Revolution Lullabye

February 23, 2009

Phelps, Composing Administration as a Writer

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Composing Administration as a Writer.” CCCC 1996.

The theories and practices of writing, the expertise of a composition and rhetoric scholar, can be the source for a WPA’s administrative strategies in four distinctive ways: the WPA can use her own writing to complete the intellectual and bureuacratic tasks of administration; the WPA can foster a writing community in the program; the WPA can make writing a root metaphor the work that happens in the program, transforming the program jargon and thinking; and the WPA can write scholarship about administrative practice and reflection. A WPA who uses writing in these ways is using writing in its many functions simulataneously. Those functions of writing include institutional invention, performative, framing, contact, and identity formation. Being delberate about using writing to administrate bridges the gap between author and agency, showing that administrative structures do have human faces and are, like all humans, adaptive creatures able to change.

Quotable Quotes

.”Most people mean by administration “whatever the administrator does,” but my analysis demonstrates that the functions and genres of administration are simultaneously something an individual “composes” and also a widespread, diverse set of cultural activities and structures mediated by texts and socially produced genres. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of agency and action in administration does not show up in our usage of the word. When we look at writing as a surrogate for “administration,” though, we discover that what administrators do best is to orchestrate and respond to this complex activity. Administration is all the work that gets done. Administration is the organizational structures and processes and roles—and the genres—in terms of what happens.  It is not simply what the administrator does, or autonomously composes” (12-13)

“I’m suggesting that the administrator who employs writing as a preferred tool for problem-solving and conducting daily business is likely to find herself on a slippery slope, the relationship between writing and administration sliding constantly from the instrumental use of writing as a practical tool toward the metaphoric identification of administration with writing and rhetoric. This prospect is enhanced when the administrator’s strategies and metaphoric resources for practicing administration derive not only from personal experience as an academic, technical, or creative writer and a literate person, but also from the scholarly investigation of written language.” (2)

Notable Notes

framing is managing meaning by putting one metaphor, one way to view reality, over other through metaphors, stories, spin, etc.

genres and administrative writing are multifunctional. The same document can have many purposes.

Phelps, Administration as Design Art

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Administration as Design Art.”

Writing program administrators should see themselves as designers, the programs and institutions they work in as designs and sites of design, and their work as WPAs as design art. Phelps draws on the work of the New London Group, Gunther Kress, and architects Karl Weith and Stewart Brand to offer a new lens to administrative work to not just see their work as design but to also challenge them to think of their programs as always designable, never concluding in a final design. Writing programs can be sites of institutional change if they continue designing and re-desigining after their initial structure is put into place, and writing programs have the unique complex, contradictory, and improvisational place in the academy to which enact change because they are a managable size with connections, like a sprawling network, across the campus. Phelps shows how crucial it is to reach out beyond one’s own discipline to find design inspiration in all different fields. Phelps also argues that a WPA does much more than design curriculum: the teaching staff, the physical space of the institution, the relationships with different deans and other departments and faculty – these all must be designed.

Quotable Quotes

Object: “to locate administration as design art at the juncture of the practical and productive arts” (7)

“This is the road I advocate for writing programs as transformers: design things that work, but are below the radar, friendly and sprawling, messy and temporary, constantly learning” (26)

“I suggest that it is a mistake to set up a writing program primarily as an instrument to critique or change an institution. It will do that as a consequence of your designing the program to meet the intrinsic goals of its situated design, because writing programs require institutional redesign to locate, support, and implement their characteristic purposes. But theprocess, or rather consequences, should be indirect and ordinary, not grandiose, direct, and instrumentalist.” (26)

Notable Notes

high road/low road of use

designs should not be fixed, they should never end

the challenge of administration is that you cannot design in a bubble: you must jump in and design something that you can’t have complete control, management, or knowledge of. That’s the downfall of the theories presented by Kress and the New London Group

the importance of the feedback loop: remaining sensitive to context, unpredictable, in the moment, temporary – like jazz improv

the importance of construction and building over analysis and critique

Questions: Why is this the way it is? Can it be designed better? Does it have to be this way?

February 22, 2009

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

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

 

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

 

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

 

Quotable Quotes

 

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

In that choice, we risked chaos.”

 

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

 

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

 

 

Notable Notes

 

Great Groups

 

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

 

Reference to working on institutional invention piece

 

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

 

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

 

Ecological/systems  model

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Coevolving systems

 

Move from romance into a fruitful marriage

 

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

 

Speech as intellectual work of a writing program administrator

February 17, 2009

Phelps, Institutional Invention

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Institutional Invention: (How) Is It Possible?” In Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. Eds. Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer. Knoxville: The U of Tennessee P, 2002.

Phelps argues that institutions can be sites of invention in two ways: they themselves can constantly restructure their ideals, governance, finances, and curriculum, and second, universities can consciously structure itself so that it provides a creative environment for all those who work there. Her argument is situated in the move on many American colleges and universities to restructure to a more bueracratic system, one where administrators and staff instead of the traditional full-time faculty have governance over the institution. In this type of system, distributed leadership is key.Writing program administrators need to realize the power of seizing leadership in order to make institutional change within their own programs to provide environments for creativity, collaboration, and community among the students, faculty, staff, and part-time instructors. Phelps looks at the institution through a system approach, showing how it is both chaotic/creative and structured simulatenously.

Quotable Quotes

University as a creative system: The “refreshing focus on the inventiveness of a human system rather than exclusively on its function of distributing and controlling power” (80).

“I find it fruitful to juxtapose an nderstanding creativity as systemic wiht a concept of sufficiently complex systems as inherently creative. Together they provide a new metaphorical frame that helps us define problems and generate specific questions about institutional invention.” (79)

Notable Notes

combining practical experience of WPA and a rhetorician’s knowledge of understanding how to react and communicate in changing circumstances. The importance of rhetoric in institutional leadership

further questions to explore at the end of the article

goals: develop concept of invention as emergent phenomenon of institutions; how this concept changes how we think of leadership; the barriers to institutional invention in institutions today (71)

practical art of institutional invention (71)

February 3, 2009

Phelps, Matching Form to Function in Writing Program Design

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Matching Form to Function in Writing Program Design.” Talk. Michigan State University. 7 November 2002.

A writing program needs to be designed so that it finds a home between the two, often conflicting functions of writing programs: 1. the horizontally-structured undergraduate writing program that serves all departments across the university and 2. the departmental, research-oriented faculty core that provide the theoretical foundations for the pedagogical work being done. In order to do this, a writing program must be independent, controlled at a high administrative level (a department cannot effectively run a university-wide program), recognize alternate forms of scholarship by its faculty; and resist calcifying as a traditional department, because that will squelch moves towards experimentation and context-driven negotiation and redefinition. A writing program must have some flexibility because it is a dynamic entity, always changing shape and focus to meet the changing demands and circumstances of the institution and its students. This doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be defined, however; it just must be conceived broadly as an unique part of the institution that is always growing and experimenting, both in the classroom and in its structure and organization.

Quotable Quotes

“A university writing faculty must have a core research faculty to authorize its teaching mission” (4)

“The political effectivity of a writing program rests on its ability to be accepted and integrated within the intellectual mainstream of a university” (5) – importance of full-time, researching faculty to lead the program

“There is a fundmental mismatch between the needs, goals, and nontraditional functions of writing programs and the available forms and structures in higher education institutions for organizing and implementing them. For that reason, writing programs are a valuable irritant and provocation to examine how systmeic features of academic life can impede desired innovations” (7).

A writing program design must somehow find a way structurally to reconcile needs, features, and functions that gravitate toward one of these two poles—the complex structure and broad horizon of the whole system versus the human-size community for living and learning; the decentered, loosely coupled network and the focused core; the generalist, distributed instructional mission and the expertise that grounds it and finds its source and expression in scholarship and advanced teaching.” (11)

Notable Notes

writing program as enterprise to recognize the intellectual and programmatic nature of it (4)

expertise and generalist functions

writing programs as Pluto – are they really a discipline (is it really a planet?)

connective tissue that holds the university together (8)

importance of locating a writing program – placing it high enough administratively to have the resources and flexibility it needs.

Christopher Alexander – growing whole, design

Phelps, The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Institutional Logic of Writing Programs: Catalyst, Laboratory, and Pattern for Change.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction: Postsecondary. Eds. Richard Bullock and John Trimbur. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1991. 155-170.

Instead of focusing on what the relationship between rhet/comp and literature can be in an English department, Phelps takes a step back, widens the scope, and discusses what a independent writing program can do for the institution as a whole. Higher education is going through a multifacted crisis (the devaluing of teaching and undergraduate education due to the focus on research, the absence of community due to specialization, and the employment of under-paid, under-trained part-time and graduate teachers), but the theoretical foundations of a writing program makes it a prime candidate for a site of institutional change: the field of composition highly values quality pedagogy and undergraduate education; a writing program serves the whole institution and therefore must reach out across disciplines; and the large, diverse cohort of teachers allows for the construction of professional communities. Writing programs must confront several challenges to be viable. In addition to negotiating the local political and institutional constraints of each university, writing programs have unique budget, space, technology, labor, tenure, evaluation, and structural needs that must be administratively met in order for the writing program to be viable.

Quotable Quotes

“The most important contribution I think writing programs can make, though, with respect to higher education at large, is to exemplify the struggle to foster community in the face of the prevailing mood of skepticism, critique of all cultural institutions and their traditions, radical individualism, and loss of fellowship that troubles our colleges and universities” (167) – through community building and professional development of professors, part-time, grad students, undergraduates

“With luck, and propitious local circumstances, this situational fit enables writing programs to become a positive force for change by enacting their own logic: operating experimentally and hypothetically; nuturing a fragile sense of community in talk, text, and collaborative work; and seeking interdependencies where they can find them.” (168)

“the concrete practices of community” (167)

Notable Notes

rhetorical concept of kairos – fitting into the historical and situational context – by having writing programs lead institutional change (168) 

the field of rhetoric/composition as a model, a logic for writing programs to develop and follow

get out of the trap of quibbling over departmental structure

use Syracuse as a model

Ernest Boyer (Carnegie Foundation) – higher ed reform that Phelps bases her argument for writing programs on

Themes of the disciplines that work for institutional change:

  1. writing helps students become active learners and meaning-makers
  2. common literacy strategies adapted for diverse rhetorical situations
  3. collaborative work
  4. communicate patiently through hands-on talk and text – create a community (163)

Challenges 164-166

Writing program acts as collaborator and as a catalyst, an experimenter, for change.

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