Sunday, April 3, 2016

Postmodernist leadership

Thinking about WPA work in terms of postmodernism with this week's readings brought a mix of skepticism and hopefulness to me. Tim Peeples writes, "The postmodern, flattened organization (even if still but an imagined or partial organizational form) attempts to 'address' and even take advantages of the richness of competing interests by, for instance, organizing diverse groups around interdisciplinary problems and projects" (120). This notion of flattening organizational structures is an important one for postmodernism. Relatedly, Sharon James McGee and Carolyn Handa note that postmodernism's tendency to question hierarchy and reject "grand narratives" has not been thoroughly explored in WPA work (2). 

In challenging hierarchy and attempting flattened organizational structures, however, the fact remains that academia is inherently hierarchical in its current structure. English departments are hierarchical as well in terms of salaries paid to instructors and the ranking systems involved in tenure and promotion. In thinking about postmodernism in Writing Programs, it would be naive to overlook the fact that there are major differences in pay within departments; a TA will inevitably make far less than a tenured professor; a full-time contract faculty member will also earn considerably less than a tenured professor. The amount of pay that an instructor toward the bottom of the pay structure receives can influence how he or she conceptualizes his or her value and influence in the department, regardless of the efforts a WPA makes to "flatten" hierarchies socially or otherwise. 
As many authors have suggested in WPA research, and as we have discussed in class, it is absolutely crucial in writing programs to fight for fair wages for TAs and adjunct/contract faculty. McGee and Handa write, "Fostering participation among faculty, administration, and graduate students keeps the WPA from being an administrator in the modernist sense--a hierarchical dogmatist--instead of becoming a postmodern facilitator who clears space for and values the input of others" (9). In order to foster participation, fostering fair wages is necessary, too, because instructors are less likely to feel their input is of real value if they are not adequately compensated monetarily. 

 In thinking about the WPA position specifically, it is a leadership role that involves holding power in an English department, and this holding of power is unavoidable. The question is not whether a WPA should or should not exercise power because he or she inevitably will need to. The question is what the WPA does with the power he or she holds. McGee and Handa note that postmodern WPAs can feel tension in administrative positions that are typically at the top of hierarchies while they also work to create collaboration in their programs (7). The paradoxical benefit of being at the top of a hierarchy is being able to use it to afford others power as well. The reality of holding power in the first place as a WPA should not be ignored, but I do see the potential for WPAs fostering more postmodern programs if they make an effort to share power and wield the power they do have fairly. 


  1. I think you make an interesting comment on how a WPA should exercise their power, because this concept plays into issues of identity that we have previously discussed. To be more specific, our discussions of if a WPA can still act like a regular faculty member. The tension that you are describing here is: how does a WPA find this balance between their WPA role and being a faculty member if they will be expected to use their administrative power? Will that not distinguish them more as an administrator? In other words, as you point out, is it more difficult to, then, view the WPA as a peer-faculty member with whom someone you feel you can collaborate with?

    I think another thing to consider is our discussions of community, and what it might take to involve the contract faculty more in our departmental discussions. I think how engaged and developed the department's community is will also affect the nature of collaboration.

  2. Ohh, good point Abigail. Just because a WPA wants to share the power they have with their colleagues in the writing program doesn't necessarily mean that those colleagues want the responsibility or are willing to put in the time and effort it would take. It could be compared to our own students... Mine often resist me when I try to get them to take more initiative in decision-making about their learning and writing. So part of sharing power, then, is knowing how to motivate people to jump in.

  3. I found Peeple's article especially interesting, particularly when he outlines four models of planning. I thought the article did a good job providing some strategies for enacting postmodern leadership. I was wondering which model everyone thinks their leadership or administrative style (current or future) aligns with best.
    1) mapper 2) manager 3) developer or 4) maker of space

    Peeples argues that the maker of space is the model we should make primary in our field. Do you agree? I personally think it's a wonderful vision but sometimes we might see ourselves more as managers. Or maybe we feel like we have great visions and we are trying to get other people to buy into them and help carry them out.