Revolution Lullabye

June 23, 2015

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).

May 25, 2011

Toner, Good Teaching and Good Writing

Toner, Lisa  “Good teaching and good writing: Practices in public life and rhetorical ethics.”  In Galin, Jeffrey R.; Carol Peterson Johnson; J. Paul Haviland (Eds.), Teaching/writing in the late age of print; Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2003. 253-263.

Toner argues that students should write about decisions and policies in their local or campus community, as it gives them a position of authority and, if done over a series of smaller assignments, prods students to explore the viewpoints of a variety of stakeholders. By the end of the course, after exploring the issue, students have a deeper, more broad rhetorical authority from which to talk from. The course reflects real practices of research and inquiry and guides students through the process of learning to speak for themselves and for others fairly and ethically – to see legitimacy in critique.

Notes and Quotes

Respecting the dignity of the student, critical thinking: “A good writing teacher respects and facilitates students’ struggles of constructing voice in a constrained agency and helps students avoid the paralysis that comes with recognizing the legitmacy of others’ critique” (253)

Repetition: “Students’ openness to others’ views evolves through writing several assignments, not just through a single research paper or persuasive essay” (253).

Sequence of assignments: 1. identify issue, context, and justify research for it; 2. specualate economic/political/legal/ethical/personal interests of the stakeholders; 3. results of a survey of opinions of a relevant group; 4. write letters to a campus decision maker

At Wheeling Jesuit University

Content in a composition course: “What students and others write for the course is concrete information they take with them at the end of the semester…Writing teachers can create and maximize pedagogical opportunities when both the subject written about and the writing subject concide.” (262)

“Such moments [hypocritical moments – when writers see contradictions in themselves and their beliefs] put a writer at the interface between a self-centered rhetorical ethic and other-oriented public life that begs taking responsibility for one’s assumptions, exclusions, and relatedness to various communities” (262).

May 18, 2011

The International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education, Go Forth and Teach: The Characteristics of Jesuit Education

The International Commission on the Apostolate of Jesuit Education, Go Forth and Teach: The Characteristics of Jesuit Education. Originally published in 1986.

This published collection of the essential characteristics of Jesuit education provides Jesuit secondary schools and colleges with a common vision and benchmark to which assess and evaluate their educational objectives. The first Ratio (characteristics of Jesuit education) was published in 1586.

Key question: What is the distinctive nature of Jesuit education? There are 28 characteristics of Jesuit education listed, divided into nine sections, each section preceded by a statement of the Ignatian vision that illuminates that group of characteristics. The tenth section explains Ignatian pedagogy.

Notes and Quotes

Characteristics (of the 28) that seem to illuminate writing pedagogy:

the development of effective communication skills and the cultivation of the affective and creative dimension of human life (5-6)

the role of the individual in a larger community (6)

growth in the responsible use of freedom is necessitated on personal relationships between student and teacher (7) – cura personalis

education is tailored to the individual student’s need (7)

students learn to be self-reflective, independent learners (7)

teachers are encouraged to engage in lifelong education, development, reflection, and growth (8)

students discern values by wrestling with differing points of view and the values that underlie them (8)

education for justice: issues about justice are included in the curriculum, “give counter-witness to the values of the consumer society”, awareness and involvment in the serious issues of today (11)

stress community values and the fact that talents should be cultivated for the good of others (11)


seek magis  – seek human excellence, promote excellence

ongoing professional training and development (17)

“The curriculum should be so integrated that each individual course contributes to the overall goal of the school….The pedagogy is to include analysis, repetition, active reflection, and synthesis; it should combine theoretical ideas with their applications” (18)

December 9, 2010

DeVoss et al, Distance Education

DeVoss, Danielle, et al. “Distance Education: Political and Professional Agency for Adjunct and Part-Time Faculty, and GTAs.” In Moving a Mountain. Eds. Schell and Stock. Urbana: NCTE, 2000.

Statistics show that nontenured and adjunct instructors are far more likely to staff complex, time-consuming distance-education courses than tenured faculty because they are more willing to take on a pedagogical risk (needing the pay) and often have more up-to-date technological skills. The authors argue that these distance education courses need to be move from the sidelines and there needs to be adequate training, support, and compensation for those teaching them. The challenges of distance education raise questions for teachers, programs, universities, and the discipline at large: what effects come from distance education? How do we respond to them? Who is repsonsible?

Notes and Quotes

rise in distance education course offerings reflects the changing demographics of the American college student.

her distance education course reached over 50 students at 23 sites; her classes were video and audio-taped

December 1, 2010

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group, 1999

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group 03.1. Insert in College Composition and Communication 50.1 (1999): Print.  

Forum  publishes articles, essays, and reflections written by non-tenure-track faculty members and pieces written in support of improving the working conditions of these contingent faculty. There is a focus on organizing, unionizing, and collective bargaining.

This edition of Forum commented on the activities surrounding the Non-Tenure-Track SIG at CCCC in Atlanta (March 1999), which was one of the most well-attended NTT SIGs. After the SIG meeting, Eileen Schell (co-chair of the Task Force on Improving the Working Conditions of Part-time/Adjunct Faculty) helped lead a rally focused on NTT faculty with invited speakers like Ira Shor, Karen Thompson, Leo Parascondola, and Steve Robinson. Forum and the NTT SIG and the Task Force are all working on a Press Kit for contingent faculty groups to gather support across their campuses and communities.

Bobbi Kirby-Werner is still the editor of Forum

Teresa M. Purvis, “Creating Equity for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?” – Purvis is a past editor of Forum and past chair of the Part-Time Faculty Forum at CCCC.
NTT faculty cannot rely on the actions of large professional organizations to improve their lot (MLA, CCCC): “The solution, if any is to be found, must originate with the institutions themselves and with the individuals who accept non-tenure-track appointments, whether full- or part-time” (A3). Discusses responsibility on the part of professional organizations, colleges and institutions (to their students), department and program administrators, full-time tenure-track faculty, and NTT faculty themselves.

Mike Evces, “Review of Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction by Eileen Schell”
Schell’s book argues that labor issues in teaching and administering composition (contingent labor) need to be taken up more widely and seriously by the field because to not do so is to be illiterate about higher education’s professional and institutional world. We, as a discipline, understand the importance of teaching our students to be literate in multiple ways – we, too, need to be literate about the constraints and structures of our own working environments. Schell’s book also shows how composition is a field that exploits women and looks at the shortcomings of feminist theory and pedagogy in composition. She argues for the adoption of collectivism, unionization as social feminist principles and gives concrete ideas for change: full-time positions, professionalizing working conditions, organizing unions, and restructuring the first-year composition requirement.

Patrick Kavanagh, “Creating a More Perfect Union: Cultivating Academic Citizenship in the Face of Higher Education Restructuring.”
The move to a corporate university involves restructuring the university to both improve productivity and cut costs. This has led to, in part, a move to rely more on part-time labor and graduate students to teach undergraduate students. Kavanagh argues that the best way to correct some of the workplace problems in the corporate university is collective bargaining. Shows that the problem is beyond composition – calls for an effort for writing teachers to join the ranks of other non-tenure-track faculty across the university through organizations like AAUP.

Thomas J. Ernster, “Restoring the Spirit in Academe.”
Ernster argues that the only way to start solving the labor problem in the academy (and in composition) is for tenured and tenure-track faculty and NTT faculty to join ranks as “co-participants.” The rise in PhDs in rhetoric and composition has squeezed out jobs for those with MAs.

April 29, 2009

Royer and Gilles, Directed Self-Placement

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “Directed Self-Placement: An Attitude of Orientation.” CCC 50 (1998): 54-70. In Assessing Writing. Eds. Huot and O’Neill. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 233-248.

Directed self-placement is an assessment practice that shifts the responsibilty of placing students in the right first-year composition section from the teachers/WPA/administration to the students themselves. Gilles and Royer describe how they developed the idea and explain its benefits: cost-effectiveness, efficiency, a decrease in complaints by students and teachers, positive attitudes in basic writing and first-year courses, and, most importantly, a sense of “rightness,” telling and showing students that they can be entrusted, with guidance, to making decisions about their own education. They argue that directed self-placement is as (or more) valid and reliable than placing students into sections based on their standardized test scores or the score on a timed essay. Directed self-placement is grounded in pragmatic (Dewey) educational philosophy and looks inward, to the needs of students, giving them power and control and starting a culture of communication from the first day on campus..

Quotable Quotes

“Our placement program thus relies on honest student inquiry and interactive participation” (246).

“Normally, the placement universe revolves around teachers; we choose the methods, we score the essays, we tell students what courses to take. Now we began to envision students at the center” (239).

Notable Notes

In the first few years that their writing program implemented directed-self placement (explained and conducted at freshman orientation), 22% of incoming freshman self-placed themselves in basic writing.

simplicity and elegance, honesty about directed self-placement

narrative at beginning about how students are introduced and guided through directed self-placement at orientation

placement tests should be future-directed, about a student’s education, not focused on what teachers might learn about students from one decontextualized sit-down writing prompt

March 28, 2009

The New London Group, A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies

The New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” In Multiliteracies. Eds. Cope and Kalantzis. London: Routledge, 2000. 9-37.

This article, published prior to this collection, lays out the New London Group’s fundamental arguments. They see current literacy education as inadequate for preparing students for full participation in their working, community, and personal lives, arguing that because literacies and discourses are central to these “lifeworlds,” and since those literacies aren’t the literacies taught in schools, literacy curriculum needs to change to take into account the multiliteracies inherent in the 21st century communication technology and the multiliteracies of students’ diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. They advocate that literacy curriculum be organized around the concept of Design, teaching students the steps of surveying the available designs, going through the design process, and remaking themselves and society through producing the redesigned. In order for literacy curriculum to be changed in this way, educators need a metalanguage to describe the types of meaning and discourse available to design and create with and pedagogical strategies for encouraging their students to expand their literacies (what they deem the “what” and the “how” of a pedagogy of multiliteracies.)

Quotable Quotes

“An authentically democratic new vision of schools must include a vision of meaningful success for all; a vision of success that is not defined exclusively in economic terms and that has embedded within it a critique of hierarchy and economic injustice” (13).

“the proliferation of communications channels and media supports and extends cultural and subcultural diversity” (9).

no “glib and tokenistic pluralism” (19).

“As curriculum is a design for social futures, we need to introduce the notion of pedagogy as Design.” (19).

“Through their co-engagement in Designing, people transform their relations with each other, and so transform themselves” (22).

“All written text is also a process of Visual Design” (29) – important connection with graphic design, Wysocki, George – desktop publishing

“Designing restores human agency and cultural dynamism to the process of meaning-making” (36).

Notable Notes

working lives and connection with fast capitalism/postFordism, importance of collaboration in schools, sense in society that to be successful is to get to the top even though there’s not enough room up there.

taking diversity and multiliteracies on as a resource in pedagogy and community

people have multiple, overlapping identities because they belong to many different communities and use many different discourses

available designs always include the discoures of those designing and include the grammars of all the semiotic systems and orders of discourse

listening and reading are also productive forms of designing because the listeners and readers make meaning by combining what they are taking in with their own experiences

good graphic of the grammars of the types of meaning on page 26

explains in detail the four methods of the pedagogy of multiliteracies

design requires agency and responsibility (36).

design as both a noun and a verb

children’s childhoods are co-opted by mass gloabl media and invasive global texts (16)

March 25, 2009

Gouge, Conversation at a Crucial Moment

Gouge, Catherine. “Conversation at a Crucial Moment: Hybrid Courses and the Future of Writing Programs.” College English 71:4 (March 2009) 32-362.

WPAs need to anticipate, not react, to moves to create online courses and curriculum in their writing programs. By anticipating, they will be able to retain control over the design and assessment of the courses, a design and assessment that should reflect the goals of the entire program, not just respond to the constraints of the technology of online teaching. Gouge contests the idea that assessment in hybrid courses is more objective than in face-to-face courses by looking particularly at the hybrid courses offered through Texas Tech in its ICON (Interactive Composition Online Program). Gouge’s article includes a brief section of the origins of online teaching – pointing out that it has its roots in centuries-old correspondance studies – and explains both the advantages and disadvantages of “hybrid” courses.

Quotable Quotes

“There is no such thing as value-free, objective hierarchy of power, even if that power is distributed” (relates to assessment in online courses.) (355).

“In spite of ICON’s best intentions to provide students wiht a fairer assessment process and in spite of its explicit claims of the possibility of objectivity in evaluation, the structure of the evaluating process ultimately undermines these claims and asserts the value of the subjective position of the classroom instructor – the instructor with the knowledge and experience to make him or her a final authority. The result is a program that propagates the myth that ‘fairer grading’ means that students should be evaluated objectively. However, the result is also a hybrid program structure that undermines what it purports to value and values what its structure is claimed to have been designed to prevent” (356).

“We need to be careful not to allow the technology to structure our programs, even if our programs are being restructured to incorporate the best uses of new technologies. Writing programs ought to be designed such that the program structure supports the logic of the rhetorical processes that the program intends to teach students” (342).

Notable Notes

with hybrid courses – lead with the values of the program

WPAs have the responsibility to teach themselves about online teaching to act as the best advocates and designers for their programs

February 19, 2009

Berkenkotter, Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts

Berkenkotter, Carol. “Student Writers and Their Sense of Authority over Texts.” CCC 35.3 (October 1984) 312-319.

The field promotes peer-response, whether through writers groups or class workshops, as an important element in the writing process, yet it is unclear how helpful peer critique is to students who are, sometimes for the first time, emerging as writers with a sense of authority over their texts. Berkenkotter shows the range of responses students might have to peer response through three case studies, each of a student who has recorded his or her composing and revision process in a series of think-aloud protocols and whose peer workshop groups and teacher conferences were tape recorded as well. One student resisted all peer critique; another student listened to peer critique but did not completely cede his own vision and authority of his writing; the third student ceded too much of her own authority, changing her essay in ways that her peers suggested but that she did not completely agree with. Teachers need to keep these varying reactions to peer response in mind when constructing their pedagogy.

Notable Notes

some students feel responsibility to writers; others do not know how to compromise their needs and the readers’ needs.

tenuous situation with a student who is just emerging as a writer

February 9, 2009

Rose and Weiser, The WPA as Researcher and Archivist

Rose, Shirley and Irwin Weiser. “The WPA as Researcher and Archivist.” In The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C. Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 275-302.

Writing program administrators need to see archiving the program’s records as an intregral and necessary part of their job, for it provides a rich source for future WPAs to understand the history and development of the specific program, and it invites questions that result in further WPA-led research in the program. Archiving takes more than just scanning documents and saving them or throwing them in a file cabinet; every writing program needs to develop documentation strategies that create systems in which to evaluate, analyze, and store records so that they can be both a usable and accessible archive. It is vital that the WPA oversees the archival process, for only she has the disciplinary knowledge through which to understand the potential rhetorical importance of a document (both currently and for future WPAs.) Futhermore, creating an archive of WPA documents demonstrates that WPA work is important knowledge that should be kept and looked at in the future.

Quotable Quotes

“Records become an archiveand thus a potential resource for research when intellectual control has been exercised over them; that is, they must be organized and accessible to use. Thus, archiving, like research, is a deliberate activity, one requiring the exercise of agency” (277).

“Writing program research and writing program records management are essential and interdependent responsbilities of every WPA” (276).

WPA work “merits documentation, preservation, and subsequent investigation” (284).

Notable Notes

work with professional archivist, but take responsibility of record storage and documentation strategy in your own hands

document-event relationship; shifting significance of a document with different audiences over time

importance of collaboration with document creators to create a dynamic documentation system that retains records as they are being made

the outcome of WPA research (through archiving) is immediate with obvious impact

difficulty of carving out the time with all other more immediate WPA duties to go about creating and maintaining an archive, requires long-range vision for the future of the program

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