Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

A Glimpse into the Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

A Glimpse into the Working Lives of New Writing Center Directors

Article excerpt

According to two studies of writing center operations and administration-the 2001-2002 Writing Centers Research Project (WCRP) survey and the more recent WPA Census-our country's writing centers are often administered by non-tenure- eligible faculty and staff. The WCRP survey comes from a 2001-2002 report that non-tenure-eligible faculty and staff hold 58% of writing center director positions (Ervin 3). Data shared with the Wcenter listserv on September 11, 2013, suggest that non-tenure-eligible writing center directors are more common today than they were ten years ago; according to the unofficial results of that study, 69% of direc- tors are non-tenure-eligible (Wells).

The job status of writing center directors shapes much about the day-to-day teaching and learning that happens in a center. At some institutions, writing cen- ter directors who are not tenure-eligible (NTE)) have no access to university travel funds to attend or present at conferences and are also less likely to be credited for research about their centers, if they conduct research at all. And for the small num- ber of writing center directors who are part-time faculty or staff (8 of 194 respondents to the 2001-2002 WCRP survey and 12 of 278 respondents in the 2013 preliminary WPA Census), the limitations of their ability to work to improve teaching and learning in their centers is compounded by the possibility that they might, like many part-time college teachers, find it necessary to combine two or more jobs to make ends meet.

Of particular interest to me now is how such contingent positions affect how writing center directors mentor their undergraduate tutoring staff, in particular in how those directors are or are not able to facilitate undergraduate peer writing tutor research (called simply "tutor research" from this point forward). A survey of writing center directors' research mentoring practices that I conducted in March-May 2013 suggests that despite the kinds of limitations outlined above, some NTE directors are actively and successfully engaging peer writing tutors in productive research about writing center practice, student writing, and writing instruction.2And even more NTE directors are eager to take on tutor-researchers, mentor them through the planning stages of a project, help them propose a paper or poster for one of the many conferences that feature undergraduate research, and accompany them to those conferences. It is my intention, then, to spotlight some of the successful practices of NTE directors who mentor tutor-researchers in an effort to suggest best practices for those NTE directors who do not mentor tutor-researchers but would like to.

The Survey and Respondents

The survey, distributed online during March, April, and May 2013, asked both writ- ing center directors who do and those who do not mentor tutor-researchers to an- swer questions about their centers, the barriers and challenges to mentoring tutor- researchers, the dissemination of tutor research, support for undergraduate research (UR) at their institutions, and their impressions of the benefits of tutor research. The survey consisted of questions that asked directors to choose from a list of responses (about institutional support for undergraduate research and dissemination of tutors' research findings, for example), as well as open-ended questions that invited writ- ten responses (e.g., about directors' mentoring practices and barriers to mentoring tutor-research). Responses to open-ended questions were coded and quantified to determine patterns among respondents.

Invitations to participate in the survey were sent to the Wcenter listserv and to a mailing list of almost 1,000 writing center directors or primary contacts for writing centers. The survey results include responses from 107 unique writing centers, and the institutional status of respondents seems to be consistent with the profession as a whole: 28 (37%) were tenured or tenure-eligible faculty directors, and 61 (57%) were non-tenure-eligible faculty or staff. …

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