WAC and CAC Colleges of the Year

TIME editors phoned WAC and CAC program directors around the country for noteworthy representatives of this important initiative in higher education. Many readers of academic.writing may have been among those called and theirs among the 100 institutions the TIME judges considered before picking four. The introductory article in The Best College for You identified the criteria with five "components of a good program":

    1. "Is writing embedded throughout the curriculum?"
    2. "Does it affect nearly every student?"
    3. "Are the faculty given enough support to teach these writing-intensive courses?"
    4. "Does the campus have a writing center to which students can go for help and advice?"
    5. "And finally, for liberal-arts colleges, are students required to produce a major project during their senior year?" (63)

Why four instead of their usual one College of the Year? Recognizing that not all colleges or WAC programs follow the same model, the editors selected a community college, Longview; a private liberal arts college, Sarah Lawrence; a private research university, Cornell; and a public university, Clemson. Leaders of featured colleges took time from their busy fall work to respond to an e-mail interview (pretty basic: I sent them some questions and they answered).

Some hoopla surrounded the August announcement. Colleges were informed about a week before the publication hit the stands, giving them a little time to prepare media releases and internal events. And prepare they did: Press conferences; local newspaper, television, and radio interviews with college presidents, faculty, and students; receptions for faculty who have been active in WAC; and balloons, banners, and special tee shirts were among the ways they celebrated. Because I am living in Clemson, I have been in the midst of that university’s celebrations, which will continue with a reception at the president’s house for all the faculty who have participated in their program. Longview has several special events scheduled, some highlighting students, others highlighting "WAC pioneers" and the people new to the program, whom they have dubbed "WAC futurists." CNN Headline News, which, by the way is affiliated with the publisher of The Best College for You, even did a story on WAC, including a live interview with Art Young of Clemson, whom they called a "grandaddy of WAC," much to his chagrin and the delight of his two-year-old granddaughter.

WAC leaders at the honored colleges expressed surprise and gratification that the popular media were honoring their work and asking collegebound students and their families to take seriously the integration of writing into all teaching as a criterion for a good education. Jonathan Monroe, Director of the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines at Cornell, calls this story "a perfect occasion to spread the word internally" about recent events and accomplishments such as an endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and imminent publication of a forthcoming book, Writing and Revising the Disciplines, representing nine disciplines. New programs and collaborations have resulted. Clemson sees an increased interest from alumni and from campus and community groups, according to Kathleen Blake Yancey, Director of the Roy and Marnie Pearce Center for Professional Communication. "We’ve always been proud of what we do, but this kind of recognition makes you think that others value it as well," Yancey adds. Mary McMullen Light, WAC Coordinator at Longview, thinks "other writing-related and learning-related projects and proposals at our college and within our system will now enjoy more support."

What difference does this recognition make for the rest of us? The introduction to the College of the Year section of The Best College for You reports that "about half of all colleges and universities have some sort of WAC program" (63). Fledgling and floundering programs might be able to generate some enthusiasm on campus as a result of this recognition. When I heard the news, I sent a copy of the TIME/The Princeton Review publication to the Tidewater Community College administration in hopes it would reinforce intermittent efforts to initiate a unified WAC-CAC or writing program instead of the meaningful but disparate efforts that had been occurring for the twenty years I’ve been on the faculty. Perhaps you sent clippings to your faculty and administration, reinforcing the importance of communication for all disciplines, both writing for thinking and learning and writing in the discourse of the major. The president of Sarah Lawrence, Michele Teola Myers, described the broader implications of this award that "focuses on writing and the communication of ideas….One of the most important skills in the digital age is, in fact, one of the oldest--its writing."

CAC Connections November 2000