The Online Tutor as
Cross-Curricular Double Agent

Other Points of Conflict

Both Clark and Healy ("Are Writing Centers Ethical?") and North ("Revisiting the Idea of a Writing Center") illustrate other contentious sites in the writing center milieu including concerns of plagiarism and ownership of text, the political limitations of the writing center, and the role the writing center plays in the entire university.

Early writing centers were conceived within a Current Traditional framework as places where less able students congregated to learn how to produce texts with fewer surface errors. Many writing teachers, as well as the rest of the university, saw these writing centers as safe places because their skills focus did not challenge ideas of text ownership.

As composition scholarship evolved, writing centers followed (and helped shape) the developments of that scholarship, and writing centers became student-centered rather than text-centered. Writing centers became interested in helping students become better writers rather than just helping them to produce papers with fewer surface errors. This change led to uncertainty about the role of the writing center in text production. Issues of text ownership and plagiarism became serious questions as writing centers attempted to defend themselves against the suspicions of the rest of the university, still firmly grounded in Current Traditional ideas.

Writing center "best practice" developed in reaction to suspicions that arose when writing centers began to be interested in the process of text production as well as the end product. Those unfamiliar with process approaches to writing voiced concerns that students were getting too much help with their papers and questioned the ethics of the writing center. The writing center world reacted by developing a "best practice" that can best be described as "noninterventionist." The hallmark of these noninterventionist stratgies is tutor restraint. This restraint includes a variety of dictums that range from prohibiting the tutor from even holding a pen or pencil during a tutoring session to producing complicated dialogic sequences that tutors are required to follow.

Noninterventionist practice is being challenged as limiting and as possibly even unethical (an interesting challenge when one realizes that noninterventionist practice was developed in response to ethical challenges).

The political concerns of the writing center are particularly problematic when the goals of the writing center may not be in harmony with the goals of the writing program, individual writing teachers, the peer tutors, and the students themselves. Clark and Healy claim that the writing center is "uniquely positioned to challenge business as usual in the academy" (42) and even suggest that the "ethical writing center will be proactive" ( 43).

Stephen North advocates a similar reformation of writing centers when he warns of the "romanticization of the writing center's institutional potential" (15) and questions whether the writing center might become either a "center of consciousness" for the university or at least a "conscience, that small nagging voice that ostensibly reminds the institution of its duties regarding writing"(15).