by Angela W. Williams
Cloning doesn't work! Ten years after trooping around the country, hell-bent
on finding an ideal WAC program to emulate, I'm convinced we were right to create
our own version, using bits of programs and pieces of advice from the generous
WAC community. In the collaborative spirit of WAC/CAC, I'd like to share a few
secrets that have lead to our being one of the most successful CAC programs
in the country, if we judge success by percentage of faculty who engage in CAC
Background: The Citadel is a four-year institution with an undergraduate (2,000) program that boasts a rigorous core curriculum, including four semesters of English. Its graduate school is of equal size (2,000. Combined schools boast more women than men! CAC has evolved into an autonomous program with a budget of $10,000, a CAC resource room and lounge, and a director who teaches two courses and reports to a dean.
The original CAC Committee was a band of rogues with two strengths: a burning desire to help our students learn and an insatiable appetite to improve teaching effectiveness. By design, it is not an assigned college committee; each sector of the college is represented, including staff. We meet twice a month. Frankly, members are chosen for for their passion or their power. Committee chairs have been department heads: Engineering, Political Science, Business School. People regularly ask to be on the committee, but few rotate off because it's one of the most fun, effective committees on campus!
Secrets to Success
1. Keep the Vision - An effective WAC/CAC program shapes its vision to the unique environment. After a decade we are still laser focused on our twofold mission, a mission that reflects not only our concern for our students' education and our faculty's professional development—To help faculty discover new methods of improving students' communication: reading, writing, listening speaking, interpersonal, and technological skills, but also our concern for the campus community at large—To improve communication among the diverse branches of the college.
This may mean taking risks. An example of one of CAC's first initiative in enhancing the dialogue across the campus came when The Citadel was in the throes of breaking with its all-male tradition. Communication—among departments, between faculty and administrators as well as among students, faculty, and administrators—seemed closed or strained, at best. Our theme for CAC activities that year was Dealing with Institutional Change, which culminated in a two-day retreat that included faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni, as well as members of the school's Board of Visitors. Though it was a rousing success, the committee received a reprimand from the then-Vice-President for "overstepping its bounds." (We were not deterred!) This year we're responding to local and national concerns by having discussions on Ethics, Honor, and Personal Integrity.
2. Keep the Passion - CAC grew out of faculty concern for student learning. We're equally concerned with the scholarship of teaching. An effective program is proactive, invigorating, and challenging for students and faculty. Our regular two-hour CAC luncheon seminars use a format that works: enticing food, reserved places, table tents, mixed seating, polished presentations, enthusiastic table leaders, student participation, and lively discussions. Activities begin and end on time, with folks wishing for more!
Between 60-100 people participate in each scheduled CAC activity, largely because of the personal connections with CAC committee members who enthusiastically encourage involvement and because of creative marketing with fliers and emails (We start with an email teaser, follow up with flier and expanded email.)
3. Keep the Connections - CAC is involved in the burning issues on campus that deal with student learning and quality teaching. At its inception, The Citadel's CAC Program needed a jump start but had no money, so we connected with Clemson and the College of Charleston to bring the writing gurus to our backyard; thus, the first National WAC Conference was born!
The last two years, our CAC Program has co-hosted the Southern Regional AD/HD Conference with a community organization. It brings national experts to campus so our teachers get the latest research on learning differences. Our annual Faculty Retreat at Seabrook Island is another opportunity to bring in an expert and ask other schools to join in the WACy conversation. Whenever possible, we bring Mohammed to the mountain!
Internal connections are equally vital. Each year the director documents hundreds of contact hours that she spends meeting with faculty members one-on-one, by departments, or through phone and email conversations about improving teaching and learning. Regarding politics, the CAC Chair is a master. He knows the exact timing for presenting our budget request, his ear is to the ground regarding administrative politics, and he puts CAC activities on the official school calendar for all to see. We also write a brief column in the monthly school bulletin. A high profile on campus helps us stay connected with those who make decision that affect teaching and learning, and that's what CAC is all about.
See? Cloning doesn't work. I've helped a number of programs get cranked up or get rejuvenated, and my message is always the same: Be the best program you can be in your particular environment. If you Keep the Vision, Keep the Passion, and Keep the Connections, the program will succeed!
Angela W. Williams, The Citadel Director, Communication Across the Curriculum Co-founder, National Writing Across the Curriculum Conference WAC/CAC Consultant