Thursday, March 31, 2016

Theorizing

Since we may or may not get back to the topic of creating theories I wanted to pose some of the questions I had from Rose and Weiser's article.


  • How do we make our theories seem concrete instead of just an imagining of what we think should happen?
  • How do we need to verify/support/prove a theory in humanities with empirical research?
  • If we don't then what do we use to verify/support/prove our theory?
  • How can we make people believe/see that our theories are good theories? What do we need to provide them with? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Weiser and Rose' "Theorizing," Hemmeter's "Phenomenological Communities," and the Burkean Parlour

In Tom Hemmeter's "WPs as Phenomenological Communities," he argues that theorizing is problematic because it turns the physical world into cold abstraction, attempting to take social constructs out of reality and categorize them, as though one could actually take anything out of its living, breathing, real-world environment. He fights for community, and criticizes how we tend to work alone in our heads, theorizing but never really doing anything. In my 605 class, my almost entirely creative writing cohort tends to criticize academics for not affecting real change out in the world. When we discussed the concept of the Burkean Parlour (the idea of coming into a parlor where multiple conversations are happening, sitting in and listening, and responding to it, only to eventually leave the parlor with an understanding that the conversation marches on), several students agreed that this is exactly what is wrong with academia--we have these conversations in closed circles where there is little real world agency. 

For me, the Burkean Parlour is a threshold concept for the ultimate collective, collaborative pursuit of knowledge, and it warms me to my core. It makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, and gives me strength to continue to work. This is not for me, I remind myself, but for our collective efforts. Our pursuit of knowledge, and our ongoing debates about what that means, is the greatest ongoing dialectical debate of all time. I am able to study rhet/comp the way I am because of many great scholars before me, and I hope to contribute to future scholars/students/humans in similar ways. 

Rose and Weiser's "Theorizing Writing Program Theorizing" finds common ground between the apparent academic binary of theory vs practice by first explaining its classist origins, and then arguing for a more collaborative and practical relationship between theory and practice. In outlining this binary's classist origins, they note how the upper class have always had the luxury of being able to sit around and 'think' rather than 'do'. Those who 'do' do so out of necessity. They are the working class, and must 'do' in order to survive. This extends into academia, which has long been a space for the privileged, who have the luxury of sitting around 'thinking' rather than 'doing'. This binary has been challenged several times in academia, but still stands strong in many ways. Within academia, there are those who are tasked with 'doing' more than 'thinking'--such workers can be called service workers. The WPA falls into service work. 

Rose and Weiser convincingly argue for a take on theory that is grounded in practice. They argue that theory should not be understood as a high brow activity with little to no application. Rather, theory "helps us understand the problems, situations, and contexts of our work, thus positioning us to make decisions and take actions based on a richer understanding of their implications" (189). Pairing this with Hemmeter's criticisms of theory helps us to understand theory as intertwined with community and collective observation rather than contributing to individuals neglecting such work. If theory seeks to explain situations via collective observation and discussion, then why do so many, such as those creative writers in my cohort, see theory and theorizing as problematic? I think it is because many fail to see theory as inherently emerging from practice, community, and conversation. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the WPA mantra: "experience into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into judgment, judgment into action" (class notes). This is certainly applicable to the WPA position, but it should be more widespread. The theorizing that we do inside of "the walls of academia" can extend out of those walls when we base our exigence for theorizing in our real world experiences, as the above mantra suggests. 

Rose and Weiser's work, not just in this chapter, but throughout both WPA as theorist and WPA as researcher, functions primarily on the WPA level. Bringing theory and theorizing into the WPA position not only serves to legitimize the work we do, but it provides a means for progress. We create our own Burkean Parlour, and in so doing are able to build on our collective knowledge. This notion of theory and theorizing----that it is something we do by tapping into our collective daily experiences in order to better serve our daily practices--helps us remember why we theorize. We aren't doing it for tenure, or to get paid more, or because we are more interested in our own theories than are real world responsibilities, or because we are grossly self-infatuated, but for the sake of collective knowledge building--something we believe to be very important, and very applicable to the work we do. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Giving Tree and Revisiting Traditions

Have any of you read Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree? I didn't understand it at all in the first grade. Why would the tree be happy about giving everything it had to the boy? I thought it was pretty depressing. Even when I understand it now, I still think it is depressing.

I guess it is supposed to be about the relationship between a parent and a child, but I think it could easily symbolize the relationship an academic has with the university.

Today in Writing in the Profession, we discussed how some traditional ways and genres of the university should be revisited, such as the dissertation. We also thought about how graduate school can act as gatekeeping devices, so that only students that can actually do real academic work can make it through.

If you've read The Giving Tree you know how it ends. My point is maybe we should do more than just revisit some of our traditions. Maybe we should revisit what it means to be an academic, especially in our field where the emphasis is placed on service.


Feminist Writing Program Administration and Its Effects on Authority, Power, and Influence

                As I read the articles about taking feminist approaches to writing program administration, I kept thinking back to Shirley K Rose, Lisa S. Mastrangelo, and Barbara L’Eplattenier’s “Directing First-Year Writing: The New Limits of Authority.” Since I already posted about that particular article, I will try not to repeat myself. But I think it’s impossible to talk about feminism and writing program administration without returning to the issues of authority, power, and influence. In Hildy Miller’s essay “Postmasculinist Directions in Writing Program Administration,” she reminds readers that WPAs often struggle for the power to make decisions about the program. They “feel a sense of powerlessness, more specifically, a sense of having enormous responsibilities” without accompanying power” (80). Power for feminist administrators means being able to enable others and thus, they might focus more on “being peer” rather than having “power over” (Schaef qtd. in Miller 81). There are consequences for emphasizing collaboration or “being peer.” As Miller points out later in the essay, others might view the WPA as not a leader or not assertive enough if they do not direct conversations and meetings with more of an authoritative manner. One of the participants in Rose et al.’s study stated that she was seen as the one responsible for the everyday decision making but that when stakes were higher, people thought decisions should go to a committee. This reminds us that even our colleagues may not respond well to our administrative styles when they do not conform to what is traditionally viewed as leadership.

            I’m interested in the ways WPAs have been received within our program when they have emphasized collaboration or have asked for input from people in positions with very little power (such as TAs). It seems as though BSU incorporates some of the feminist elements of writing program administration that Miller suggests. There is collaboration among many instructors to share teaching materials. We have a mentorship program that (in theory and hopefully in practice for the most part) focuses on support and not supervision. Our new TA pedagogy course is taught by the director of the writing program but it also includes voices of other TAs like Mary and Morgan. I am interested in what everyone else has to say about the way we can blend masculine and feminine administration strategies. What do we normally see as feminine and masculine? What does this blended practice look like? Do WPAs ever use completely masculine or completely feminine approaches? What are the strengths/weaknesses of using a blended approach? In what ways do these approaches relate to the authority, power, and/or influence the WPA has within the program, department, and institution?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Mo Money, Mo Problems" - A. Rich Person

Kinkead and Simpson encourage WPAs to "educate [themselves] about budget lines and the rules regarding them" as one strategy for communicating effectively with other administrators (72). Anson offers, in his article, advice about creating maps to better understand and illustrate complicated WP budgets. He also offers a detailed, though fictitious, example of a WP budget to explain some of the generalizable points he makes about managing the budget.

This latter article, in particular, is one I plan to refer back to in the future. Being in charge of a budget is currently my biggest concern about doing administrative work. (Some of the articles we read this week indicated that not all WPAs are in control of their program's budget. I'm secretly hoping--don't tell ANYONE!--that if I'm ever a WPA, this will be my situation. However, I recognize that it would probably be better for the writing program if its administrator had hands in the game--or power in the pocket, as bloodthirsty Ed White might say.)

I was hoping that in my former position as an assistant director of the WC at Pitt State, I would be able to do some budget management to gain experience in this area, but the closest I got was writing sections of the annual funding request document. Sure, figuring out how to get money is important, but so is knowing how to use it once you have it. The fact that many job ads I've seen that include administrative responsibilities ask for applicants with experience in budget management proves this.

Furthermore, my experience as treasurer of GSAB this year has enlightened me with regard to how complex university funding can be. (We have money in three separate places: an official student organization account, which we basically can't use for anything because it's so regulated; a cash box in the department office, controlled by Sharon, which I'm pretty sure isn't totally kosher; and a "foundation" account that is actually shared with some other people(?). AND we're talking about opening another personal checking account, too! It's cray.) Of course I can't avoid mentioning, also, the unforeseen taxes problem that our Writing Program is currently struggling with as another example of why managing a budget for a university-affiliated program seems terrifying.

I'm hoping that this topic is one that will get taken up in our class discussions this week. I'd like to hear Mike's advice, in particular, about working with university funds. I also wonder how I can market myself (and, oh yeah, feel truly confident in the pitch) as someone who can manage a budget as an administrator even if I don't have any direct prior experience with it. Do you guys have other questions about budget work that you would add to the list for further exploration in class?

WPA Burnout

I was extremely interested in the Irene Ward essay about burnout and some of the things that she says make WPAs especially susceptible to this pitfall. She says, “What is important to note is that burnout is ‘a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal  stressors on the job’” (Maslach qtd. in Ward 51). The fact that WPAs have to deal so often with people — varying groups of constituents with different, often conflicting, demands — is an important aspect of burnout. She then goes on to discuss circumstances that are likely to lead to burnout as they relate to job responsibilities and conflicts, the organizational structure of the larger institution, and personal characteristics.
As I read through this essay and some of the other readings for this week, the concepts of conflict and work overload came up repeatedly and struck me as being very relevant to the composition field in general. I’ve had my own experiences with burnout, typically at the end of each school year when I’m tired of the repetitious, time-consuming cycle of receiving rough drafts, giving comments, conferencing with students, and then grading final drafts. I put a lot of effort into this process, and in some instances, there are students who put very little effort into it. There are lots of possible reasons for this, but I think many of them believe that the course expectations are either meaningless or too burdensome. I get worn out by students who ask questions about things I had just answered a few minutes before, and I begin to wonder if anyone is really listening -- or learning. Even worse, I’ve noticed that I sometimes have a very negative, cynical view of students who are absent and/or requesting extensions for assignment deadlines.
All of this seems to fall under Ward’s definition of burnout, which is actually kind of a relief. In those moments when I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or cynical, it doesn’t automatically mean that I’m an unqualified professor or a bad person. There are circumstances inherent in teaching composition to a large number of freshmen students that will naturally lead to occasional burnout, and after completing the reading for this week, it’s clear to me that this tendency is much more likely for WPAs, who attempt to meet the needs of lots of different people, often without adequate resources or administrative support. Their job is often undervalued and misunderstood by other faculty and administrators, and yet they are sometimes seen as “the bad guy” to the composition faculty and students they serve. This must be incredibly stressful and isolating, and because they are the director of the program, there aren’t many people to whom they can vent their problems or frustrations. Additionally, some of the other readings for this week mentioned how WPAs have to continually fight for budgeting and resources, inserting themselves into some sort of power struggle in the institution’s hierarchy. (See the military metaphors made repeatedly in White’s “Use it or Lose It: Power and the WPA.”)
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I connected many of the readings for this week back to this concept of burnout, and because it’s something that most WPAs and composition faculty probably experience at some point in their careers, I think it’s worth a lot more exploration. Specifically, I keep wondering if women in these roles are even more prone to burnout than men -- maybe because they have to work harder to gain power, and when they assert themselves, people are more likely to view them negatively. Women also still tend to take on larger domestic roles, and so it seems to me (in contradiction to what Ward says about family life) that a WPA who is also a mother would have even greater demands on her time, energy, and limited finances. These are aspects of situatedness that I’ve been pondering, and I think these types of stories are worth exploring and sharing to create even greater awareness of the challenges of the WPA.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

1987 to 2016: How Much Has Changed?


In “The Wyoming Conference Resolution Opposing Unfair Salaries and Working Conditions for Post-Secondary Teachers of Writing,” authors Linda R. Robertson, Sharon Crowley and Frank Lentricchia write: “From the stories we tell one another, it is clear that many of us regard ourselves as victims by our institutions, relegated to marginal positions and tenuous employment with no benefits” (275).

When I first read this, I was thinking that we do receive benefits from teaching but when I saw that this article was from 1987, I realized that perhaps we really have made some progress in English departments. However, these stories that the authors are referring to are ones that we still hear during “water cooler” conversations. Graduate students grumble about whether or not we can afford to get that extra order of hashbrowns at IHop considering our annual stipend. Contract faculty often take on heavy teaching loads although many of them do receive partial or full benefits from the school, at least at Ball State. My point is that while graduate students do receive stipends and contract faculty or adjuncts are more likely to get benefits compared to 1987, some of the suggestions for minimum salary truly are minimum. The MLA’s suggestions for minimum salary for “full-time appointments at the entry level should be at least $34,000 to $37,000 for those at the rank of instructor and at least $43,000 to $46,000 for those at the rank of beginning assistant professor.” Perhaps this sounds like a decent amount but considering we’ve been in school for a significant number of years and many of us have work experience from teaching, this hardly encourages people to enter the profession. Many graduates today leave college with higher amounts of debt. I don’t mean to complain about the pay because I chose this career course because I love it and not because I want to get rich. My concern is that as cohorts of graduates continue to face student debt and the competition for these jobs increases, we continue to face similar concerns as those who expressed frustration in 1987.

Many English departments recognize these frustrations and do their best to meet the needs of instructors. I know that Ball State has increased the stipend for graduate students and decreased the teaching load to help students. But there’s only so much that can be done on a limited budget. This is where WPAs and other administrators might step in and advocate for better pay or working conditions to upper-administration in the university. This is no easy task and I’m sure other departments across campus feel similar frustrations. I’m interested to hear more about how these changes could realistically be made.