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Audit update and passing the baton

Dear Members,

As my leadership term draws to a close, I am writing to update you on the state of our ongoing organizational culture audit and share some personal reflections on the past three years.

In 2019, the Executive Board (EB) and Officers of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), under the leadership of President Mark Blaauw-Hara at the Town Hall Meeting in Baltimore, made a public commitment to changing the culture of the organization, prioritizing principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In 2021, following several earnest attempts to address these issues “in house” through goodwill arrangements with members and specially appointed committees, the organization partnered with One Eight Create (OEC), a consulting firm with a proven track record of helping organizations achieve lasting culture change. OEC, an independent firm with no vested interest in CWPA or writing program administration, was engaged to provide an unflinchingly honest, impartial professional assessment of CWPA’s organizational culture through a comprehensive two-year audit consisting of three phases:

  1. Internal and External DEI Cultural Assessment Surveys and Listening Sessions
  2. Comprehensive review of organizational governance and all governance documents (including those of the Consultant-Evaluator Service and WPA Journal)
  3. Executive Board DEI Training.

OEC has now completed steps 1 and 2, examining CWPA bylaws, policy documents, and relevant publications and collecting feedback on the organization’s culture from both members and non-members. Step 3 has been deferred until the summer conference, as such sensitive work is better suited to a face-to-face format. The OEC team have attended Executive Board meetings regularly to provide updates on the implementation, progress, and completion of each step, and have maintained constant communication with me. Specific changes and an implementation timeline will be included in OEC's detailed cultural assessment report, which will be  available on the CWPA website following the summer conference.

The conference will mark the grand finale of the audit, as well as our return to face-to-face meetings. In addition to the intensive onsite DEI-focused training for CWPA officers and EB members, OEC will facilitate three confidential listening sessions where conference participants can share their thoughts and personal experiences of CWPA culture. These sessions, which will function as an extension of the two completed surveys, have been designed to capture as many voices and opinions as possible to inform CWPA’s ongoing organizational transformation.

Considering OEC's recommendations to date, the EB has voted unanimously to amend its bylaws. As a first step, we have lifted the restrictions that historically have limited the pool of nominees for EB and Vice President roles. The revised eligibility criteria and shorter service terms will make the EB and Vice President roles more accessible and, we hope, more attractive to prospective nominees. Further changes to the by-laws are in progress, as is a revisitation of key policies and statements, including the WPA Outcomes Statement.

While the audit has revealed challenging truths around CWPA’s organizational culture, it has also identified  opportunities for the organization to improve its business model and communication strategy. Neither has evolved with the times, and neither was designed to meet the demands of the digital age. Moreover, CWPA’s sole reliance on volunteer labor, particularly during a global pandemic, has drastically diminished its capacity to respond to criticism as quickly as other organizations with paid administrative staff. This has unfortunately left CWPA more vulnerable to unwarranted accusations of indifference and insensitivity. In order for CWPA to remain relevant in the discipline and keep pace with other organizations in responding to rapid social and cultural change, it must also adopt a distributed leadership model to ensure the active involvement of its Executive Board, committees, and membership, rather than continuing to depend primarily on the goodwill of its officers.

As writing program administrators know, meaningful, lasting change requires time, dedication, and an all-hands-on-deck approach. I realize, for some, we have not moved fast enough. I also realize, for others, nothing we do will be enough. However, I maintain that it is better to invest time and resources in doing things right rather than moving quickly and reactively at the expense of organizational integrity and lasting change. As such, we have chosen to invest our limited human and financial resources in getting on with the work of the audit rather than engaging in unproductive public debates on social media and elsewhere. Adopting the same advice we sometimes offer our students, we have opted to show rather than tell. 

Despite claims to the contrary, we have been hard at work, putting our money where our mouth is and devoting significant funding to our first priority: organizational change. CWPA has committed nearly half of its modest operational budget to the audit and the implementation of its recommendations. Mindful of the many opinions on what constitutes “real” change, I invite you to attend the 2023 conference and experience for yourself the progress we have made.

Like my predecessors, who were committed to leadership through service and who have offered wisdom and guidance at every step, my main goal as president has been to leave the organization a little better than I found it. I am confident that CWPA is indeed a better organization today than it was three years ago. I am also confident it will be an even better organization in three years' time. I invite everyone interested in sustaining this momentum to join us at the summer conference, where we will celebrate our progress and devise a concrete plan for further action. While much has been achieved, much work remains, and sustained growth will require collective commitment and perseverance. 

It has been a privilege to lead this organization alongside some of the finest people I know. I cannot say truthfully that I have always enjoyed the work, as life’s most valuable lessons are often the most painful. However, I have learned a great deal, which I will carry with me.

In the spirit of new beginnings, I am relinquishing my “immediate past president” seat on the Executive Board to make room for new voices, ideas, and organizational directions. May whoever fills this seat hold the organization accountable for reaching its fullest potential and remaining true to its founding mission of serving writing professionals, albeit in far more inclusive and equitable ways.

In addition to the audit and the exciting changes already discussed, I am particularly proud of the following milestones:

  1. The election of the first CWPA president from a non-English speaking background who identifies as BIPOC
  2. The most culturally and institutionally diverse Executive Board in CWPA history, with six of the nine elected EB seats filled by colleagues who identify as BIPOC, and with HBCUs, community colleges, and international universities well represented
  3. A revamped WPA workshop led by a mix of junior and senior colleagues identifying as BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+
  4. The first international Latinx keynote speaker at a major CWPA event (2022 Colloquium) and preliminary discussions with the Latin American Association of Writing Studies in Higher Education and Professional Contexts (ALES) regarding a potential organizational partnership
  5. A renewed relationship with WPA-GO, with a new memorandum of understanding and exciting plans for future collaboration in the works. These leaders are our future and represent the very best of our discipline. I am grateful for all I have learned from them
  6. An overhaul of the WPA Journal under the new leadership of a talented, inspired editorial team fully committed to both rigorous scholarship and inclusive publishing practices
  7. More transparency around the work of the Consultant-Evaluator Service, thanks to the monumental efforts of its co-directors, also firmly committed to equity and inclusion
  8. Full scholarships for the summer WPA workshops and free organizational membership for colleagues from under-represented groups
  9. Free registration for the 2022 online colloquium and discounted annual membership rates
  10. The creation of two new leadership roles: Archivist and Social Media Coordinator
  11. The instatement of the CWPA Lifetime Achievement award, with the inaugural recipients recognized at the 2022 colloquium
  12. Brent Cameron’s Graduate Research Award for his balanced account of the CWPA boycott call, which has initiated a much needed and long overdue process of critical reflection on this and subsequent events. Brent’s groundbreaking work represents precisely the sort of listening, engagement, and calls to action that will enable the organization’s continued progress. Through his meticulous research and unyielding commitment to fairness and scholarly integrity, Brent has handed us a primer on how to engage in the reporting and analysis of controversial events compassionately and ethically in ways that inspire reparation rather than polarization. l eagerly await the publication of this work, which I encourage all members to read and share widely.

CWPA is in good hands, and I look forward to the implementation of OEC's recommendations over the coming months. From my vantage point, the audit marks not an ending, but a beginning. It will take all of us working together for CWPA to continue evolving. Please join us in helping this organization reach its full potential so that it can continue to serve future generations of diverse writing professionals and the students depending on them.

With thanks and best wishes,

Susan Thomas

CWPA President

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