This semester, I’m balancing two theory-heavy courses with a more practical course: Writing Program Administration! And yes, I’m really enjoying the class such that I’ll tag an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence. Taught by two of the field’s best, Dr. Chris Anson and Dr. Susan-Miller-Cochran, the course focuses on both theoretical and practical issues of WPA. Our work combines readings, class discussion, listening to Drs. Anson & Miller-Cochran’s experiences, and the best part, an in-depth study of a writing program. For the study, we work closely with a WPA from another school, sending a weekly question set based on that week’s topics and readings. We then write weekly reports about the program based on what our WPA tells us, what we can get from the school’s website, and our readings, reflecting about how that all comes together.
For my WPA study, I’m looking at a small, private, liberal arts school without an official “writing program” structure. It’s a great juxtaposition for NC State, a large state school with an immense first-year writing program within the English department. My WPA has been great to correspond with, and we’ve got a great system going for communicating with one another. Immediately after our class for the week (on Tuesdays), I start on next week’s readings and review what I already have on that topic before sending questions that will allow me to write a report for the next week’s topic. I send the questions by Thursday, which gives the WPA the chance to both reflect on and answer the questions on her own time. I usually get my responses by Monday morning, leaving me plenty of time to read, reflect, and write a report by Tuesday.
At first, I was really nervous about contacting a faculty member that I’ve never spoken with, met in person, or will likely ever have contact with again after this semester. However, the WPA put me at ease and has shown such genuine kindness in answering my questions – generally two parts each, and I try to keep it to only four q’s per email – with short essays! I’m very encouraged by the WPA’s generosity with his/her time: as a graduate student, it seems that faculty are always so busy with their work and that email is not a high priority. Obviously, there are faculty who value collaborating with graduate students and want to help them develop projects that they are mutually interested in.
I also hope that my weekly reports will help the WPA; at the end of the semester, I will amalgamate my weekly reports into a final program report, perhaps with a few friendly suggestions, that I will send to the WPA (hence why I am not going to name the school that I am profiling; this information is private to the school and I am privileged to be given it). The school is currently undergoing re-accreditation and the WPA is conducting an internal assessment of the writing initiative, so the time spent reflecting on the questions I send also has some value for the WPA in the assessment process.
Overall, I see great value in this kind of class for graduate students. Part of being a professional in the field – a faculty member – is administration. No one ever just teaches and researches; whether it be committee work, taking the role of assistant director of a program, or even greater responsibility within a department or the university, every one does administrative work as a part of their career. Graduate students are always primed to research (through coursework) and teach (through workshops and actual teaching assignments), so why wouldn’t we want to be educated in the other main part of our professional responsibilities, too? Some may argue that giving grad students administrative responsibilities is exploitative, or that exposing them to the inner workings of the school (and thus politics, budget issues, etc.) isn’t right. However, I disagree: we’ve got to learn about all the parts of our future professional responsibilities if we are going to be competitive candidates in an increasingly dire (desperate?) market for PhDs. Anyone disagree with me? Have an unfortunate experience with administrative responsibilities while doing their PhD? I’d be glad to hear from you.