Tuesday, March 22, 2016
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?