Representing the Council of Writing Program Administrators
As President of WPA, I was invited to participate in the CCCC featured session panel "Who Represents English Studies? Whom Does English Studies Represent? A Public Conversation" (Session I). I'm pasting in a copy of my prepared remarks here. I'd appreciate hearing from any who want to take the conversation further.
"I've been asked to join this conversation because I am the current president of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, and one of the responsibilities and privleges of that role is to represent the organization on occasion. That is, I am asked to speak for the group and its members. I'm thankful that WPA has been included in this conversation this afternoon.
WPAs are accustomed to representing others--it's part of our roles as WPAs to represent our programs to faculty, students, administrators and others. We are, as Barbara Cambridge and Ben McClelland wrote several years afo, icons for our programs.
Not only are we accustomed to representing our writing programs, what we do in those writing programs is often what the general public believers English Studies is all about. In fact, however, WPAs are a very small part fo the full specturm of English Studies professionals. The membership of NCTE is more than 60,000; some 5000 of that is CCCC members. The membership of MLA is 30,000. The current paid membership of WPA is 500. Clearly WPA does not represent English Studies.
Who who does?
Who can represent English Studies to the broader higher education industry and to the general public? Can we identify any points on which we all agree?
Our professional interests within English studies are often in conflict. For example, staffing practicies that might be best for our first year composition programs may not be best for ensuring a healthy size for our graduate programs; best pracitces for mentoring munior faculty may result in an ill-fitting furden on senior faculty.
Our views on the subjects about which we care the most are diverse. Developing, refining, and representing those views among ourselves, to one another, constitutes our scholarly work.
We grow comfortable with talking to one another. But when it comes to talking to others, to the public, we turn to our professional organizations and ask that they speak for us--or tell us what to say. We're not comfortable talking with the public--becausw we have so little practice. And we have so little practice because we haven't expected it of one another.
We're all smart enoughgh to to do this, but our rewards systems will have to change and our values will have to be re-examined. As long as we withhold rewards of tenure, promotion, and raises for the activities that we classify as service or engagement, we will not dvelop much muscle, speed, or alacrity for responding to challenges from the public.
So, I would advocate that whatever else we might identify that we can do, agree to do, and actually accomplish collectively in an effort to change the conversation at the highest levels--or even to simply enter it--we must work together to prepare our members to represent themselves.
Through projects like those of the WPA Network for Media Action (NMA), we can help one another prepare to represent our own programs and to offer our own individual specific expertise to our institutions and commuities. We can help one another learn how to initiate productive dialogues with decision-makers at the campus level; we can help one another learn how to bring our work and expertise to the attention of our university news services and speakers bureaus. We can help one another idientify the local, community organizations with whom me might partner, we can encourage one another to talk to our neighbors--or families.
Collectively--as a group of professional organizations, we can create spaces for this learning and give participants the resources they need: time, accesa to one another, and encouargement. We can sponsor workshops and institutes that will help individual members prepare to represent themselves.
Who represents English Studies? Every one of us does. We can learn to do it. We can help each other learn to do it well."