Philosophy of Writing Program Administration
In her plenary address at the 2018 Council of Writing Program Administrators’ annual convention, Susan Miller-Cochran, past chair of the Council of Writing Program Administrators[i], contended that WPAs should adopt guiding principles that inform their administrative decision making.[ii] Naming intentionality and compassion as hers, Miller-Cochran argued that by articulating their guiding principles administrators might be better prepared to align what they say they do as WPAs with what they actually do as WPAs.
Inspired by Miller-Cochran’s address, I use the space of this statement to articulate my own administrative guiding principles. In short, my approach to administration—much like teaching and research—is feminist. I strive to hear, value, and celebrate all voices and to lead with empathy, transparency, and consistency in all of my administrative efforts.
To that end, the paragraphs below illustrate my guiding principles of feminist administration, exemplified by my experience as the Assistant Director of the General Studies Writing (GSW) Program at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). GSW, the university’s first-year writing program, serves approximately 5200 undergraduate students each semester. I served the program as Assistant Director for two years, during a time of deep curricular revision and programmatic change, which included the re-merger of GSW into the English Department after 12 years as a standalone first-year writing program.
Students are always the writing program’s priority. I believe it important that as a writing program administrator I seek out, take interest in, and learn from 1) students’ experiences within the local writing program, and 2) the field’s understanding of what makes for an effective writing program. Involved in this priority, then, is administrating in full support of all writing program faculty—from beginning graduate student instructors through long-standing full-time faculty.
Prioritizing writing program students and faculty means asking questions such as,
What are students learning—and what ought they to be learning—in their writing courses?
What do students want from their writing courses/program? What do they need?
What curricular and co-curricular opportunities is the writing program offering its students?
What opportunities for faculty development does the writing program encourage and initiate in support of student success?
How is the writing program situated in relationship to the larger university, including university learning outcomes and assessments?
How does the writing program reflect and speak to the university’s strategic plan? And what is the writing program’s role in serving the institution’s commitment to the public good?
These questions can be answered in part, of course, by leading scholarship in rhetoric and composition. For example, I rely heavily on The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing[iii] to inform my administrative praxis. However, works authored to represent an array of diverse institutional settings must always be viewed in context, through the lens of the local writing program and university community. As such, I think it necessary in my role as WPA to be in constant conversation with the program’s students and faculty, whether in the form of the classes I teach, informal hallway conversations, professional development settings, surveys, or advisory committees.
At BGSU I regularly worked with students and faculty to engage in both curricular and co-curricular programmatic initiatives. For example, I participated as a member of GSW’s Curriculum Committee, where I worked in collaboration with GSW faculty and administrators to design a new first-year writing curriculum that served the needs of BGSU students and responded to current best practices in writing. Additionally, I co-founded and -edited WRIT: GSW Journal of First-Year Writing, for which I worked with partners at the university library to design and launch the open-access journal.
As an additional example of my philosophy in practice, I chaired three semi-annual Writing Showcase events where students in courses across the GSW program presented papers or posters from their first-year writing courses. My portfolio included full responsibility for the planning and implementation of the Showcase, which involved working with BGSU’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (CURS) to have student presenters recognized for experiential learning. I also worked with CURS to secure funding for prize money that was awarded to students for exceptional presentations at the Showcase events.
My work on Showcase planning/implementation, WRIT, and the GSW Curriculum Committee exemplifies my working together with program faculty on behalf of students. I worked additionally in my role as Assistant Director, however, to bring faculty together to engage in a programmatic culture of writing. As an example, I designed a faculty web page that brought faculty across campuses together, including profiles for faculty from both of BGSU’s campuses as well as our College Credit Plus (dual enrollment) colleagues. I also implemented initiatives for faculty development, including organizing a series of Brown Bag lunch workshops where GSW faculty and graduate teaching associates discussed writing pedagogy as praxis. Finally, I designed and implemented the composition practicum course for first-year graduate teaching associates, the Composition Instructors’ Workshop, focusing on current best practices in writing instruction and the embodied experience of teaching writing. Co-teaching the practicum course also included working with Program Assistants, graduate student peer mentors for the GSW Program, for whom I acted as a peer mentor.
My gWPA experience illustrates the complexity of administrative work. Writing program administration, as I see it, cannot be summarized into one particular metaphor: WPAs are colleagues, mentors, supporters, leaders, scholars, and innovators—we work in context and in support of specific goals. By articulating my guiding principles of feminist administration, I seek to illustrate my performance, and deep interest, in writing program administration.
[i] The Council of Writing Program Administrators is a national professional organization for WPAs. The Council hosts the annual CWPA convention, a professional conference for WPAs.
[ii] Miller-Cochran, Susan. “Innovation through Intentional Administration: Or, How to Lead a Writing Program Without Losing Your Soul.” 2018 Council of Writing Program Administrators Annual Convention, 26 July 2018, Hyatt Regency Sacramento, Sacramento, CA. Plenary Address.
[iii] Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project. Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing, CWPA, 2011, http://wpacouncil.org/framework.