Thursday, October 13, 2005

No Penguins Were Injured
In the Creation of this Blog Entry

As promised in my last entry, today I’m going to review some of the scholarship of the field to see if I can work towards a better understanding of the relationship between the writing center director and the writing program administrator. I’m really not sure how well this is going to work out, but I promise there will be penguins and a link to a page guaranteed to lift you out of the doldrums on those days when misconceptions described in North’s “Idea of a Writing Center” seems like a best-case scenario.

But first, what I’ve found so far. In a nutshell, I am apparently way more obsessed with the conceptual relationship between the WPA and WCD (Writing Center Director) than most folks. That is, I didn’t find much on this topic. The most notable exception to this claim is Carol Haviland and Denise Stephenson’s “Writing Centers, Writing Programs and WPAs” (The Writing Program Administrator's Resource: A Guide to Reflective Institutional Practice, 377-92). As part of their analysis, Haviland and Stephens forward the notion that “being a writing center WPA means setting aside the comfort of staying small and insular and working to see/know/create contexts for writing programs on specific campuses” (382). The do suggest, however, “directors who are not tenure track faculty may feel marginalized because of their lack of faculty status” (381), both on campus, and in one anecdote included in the story, by other WPAs. We may define ourselves as WPAs, then, but do others? This story also got me wondering: is “WPA” as a potential term of higher prestige in some circles? And, if so, is the WPA assignation constructed in an exchange between two individuals, who either confer expertise by naming / being named as a writing center director AND a WPA? By contrast, can it be used as a marker of lesser prestige to define another as a writing center director, but not a WPA? Hmmmm . . .. . .

Such would seem to be the case if we look to two other sources of information: job ads and James McDonald and Valerie Balester’s essay “A View of Status and Working Conditions: Relations between Writing Programs and Center Directors” (WPA 24.3 59-82). In the former case, I’ve seen (and I know that discussed with some of you) those writing center director ads that suggest these jobs for individuals who would “like to get a few years under their belt” before moving to the work of administering a course-based writing program. Such suggestions position writing center work as previous to (and presumably requiring less expertise than) administering course-based programs. In the case of McDonald and Balester’s essay, the data they gathered again suggests that the WPA designator affixes itself to the higher-paid, higher prestige position. And don’t I remember reading something somewhere (aside: you gotta love this blog thing – where else can I publicly cite a source as “something somewhere”) critiquing a CWPA statement for omitting writing center directors from the statement’s definition of “WPA”? Hmmm . . . gotta find time to look that up . . . .

Finally – and I admit this ruefully – but my own experience reflects these omissions, trends and biases. For my first TT job out of graduate school, I was hired as a writing center director at a Research II. I didn’t have any pubs or experience directing a center. Admittedly, I had been a tutor since Hector was a pup and had served as a graduate-student composition program WPA. But I wonder, would I have gotten that first job if the position was reversed: if I had administered a writing center as a graduate student and it was a job for a Director of Composition? I really don’t know, but I think it’s an interesting question to ask.

Four years later, I’m a Director of Writing (still TT – someday real soon I’m going to successfully track that tenure, I swear), in a job that includes administrating the writing center, but also the writing programs and WAC. (Aside: Who was it, anyway that said you know you’ve been a WPA too long when you’ve taken over the writing center, the writing program and you’re just about to invade Poland?). I have a much better budget and access to the senior administration than when I was “just” a writing center director (and, yes, I’m using “just” ironically). I find myself wondering how much of my enhanced say so-is institutional and how much is related to the fact that I’m “more of an administrator.” Another interesting question, I think.

Now that I’ve provided the questions, I’m sure you, gentle reader, can give me the answer, no?

Okay, that’s enough text for one day. Now for that fun website I promised:

Site of the Day:
Did the Dean turn down your budget request?
Did faculty send students to you for spelling help and oral hygiene remediation?
Time to do a little penguin whacking.

(be sure to have your volume on so that you can hear it say "wheee!")

Don’t get an ulcer, take it out on the penguin.


At 5:07 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

Whoah, what's with the Spammer comments? Is that reflective of your Q & A to come at IWCA, Melissa?

On the WPA/WCD relationship, time to crank up the way-back machine and look at Gary Olson and Evelyn Ashton-Jones' 1988 WPA article "Writing Center Directors: The Search for Professional Status" (also reprinted in Landmark Essays on Writing Centers). Based on their survey of 188 "freshman English directors" nationwide, they concluded that “freshman English directors are more likely to view the writing center director simply as an administrator, not as a teacher, a scholar, or even a writing specialist” (48).

Seventeen years later, I'm wondering if that perspective changed, particularly as more and more WCDs have become WPAs (like you, M). The thing about this situation that bugs me is that the opposite vector never happens--WPAs don't, by and large, become WCDs. It's a drop in status in the eyes of most administrations and administrators. And my casual scanning of job ads (how's that for research?!) shows me that WPA positions are far more likely to be tenure track and WCD positions are far less likely to be tenure track. We all know of several noteworthy institutions in the last couple of years who simultaneously hired a WPA and a WCD. Even if both of these positions were faculty lines, the WPA went to a star (usually hired at associate or full level) and the WCD went to, well, some fine competent person who was in no way even considered for the WPA position.

Okay, I gotta go check out those spammy websites now.


At 7:08 AM, Blogger /WCJ/ said...

I hear you, Neal -- and the assumption that writing a center is easier is really odd to me, because (in my massive experience) it requires skills you wouldn't neccessarily learn in graduate school -- how to write a budget, how to revise a budget, how to report to a senior administrator in a manner that won't make them think you're a doofus. Nothing "easy" about these, particularly if you're coming in as an assistant professor.

I'm probably spamming becuase of the links I'm putting in -- but heck, they're so fun!

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