"An infrastructure is more than material, is never static, and is always emerging."
Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Ellen Cushman, and Jeffrey T. Grabill (2005), "Infrastructure and Composing" (p. 22)
As the new WPA at RIT's Rochester campus, I was attempting to balance my responsibility for high-quality instruction and programmatic continuity with teacher control and autonomy in a faculty comprised of over 40 adjuncts, lecturers, and tenured/tenure-track faculty. Two years before my arrival, the writing curriculum had changed from a two-course sequence—Writing and Literature 1 & 2—to a ten-week Writing Seminar course based on the WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition. The faculty hired to teach literature-based writing classes were now teaching a much different course. Some faculty were finding the transition challenging, as evidenced by the texts and writing tasks they assigned.
Rebecca Charry's message from Croatia asking to alter the program curriculum for the students in her classes highlights a tension between her teacherly authority and her intention to maintain continuity between the coursework at RIT Croatia with that of RIT. To use the words of Star and Ruhleder (1996), Rebecca's email articulates a tension between the "local, customized, intimate and flexible use [of a technology] on the one hand, and the need for standards and continuity, on the other" (p. 112). The technology in this case is the course curriculum.
Still unfamiliar with the curricular connections between the two campuses, I responded to Rebecca's questions based on two primary ideals: 1) program coherence, and 2) open dialogue. I reiterated the official expectations of the courses and invited further conversation:
Speaking directly to your first question, yes, a researched paper is required in Writing Seminar. Here is the language about this in the Writing Seminar Handbook: "At least one essay in writing seminar must include a research component that asks students to move beyond the classroom materials to finding sources through the library. This essay should be about 5-7 pages."
In light of this description, I would add that rather than emphasize some specific disciplinary research methods, this requirement is one that focuses more on what I would call information literacy. Given the description above, the spirit of the assignment should be seen as helping students understand how to find and evaluate source material, and then incorporate that source material into the composition of the essay.
This response and our subsequent conversations reveal my own framing of the work the course accomplishes and my WPA role in relation to that work. For example, I link together specific notions of academic writing to class activities that are intended help students create meaningful literacy practices for producing academic writing. As the WPA, my role is to monitor and coordinate the activities of the course and to learn from instructors what they experience in the teaching of the course. Within this frame, I take for granted the kind of preparation faculty might have for teaching a first-year writing course, the instructional resources faculty might have available to them, and the educational and language backgrounds faculty and students in the course are likely to have.
An American expat living in Croatia, Rebecca frames her response to my answer in terms of the students in her classes, their linguistic and educational backgrounds, and their experience of the course activities:
What I am seeing in the classroom probably has more to do with our particular student population than with Writing Seminar itself. The vast majority of our students are not native speakers of English. Some of them have never been asked to do American-style close reading, critical thinking, or library research before, even in their native languages. And although I have kept the course material relatively consistent over the years, even paring down some of the nonessential parts of the course, lately all but the very best students seem rushed and overwhelmed. I wish (and I think they do too) that we had time for more discussion, drafting and revision.
While the experiences of the students in her classes mirrored those of the students in my own—at least in terms of being rushed and feeling the need for more time—Rebecca also raises her concern for what the students' education and language backgrounds mean for their ability to participate effectively in the course. In fact, in later email exchanges, Rebecca talks more specifically about her professional interest in her students' experiences:
If I were to impose a narrative on my own teaching experience, I would say that it has been a story of getting to know the precise needs of our particular students in reading, writing and research. Some of these needs are unique to a non-native English speaking population, and more specifically, Croatian speakers, while other issues are probably true of students more universally. But, discovering exactly "what they need" and how to reach them, both collectively and individually, has become the focus of my professional life. That focus is what has driven some changes to the writing program infrastructure at ACMT. (Personal communication, Feb. 23, 2011)
Understanding the linguistic and cultural background of students in Croatia, I clearly saw numerous implications of exporting Writing Seminar to a branch campus. The exported curriculum doesn't, for example, reflect what Bruce Horner and John Trimbur (2002) called an "internationalist perspective" (p. 624). And the course itself can be seen as what Min-Zhan Lu (2010) called an "'English Only' projection" (p. 42). As such, the exported curriculum may fail to offer students at its international locations the writing support they need to achieve articulated learning outcomes. And those learning outcomes may limit all students at RIT and any of its international locations from developing the 21st-century literacy practices engendered by the international branch campuses themselves.
Here, as in my edited collection, Transnational Writing Program Administration (2015), I use the term "transnational" to describe the growing phenomenon that Grant McBurnie and Christopher Ziguras address in their book Transnational Education: Issues and trends in offshore higher education as "any education delivered by an institution based in one country to students located in another" (p. 1). But unlike "global" or "international," I use the term "transnational" because it also invokes a more critical, analytical orientation like that described by Rebeca Dingo in her book, Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, transnational feminism, and public policy. Dingo (2012) argued:
The term transnational, while defined in a number of ways, generally refers to how globalization has influenced the movement of people and the production of texts, culture, and knowledge across borders so that the strict distinctions among nations and national practices can become blurred. In the last ten years, disciplines throughout the humanities and social sciences have recognized that increasing globalization and enduring neoliberal economics have changed our understandings of citizenship, place, and texts. Drawing heavily from the fields of political science, sociology, geography, and women's studies, the emergent interdisciplinary field of transnational studies has sought to uncover, analyze, and conceptualize similarities, differences and interactions among trans-societal and trans-organizational realities and dynamics across time and space (Levitt and Khagram, p. 10–11). (p. 8–9)
By considering the infrastructure of transnational writing programs, my aim is to continue a critical conversation about the opportunities and implications for the learning, teaching and administration of writing across borders.
The bitter battle in the state of Wisconsin over the right of public employees to unionize and bargain collectively is now shifted to the courts and yet, the massive efforts to recall elected officials failed. The argument made by the Republican Governor, based upon a kind of market logic, is that after years of recession and continued economic downturns, the salaries and benefits of public employees, which were the result of collective bargaining, were too costly for the state to continue paying. Still, while the public employee unions agreed to reductions of pay and benefits, the governor insisting on his legislation in the Republican controlled legislature, despite the efforts of the minority Democrats to thwart the passage of the law, as well as widespread public support. An example of market logic gone awry: even when the unions agreed to reductions of pay and benefits to help close the budget deficit, the governor signed the law to restrict collective bargaining.