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We Need to Retain Highly Qualified Directors in College and University Writing Centers

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An Open Letter to College and University Administrators on Retaining Highly Qualified Writing Center Directors


Dear Administrators,

We write to you as members of the writing center community and its proponents, concerned by the transformation of well-established, successful writing centers into one-stop tutoring services. Too often when this happens, highly qualified writing center directors are replaced by administrators who lack the necessary disciplinary and experiential expertise to successfully direct any service whose mission it is to help students improve as writers.

We believe this trend began several years ago. Several high-profile, successful leaders in the writing center field abruptly lost their centers, their jobs, or both, after decisions were made among upper administrators to change writing center programs. These actions often included the dissolution of successful centers that were then repackaged as learning commons or similar set-ups where students could go to get tutoring in all subjects. Rather than maintain purview over their writing center programs, most of these directors were replaced with unqualified personnel who lacked the preparation or experience in one or more of the following: teaching writing; writing center theory and practice; composition and TESOL theories and pedagogies; writing center program assessment; and writing across the curriculum. Furthermore, the new administrators would not be expected to conduct or stay abreast of writing center, composition, or TESOL research; publish or present on topics related to writing and writing centers at regional and national conferences; or learn how to train, mentor, and supervise writing center tutors.

We know that writing centers do not merely support student writers but lead writing instruction on campuses across the country and around the world. We know that in order to provide students with the help that they need to improve as writers, language users, critical and innovative thinkers, composers, and designers, they need a highly qualified writing center director with expertise in how to teach writing, who is committed to remaining current on best practices, and who engages in on-going professional development and scholarship. We know that students who serve as writing and literacy tutors need a writing center director who can train them in the best pedagogical methods, supervise their individualized application of those methods to their work with diverse learners, and mentor them as they take on the great responsibility that comes with tutoring. Providing students with anything but the most highly qualified writing center director will only harm students’ and tutors’  success.

To replace a highly qualified writing center director with anyone who has neither the interest nor background in what we believe to be the basic qualifications of writing center directors is not only irresponsible but harmful. It is irresponsible to think that writing centers should not be run by the most highly qualified personnel; to do so will only result in writing center services that fall short of what students need to improve as writers, readers, and thinkers. More than 30 years of scholarship from within the writing center field alone shows how writing centers benefit students -- as student writers and as tutors. Studies done outside the writing center field reinforce that scholarship. We know that decisions about the future of a writing center and its director’s position are often made without consulting this scholarship.

Those who have signed this petition call upon you to end the cavalier, uninformed decision-making that leads to the creation of a student service that calls itself a writing center or claims to offer tutoring in writing without a highly qualified writing center director at its helm. We call upon you to share evidence that shows that transforming an already well-established, successful writing center into a one-stop tutoring commons provides better tutoring in writing.  We call upon you to share evidence that shows that replacing a highly qualified writing center director with an administrator with little to no disciplinary or experiential training in how to teach writing to diverse learners and language users will know what services to provide; how to create those services; and how to capably train, mentor, and supervise those who will provide those services. Short of that evidence, we call upon you to end the practice of dissolving well-established, successful writing centers and ending the careers of writing center professionals and scholars who have successfully led their writing centers -- some for decades. We call upon you to reflect upon your prioritization of economic exigencies over student success. We call upon you to act ethically toward your writing center colleagues by not denying them due process, academic freedom, and job security -- all of which the dissolution of writing centers directly threatens.

We invite you to make yourself clearly aware of what a highly trained and qualified writing center director is and does. We call upon you to learn from your writing center colleague about the well-established theories and pedagogies that inform writing center praxis before moving to a less-informed, less-proven, one-size-fits-all approach to tutoring. We call upon you to observe several writing center sessions within a writing center to witness the manifestations of proper tutor training by a highly qualified writing center director. We invite you to reach out to your writing center colleagues, their tutors, and the students the writing center serves before making any decisions that would affect them. Though learning commons models are not necessarily problematic, we know they work best when a writing center professional is incorporated into the planning, development and administration of such entities. We know that that’s not always happening.

We also invite you to attend at least one professional conference each year, where you will see writing center directors lead and present on topics related to the teaching and tutoring of writing, working with other-abled students, the theories of learning and second language acquisition. Among the annual conferences you may consider are those hosted by the National Conference of Teachers of English, the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA), the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), the Two-year College Association, the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL), the Conference of Writing Program Administrators, and TESOL. Better yet, come to at least two, so you can see the level of expertise demonstrated by and within those who comprise the writing center, composition, and TESOL fields. In fact, you can attend four of these conferences over adjacent two-week periods every spring: IWCA, CCCC, AAAL, and TESOL.

What you will learn by consulting the scholarship on effective writing center pedagogies, working with your writing center colleague, speaking with students and tutors in how they benefit from their writing center sessions, and attending these conferences will make clear to you why students’ success and retention rests on your retention of highly qualified writing center directors.

We also recognize that there are administrators among you who have stood in solidarity with writing center directors, protected their jobs and the integrity of their long-established, successful writing centers, and are already committed to supporting both in order to provide the best support your students deserve. If you are one of those administrators, please sign our petition.

Thank you.

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