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5 T h e Nat i o n a l W r i t i n g P r o j e c t i n t h e Ag e o f Au s t e r i t y DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c005 Tom Fox and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl On March 6, 2011, President Obama signed a budget that ended the National Writing Project’s (NWP) twenty-year history of receiving directed federal funds. The move threatened the very existence of the project, its over two hundred local sites, and the professional development that it offered to over a hundred thousand teachers per year. The budget cut was occasioned by the financial crisis of 2008–2012 and the related fiscal austerity measures of the 111th Congress. NWP’s adaptation to this event—an ongoing task—provides an illustrative case study of an organization navigating a changing fiscal and ideological landscape of the age of austerity. This story is located in several particular histories: of federal funding, of NWP itself, and of K–12 funding as well. While NWP has continued, the age of austerity brings with it challenges: ideological muddles of simultaneous opportunities and compromises that necessitate rigorous interrogation of the consequences of NWP’s fiscal decisions for the sustainability of sites and the network. These conditions , for local sites and for the national office, highlight the importance of maintaining NWP’s respect for teachers’ knowledge and its goals of supporting equity in education in an environment where opportunities for work often do not value teachers nor support equity. This chapter contrasts with the others in this volume in that NWP’s situation and those of composition programs housed in universities differ significantly. As a non-profit, NWP must choose among available funders, piecing together whatever funding has the potential to sustain the network and further NWP’s goals. Each funder, of course, has its own desires and places its own constraints on funding. Composition programs are housed and funded by universities and rarely have multiple funders. While corporate influences on universities certainly constrain 78   Tom Fox and Elyse E idman-Aadahl writing programs, as the contributions to this volume show, the instrumental value of composition in the university ensures their continued existence. Though, on the face of it, NWP may seem to have a greater degree of organizational autonomy because of its non-profit status, this autonomy is disciplined by the kind and amount of funding available . Finally, and most important, unlike composition programs, NWP’s very existence is precarious. Though supported by the momentum of a national network with a forty-year history and sustained by a network of human resources located in and drawing strength from a variety of institutional (and geographical) locations, NWP faces the very real prospect of closure and dissolution as an entity. These contrasts are important because the responses to austerity measures by local sites and the national office have consequences, not just for the identity of the organization but for the sustainability of the network of local sites and the thousands of teachers who depend on NWP’s professional community. At the same time, though on a larger scale and in a more distributed way, NWP’s work to survive the elimination of directed federal funding resembles the work of politically and institutionally savvy writing program administrators, such as those included in The Writing Program Interrupted (Strickland and Gunner 2009). Despite their differences, many questions for both writing program administrators and NWP that emerge in the age of austerity are similar. What alliances or partnerships would strengthen the program? What trade-offs would such partnerships entail? What will insure the continued efforts to make education more equitable? What possibilities for resistance or subversion exist? Who is at risk through such acts? And even, perhaps, when to give up and turn attention elsewhere? The National Wri ti n g P ro j ect i n th e Age of Directe d Fed eral Fu n di n g Although most compositionists now are familiar with the NWP as a federally funded project, the NWP existed for more than fifteen years without direct federal investment. The project grew from the Bay Area Writing Project in the mid-1970s to an expanding network of sites in the late 1970s and 1980s. Before federal funding, local writing project sites were self-­ supporting, receiving starter-support through a small National Endowment for the Humanities grant and sustaining support through their host universities. In some...


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