Revolution Lullabye

November 9, 2010

Royer and Gilles, The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing

Royer, Daniel J., and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.” A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Ed. Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 21-37. Print.

The authors explain how an independent department of academic, creative, and professional writing was created at Grand Valley State University in 1999. The move towards creating a stand-alone department was a decision made within the larger, literature-centered English department: after a composition specialist was hired in the early 1990s to administer the program, more and more tenure-track faculty in composition and rhetoric were added, the first-year writing curriculum was revamped, and the composition program won supporters across campus and in the administration. Royer and Gilles argue that much of the desire to create an independent program arose from a question of values: the rhetoric and composition faculty wanted to teach –and were willing to teach multiple sections of composition – in a community that valued the teaching of writing instead of in one that thought of it, as the authors write, as “cleaning the toilet” (23). The new department was created around two ideas: 1. that that those with PhD s in rhetoric and composition are trained to teach more than just the required first-year course, so the department developed an undergraduate major to create the vertical curriculum needed for faculty to teach upper-division electives and 2. that teaching first-year writing was a valued part of every person’s teaching responsibility. Royer and Gilles argue that placing rhetoric and composition in a separate department allows the discipline to be taught alongside and with other liberal arts and sciences rather than being placed underneath them, as preparation and support for other fields’ specialized study.

Quotes and Notes

“The point was about the value of composition within the academic unit. If the department reluctantly valued composition at the rate of one course a year, then to teach three or four courses a year would be a way of devaluing oneself and one’s work vis-à-vis what the departmental community claims, in practice, is important” (28).

Important point that connects to Syracuse: that GVSU hired its first rhet/comp specialist in 1990, around the same time that many other institutions in the country did (22). The thought was “simply to hire one or two composition specialists who could direct the program and keep the other faculty abreast of the latest developments in the field” (22).

Benefits of independence: focus on the discipline (at GVSU – academic, professional, creative writing); valuing of the teaching of academic writing, open lines of communication with other departments instead of being inside English, hiring and budget (and #s of major students) goes directly to the writing program instead of being administered through English.

Staffed some courses with postdoc fellows.

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

February 3, 2009

O’Neill, Crow, Burton, A Field of Dreams

O’Neill, Peggy, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton, eds. A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Logan, Utah: Utah State UP, 2002.

Royer, Daniel J. and Roger Gilles. “The Origins of a Department of Academic, Creative, and Professional Writing.”

This chapter explains the history of the gradual separation of writing and composition duties from the rest of an English department faculty and the subsequent creation of an independent department in academic, creative, and professional writing at Grand Valley State University. Over the course a of decade in the 1990s, the English department hired eight new tenure-track faculty in rhet/comp (in a large department of 40 full-time faculty), and with this cohort of writing specialists, teamed with part-time instructors and full-time, post-doc composition fellows, the literature faculty gradually opted out of teaching the required composition courses. When the administration discovered this imbalance, they told the English chair that until more faculty taught composition, there would be no new hires, as it was clear by their attitude that composition was low on the department’s hierarchy. The faculty then were faced with three choices: give up teaching elective speciality courses so everyone could teach a section of composition, hire new comp/rhet faculty into the department to teach it, or reduce the number of sections by allowing some students to opt out of the course. The faculty, realizing that none of these solutions was desirable, agreed to allow academic, creative, and professional writing become its own department, one completely focused on the discipline of writing studies, able to branch out and make partnerships across campus without having to be moderated by a large English department that wasn’t interested in rhetoric and composition as a legitimate field of study.

Quotable Quotes

“Indeed, separate from English, writing can finally begin to see itself once again within the context of the liberal arts more generally – rather than as a ‘basic skill’ relegated to preliberal education. It can now exist alongside other parts of the liberal-arts whole, rather than beneath them, servicing them, holding them up.” (36).

Notable Notes

A rhet/comp PhD is trained to teach more than first-year composition; advertising for a job that only teaches first-year (because the rest of the faculty don’t want to teach it) isn’t going to attract quality candidates.

Developing the culture of the program – valuing writing as the central organizing concept – is essential for new departments

confidence for making an independent department worked came from developing a successful university-wide writing program and writing assessment/evaluation system.

Agnew, Eleanor and Phyllis Surrency Dallas. “Internal Friction in a New Independent Department of Writing and What the External Conflict Resolution Consultants Recommended.” 38-49.

This chapter shows the problems of a top-down administrative decision to create an independent writing and linguistics department at Georgia Southern University in 1997. The administration decided that the large, 75-faculty member department of English and Philosophy needed restructuring, and the faculty submitted three models for consideration: stay a single department with three program directors (writing, literature, graduate studies); become two separate departments (philosophy and literature, writing and linguistics); become two separate departments under a new school. The administration picked the second model, thus divorcing the faculty from each other and withholding any collaboration and collection that would have come from being part of the same school. The faculty were not consulted about what department they would be placed in, so the department of writing and linguistics inherited several literature instructors with their MAs along with new rhet/comp hires. The diversity of viewpoints about pedagogy, content, research expectations, compounded by different salaries and degrees (PhDs and MAs) created a department rife with internal conflict. An external conflict resolution team came in and suggested structural changes, such as developing two associate chair positions, and joint projects, like the National Writing Project and a new BA in writing and linguistics have united the department somewhat since.

Quotable Quotes

“The faculty in our department were polarized based largely on degree and background – Ph.D’s versus master’s, composition-rhetoric background versus literature background, new hires versus veterans. But we wonder if it is possible that the fighting and one-upping were exacerbated because of the low status, low salaries, and perception as a service department, which both groups have in the whole academic system” (47).

Notable Notes

Warning – don’t go with restructuring just because administration pushes for it. Faculty need to be on board and know what is happening, understand the identities and cultures being made and reinforced.

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