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).

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