With the publication of Writing Program Architecture, I am gratified and humbled to see my profile of the Westminster College Writing Center appear alongside those of programs from colleagues and institutions that are key players in the worlds of writing studies and writing centers. Part of what drew me to Jamie and Bryna’s approach to this volume is their holistic focus combining the institutional and structural with the professional and the personal.
Completing my case study allowed me to reflect on and synthesize my professional history, the history of my writing center and its performance, and my center’s place in the institution as a whole. This opportunity to tell my own story as a writing program administrator as part of the story of the program I direct makes me think of an observation Parker J. Palmer makes in The Courage to Teach: “Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a ‘capacity for connectedness’” (11). Bad teachers, meanwhile, “distance themselves from the subject they are teaching—and, in the process, from their students” (11). Palmer shares the striking metaphor a student used to describe such failed educators: “Their words float somewhere in front of their faces, like the balloon speech in cartoons” (11). Relating how I came to be a writing program administrator helped me speak my own words, as it were, rather than keeping them floating “somewhere in front of [my] face,” and bridge that divide between the professional and the personal that academia sometimes enforces.
Another divide that I bridged in writing my case study is that between assessment and research, which often involve the same processes and intellectual capacities but are generated for different audiences and purposes, internal vs. external. The editors encouraged me to draw on research to characterize my center, its practices, and performance—at times I found the best source I could cite was myself! This synthesis of administrative and scholarly work enacts what Ernest Boyer calls the scholarship of application, approaching the administrative functions that academics often categorize as “service” with “the rigor—and the accountability—traditionally associated with research activities” (22) and thereby taking “a view of scholarly service … that both applies and contributes to human knowledge” (23).
I think the collection will be particularly valuable for graduate students and others considering careers in writing program administration. While I am grateful to my graduate institution for providing me the opportunity to help administer a major writing center, by pursuing a career in writing center administration, I had to chart my own way. Seeing so many examples of others who had successfully pursued similar paths would have helped me realize that I was heading into a fruitful and rewarding future, both personally and professionally.
Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. Jossey-Bass, 1998.
Boyer, Ernest. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professorate. Jossey-Bass, 1997.