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9 F i r s t- Y e a r W r i t i n g a n d t h e A n g e l s o f Au s t e r i t y DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c009 A Re-Domesticated Drama Nancy Welch Act I: “Writing Can n ot Be a Tax o n t he Univer sit y ” Picture this: a new provost arrives at your mid-size public university—a new provost whose record-setting compensation package makes headline news. Within a few weeks he is moving forward with his priorities. These priorities include speedy approval for building a new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) complex. These priorities also include forging ahead, as urged by the governing board and regional accrediting body, with new General Education requirements, including for foundational writing. For the STEM project’s initial planning , the provost instantly identifies $2 million (soon to increase to $5 million); he gains the governing board’s approval for a building budget of $100 million beyond. When it comes to General Education, he also goes to work: that is, he directs his office to downsize the budget for the newly created first-year writing program and seek ways to “flex” the just-approved foundational writing requirement—even before the program and the requirement have been launched. This scenario, which played out at my university over the spring and fall of 2013, is likely familiar to readers of this collection because we are all living to varying degrees under the twin banners—distinct but mutually reinforcing—of corporatization and austerity. In public college and university writing programs, steep declines in state and federal support intensify the cost-cutting, labor-squeezing measures of lean production and just-in-time staffing that have characterized contemporary composition. As university administrations direct greater budget shares away from general education and toward those centers thought capable of supporting the university in hard funding times, pressure mounts for first-year writing directors to convert program First-Year Writing and the Angels of Austerity   133 activities into revenue generators—or else go without. Years ago Steve North, with characteristic bluntness, said to me, “Everyone thinks writing is a good idea, but no one wants to pay for it.” In the corporatized university, the adage becomes, “Everyone thinks writing is a good idea, but it has to pay for itself.” Yet even though evidence of higher education’s market makeover abounds on my campus, when it comes to characterizing and justifying the cuts to first-year writing, corporate terms have been conspicuously absent. Rather—what will come as no surprise to feminist readers of this collection—writing program work is presumed to be a set of activities separate from the market sphere, embodying an ethos aloof to the pettiness , the grubbiness of money. For example, although the faculty senate president was visibly disturbed when the provost rescinded pledged resources—senators would not have approved the new requirement had they known this was another unfunded mandate—she nevertheless urged writing faculty to make do because canceling the requirement would be “disastrous for our students.” Similarly, when a faculty senate budget committee inquired into the underfunding of this and other initiatives, a General Education committee co-chair argued that the true obstacle to curricular reform was not insufficient funding from the administration but insufficient concern for teaching from faculty. A signature of the proposed first-year writing program at the University of Vermont (UVM) is that most sections will be taught as first-year seminars by full-time continuing faculty across the disciplines. More than forty faculty members with tenure-track and senior lecturer appointments had participated in revising and piloting these seminars when the provost announced his intention to cancel funds to support such activities. This is the context in which the General Education committee co-chair claimed faculty in Biology, Geography, and Studio Art don’t need material supports for learning to teach first-year writing seminars; they just need to care more. At first glance, these sentiments seem to position first-year writing squarely in the domestic rather than the market sphere. Such sentiments seem to mark the continuing saga, as detailed in Eileen Schell’s (1997) still-essential Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers, of teaching labor equated with maternal selflessness, writing instruction presumed to be carried out by angels in the university architecture who work for psychic rewards or pin money. From this perspective we might say that the...


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