restricted access 7: (RE)SHAPING THE PROFESSION: Graduate Courses in Writing Center Theory, Practice, and Administration
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7 (RE)SHAPING THE PROFESSION Graduate Courses in Writing Center Theory, Practice, and Administration REBECCA JACKSON CARRIE LEVERENZ JOE LAW The development of graduate courses devoted to writing center studies (theory, practice, and administration) is a relatively recent phenomenon , one we attribute to several key factors: (1) the reality of various kinds of administrative work—writing program, writing center , WAC—for PhDs in rhetoric and composition; (2) specific local exigencies; (3) the growing professionalization of writing program and writing center studies, in particular the emergence of a new generation of rhetoric faculty specifically trained in these areas, and the steady growth of scholarly literature devoted to writing program and writing center issues (Hesse 1999); and (4) a consequent increase in interest among rhetoric graduate students in writing program and writing center careers—in the practice of administration as intellectual and scholarly work. Our principal concern here is with the ways in which graduate courses in writing center work shape and are shaped by the professionalization of writing centers, and the visions and interests of the next generation of writing center specialists. We begin with what might be called the “professionalization debates” in writing center studies—looking closely at arguments both for and against the actuality and/or desirability of writing center professionalization . We then turn our attention to graduate courses in writing center theory, practice, and administration, exploring the ways in which they enact and reshape the professionalization debate. We end with brief case studies of our own graduate-level writing center courses and implications of such courses for the future of writing center work. Center will hold final 8/26/03 9:23 AM Page 130 PROFESSIONALIZING WRITING CENTER WORK Graduate-level writing center courses might be seen as marking a signi ficant stage in the professionalization of writing centers, part of the identifiable pattern that can be traced in the evolution of most academic disciplines. The essays collected in Mary Rosner, Beth Boehm, and Debra Journet’s History, Reflection, and Narrative: The Professionalization of Composition, 1963–1983 (1999) take a variety of approaches to tracing that professionalization, often mixing anecdote with analysis to show the emergence and recognition of composition as an academic discipline. In their different ways, these essays suggest a similar overall pattern, which might be summarized fairly simply: (1) practitioners recognize that what they do differs fundamentally from the work done by the larger group with which they are associated; (2) practitioners form alliances that eventually are formalized, often in the form of local, regional, or national organizations; (3) practitioners develop a body of scholarship, often developing conferences, establishing new journals, or creating other means of disseminating that scholarship; (4) as this new field of study becomes sufficiently visible, it is gradually acknowledged (or at least tolerated ) as a legitimate field of inquiry; and (5) it eventually takes its place with other disciplines taught in the academy. The fourth and fifth phases of this process are especially important, since together they enable a discipline to reproduce itself within the context of a larger institution and under the sanction of that institution. Although such a simple description strips away most of the complexity of professionalization, its very crudity may be useful in raising some fundamental questions, particularly the implications of that concluding phase. This very general pattern does seem to describe the gradual professionalization of writing center work. Although writing center scholars have problematized our various narratives of origin (e.g., Carino 1995; Carino 1996; Boquet 1999), the concerns they address are symptomatic of a discipline ’s awareness of itself as a distinct entity. Equally important are the venues in which these essays have appeared—whereas Carino’s two essays tracing the history of writing centers appeared in The Writing Center Journal, a publication likely to be read only by specialists, Boquet’s more recent essay was published in a special issue of College Composition and Communication celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of CCCC. The fact that Boquet’s essay was selected for this special issue signals a wider recognition (Re)shaping the Profession 131 Center will hold final 8/26/03 9:23 AM Page 131 of the importance of writing centers (and the study of writing center work). Further evidence of this kind of recognition may be inferred from the inclusion of Muriel Harris’s recent College English article, “Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors” (1995) in the fourth edition of The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook (Corbett et al...