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).
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.
“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).