Reviewed by Emily Proulx, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL (email@example.com)
Chair: Michele Ninacs, State University of New York, Buffalo State College
Speakers: Robin Gallaher, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO, “On Being an Island: The Risks and Rewards of Being the Only Composition Scholar and WPA”
Nicole Williams, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, MA, “Career Suicide: Is Having Children too High a Risk in Academia?”
Krystia Nora, California University of Pennsylvania, California, PA, “The Mommy Track: The Joys and Difficulties of Choosing Motherhood on the Tenure Track Re-Examined”
Chair: Les Perelman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Speakers: David Coleman, President and CEO, The College Board
Linda Adler-Kassner, University of California Santa Barbara, CA
Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Co-Director, National Writing Project
John Williamson, Executive Director, AP Curriculum Development, The College Board
Kathleen Yancey, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Co-Chairs: Margaret Price, Spelman College, Atlanta, GA
Kimberly Drake, Scripps College, Claremont, CA
Speakers: Karen Kopelson, University of Louisville, KY, “Queer Leadership: An Oxymoron?”
Tara Pauliny, John Jay College/City University of New York, NY, “The Queer Potential of Assistant Professor Administration”
Aneil Rallin, Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, CA, “Rejecting Quietism”
During the 2015 CCCC Convention, I spent my time listening to panels discussing the important work of Writing Program Administration (WPA). Sessions B.16, the Dialog on Success in Postsecondary Writing, and K.35 focused on the importance of talking in WPA work. In particular, these sessions tackled difficult conversations about policy and discrimination, while acknowledging the fear that can be coupled with talking about these subjects.
The speakers in these sessions were very open about the difficult nature of these conversations, especially for those who enact policy. Aniel Rallin, in “Rejecting Quietism,” called for dialog within the committee that organizes CCCC. Reading from a conversation on the WPA listserv, Rallin spoke about the problematic nature of having the 2014 CCCC convention in Indianapolis, where the state’s anti-gay legislation may have made queer conference participants uncomfortable. While audience members and Rallin agreed it is impossible to please everyone when selecting a site for the CCCC, Rallin’s point was that in the current system there is no room for discussion of this concern. Tara Pauliny insisted uncomfortable conversations are important because such conversations promote learning and facilitate change. This panel discussion, which began by addressing queer administration and ended by turning to labor and labor issues, was less about queer theory and WPA work than about the ways the system ignores people that deviate from normative categories. Overall, the session highlighted the ways in which the different or unexpected was not a part of the conversation.
This notion of learning through difficult conversations was also brought up in session B.16 in two presentations, “Career Suicide: Is Having Children too High a Risk in Academia” and “The Mommy Track: The Joys and Difficulties of Choosing Motherhood on the Tenure Track Re-examined.” Here the presenters addressed the need for policies on maternity leave and tenure-clock stopping for families. Nicole Williams posed a question about when women typically have children in academia, and the majority of the audience members with children said their children were born during their Ph.D. programs. Williams said she does not hear enough discussion or encounter enough writing about the difficulties of having children while on the tenure-track. Specifically, she argued that many women fear that asking for tenure-clock stop, maternity leave, or options for bringing their children to work will have negative career impacts. Several members of the audience attested to the fact that they didn’t even know their university’s policies on these topics because they have never asked. This session concluded the policies at most universities focus on perfect plans for pregnancies, childcare, and maternity leave.
This conversation about fear on the tenure-track line was echoed in Robin Gallaher’s talk, “On Being an Island: The Risks and Rewards of Being the Only Composition Scholar and WPA.” She reported that the participants in her study said they felt like they had to wait for tenure to implement programmatic change. She also noted being in this position can be unsettling because it is almost impossible to ask for help. Tara Pauliny agreed with Gallaher in discussing her role as an assistant professor administrator. When she was an untenured administrator, there were difficult conversations she needed to have to do her WPA work, but she felt uncomfortable having those conversations without the safety of tenure.
The importance of conversations in making change in the field and change in relationships was also seen in session D, “Dialog on Success in Postsecondary Writing,” which illustrated the importance of conversation in the form of the session itself—a discussion and town-hall mediated conversation about the jointly sponsored “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” (by the National Council of Teachers of English, Council on Writing Program Administration, and the National Writing Project) and NCTE and CCCC’s position statements on writing assessment. The participants included representatives from the College Board, AP Curriculum Development, the National Writing Project, and several well-known writing scholars. The moderator, Les Perelman, asked questions such as “How do college writers grow and develop?,” “What are characteristics that tell us students are ready to start college?,” and “What does a high-school student prepared to grow and succeed in college writing looking like?”
These questions seemed to foster a conversation between these groups that are usually in opposition with each other, but really should be working together toward reaching the goal of student learning. One example of this was when representatives from the College Board described their opinions on students’ writing. John Williamson said that students have more opportunities to fail and take risks in AP courses (but considering that students have to pass one AP test to earn credit for the class I am not sure students, if asked for input, would agree); noting that students need time to grow, he also acknowledged sometimes there is not enough time. Yancey, however, emphasized that students need to be provided an environment that supports them as they develop.