is unlawful to yoke an ass and ox together because of the discrepancy in the ability to work.

Ross’s ethics rely on the idea of DUTY: 1st is fidelty – Promise-keeping: A department makes promises to a new hire and needs to give them the space and time to concentrate on teaching and scholarship, which will be what they are evaluated for tenure on (also this focus is repeated in the AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics)

Kant – don’t use people as a means to an end

senior faculty allowing eager junior faculty to serve as WPA is wrong – such a position is harmful to health, family life, and career – it’s like allowing a kid to pig out on candy

Enos and Borrowman, The Promise and the Perils

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

This post contains information about three different narrative essays in Section 6: Tenure, Promotion, and the WPA.

Langston, Camille. “A New WPA at a Small Private School with Large Public(ation) Expectations.” 182-190.

Langston’s story is like many other jWPA horror stories: eager to serve as WPA, she was asked in her first year to direct the program in her 2nd year. Her time, though she was supposed to focus on publication, was quickly eaten up with writing an official job description for the job (which was not recognized as a university administrative position but rather a department appointment), defending the English Department’s right to teach comp during core curriculum committee debates, and conducting a self-assessment of the program.

Peguesse, Chere L. “Fit for an Unfit Fittedness: National Writing Project Site Directors as WPA.” 190-203.

WPA positions don’t have to be internal (WPAs, WAC directors, writing center directors); Peguesse, in her personal narrative, explains how the work of a National Writing Project director is also WPA work, and like WPA work, is unrecognized by other faculty at the university as merit for tenure. She cites Burke in her title and her introduction, drawing on his argument that sometimes it is your training (in her case, focus on WPA work as internal) that becomes an incapacity for you. Her NWP work required her to coordinate with the public school system, run summer sessions, and write extensive grants (which she argued should be counted as peer-reviewed publications, but didn’t.) She also experienced a great deal of friction with the previous, untenured, part-time instructor who ran the program. She was initially denied tenure, but when she proved to the dean that her necessary publication was accepted and being printed, her dean wrote a letter that should give her tenure. She is not directing the NWP after another year, when she will train someone else.

Reid, E. Shelley. “Will Administrate for Tenure, or, Be Careful What You Ask For.” 203-211.

When hired, Reid was told her tenure case would be decided 1/3 on scholarship, 1/3 on teaching, and 1/3 on administrative work. That promise, though, was not upheld at tenure-time, because though some department members believed in it, it was not a belief held by the rest of the university faculty. She was told to couch her administrative work as pedagogical, which gutted her case for tenure.

“Handing around copies of WPA statements, smart as they are, may have no more lasting effect than passing out handbooks to first-year composition students.” (211)

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