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Review: Walvoord, Barbara E., Linda Lawrence Hunt, H. Fil Dowling, and Joan D. McMahon. (1997). In the Long Run: A Study of Faculty in Three Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

– Reviewed by Timothy Barnett, Northeastern Illinois University, January 18, 2000
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Recently on the Writing Across the Curriculum listserv, Tim Peeples asked a question that stirred enthusiastic dialogue among the participants, primarily writing across the curriculum administrators: "If you were to leave the director position of your program tomorrow, what about your program is so woven into your campus that it would survive your leaving?" (10 December 1999). The listserv participants offered a variety of answers to this question and cited several texts to bolster support for their arguments, and I believe Peeples' question resonated with the participants because of the difficulty and importance of institutionalizing writing across the curriculum programs, a goal related both to our discipline's beliefs about the importance of writing to learning and to the dependence of individuals' professional advancement on the success of WAC programs. One text singled out in this discussion was Barbara E. Walvoord's, Linda Lawrence Hunt's, H. Fil Dowling's, and Joan D. McMahon's In the Long Run: A Study of Faculty in Three Writing-Across-the-Curriculum-Programs. I was particularly interested in this book because I am responsible for helping to revive a stagnant WAC program (one that was not institutionalized the first time around), and In the Long Run is the most in-depth study of successful WAC programs available. As such, it would appear to offer valuable insight into creating writing across the curriculum programs that last.

And in fact, the book is a valuable one for compositionists, particularly writing administrators, because of the boundaries it breaks, because of the daring the authors demonstrate in attempting such a wide-scale study, and because of the inclusion of an array of faculty voices to illustrate the findings of the study (findings, the authors emphasize, that have been created both by the researchers and by the faculty members being studied). The book is also very important because it reminds us of the limits of WAC-even as it provides evidence for the power of writing across the curriculum to the university. In the Long Run, that is, pushes WAC administrators to see beyond the limits of our worlds and into the fact that we play, and can only play, a limited role in the life of the university and in the lives of individual faculty members. Paradoxically, though, Walvoord's, Hunt's, Dowling's, and McMahon's study suggests that administrators can have the greatest effect by recognizing the limits of our work. By recognizing that WAC is only one, probably small, element of the average faculty member's career development, we will be better able to help faculty from across the disciplines use writing in line with their own needs and interests rather than from some idealized vision we believe we have created about writing and learning.

While this history of WAC runs into some difficulties, in part because it is an initial step into uncharted waters, it provides impetus for new ways of historicizing WAC and helps junior administrators such as myself understand better the staying power of writing across the curriculum programs. The primary issue I am concerned with in this review concerns methodology (what I consider both the strength and weakness of In the Long Run), but my ultimate purpose is less to critique In the Long Run than it is to ask that writing program administrators and scholars (including, and maybe especially, Walvoord, Hunt, Dowling, and McMahon) look to this study as a cornerstone from which to build more in-depth, long range histories of WAC.

The Study

The authors begin their historical research with the following five questions regarding faculty who have participated in WAC over an extended period of time:

  1. What did faculty expect to gain from WAC?
  2. What have the WAC experiences meant to them?
  3. How did WAC influence their teaching philosophies and attitudes?
  4. How did WAC influence their teaching strategies?
  5. How did WAC influence their career patterns? (26)

These questions derive from long-range research (over a period of up to eighteen years and involving "approximately 720 faculty members" (21) and over 1100 students). The authors gathered data at their own universities and at universities where they had acted as consultants: the University of Cincinnati, Towson State University, and Whitworth College, institutions of different sizes and with different goals and interests. The data collection actually began (informally) long before the authors had considered a book such as In the Long Run, but by 1993 the authors, who had worked together professionally off and on for a number of years, realized that together they had a wealth of data from which to write a book-length study. From 1993-95, they analyzed the existing data for trends and supplemented it with new research (based on the trends identified and designed specifically to answer the questions listed above).

The authors are scrupulously concerned with creating reliable historical analysis and note the importance of understanding the historical information they have gathered from several points of view as they illustrate, for example, when they write:

often our interviews and small groups were accompanied by syllabi, assignment sheets, and other materials that provided evidence of the changes the faculty member described. Frequently, assignments or teaching ideas had begun in the WAC workshops and small groups where, in most cases, we ourselves were present. We observed classrooms and queried students. These data, and our multiple contacts with faculty over time, helped us to trace the influences [WAC had on faculty] (27).

As this quote suggests, the researchers wanted to gather a variety of data before making conclusions and, therefore, interviewed faculty (often more than once) singly and in small groups; observed faculty in their classes; asked faculty and students to fill out questionnaires; examined syllabi, assignments, writing-intensive course proposals and faculty-authored papers on writing; and took notes at faculty workshops and writing groups. In addition, the researchers took great care with the reliability of their data interpretation: "To triangulate by researcher, we examined separately each other's interviews and faculty-authored accounts and then compared our interpretations" (28).

Given the thoughtful ways the researchers accumulated and interpreted data and the years of experience each has with writing across the curriculum (Walvoord, for example, is given credit for beginning WAC in 1970 and has long been a central figure in the movement), I expected extended analysis of how successful WAC programs have been built, what makes them last, and what we should expect in the future for WAC. I was somewhat disappointed in this expectation, however, because of what appear to me to be methodological conflicts.

The scope of In the Long Run (the length of time the book covers, the number of research subjects involved, the volume and variety of data in the study, etc.) suggests that large conclusions about WAC at least be broached, but the authors instead focus on "The individual faculty member [as] the unit of analysis" (20). This methodology privileges faculty voices to correct for past studies of WAC, studies that have merely asked if faculty in the disciplines have learned what WAC specialists have had to teach them and not explored teaching practices from the faculty members' perspectives. For good reason, the authors want to respect faculty wisdom and the individual contexts within which faculty work, and to this end they provide extensive quotes from instructors involved in the study, quotes sometimes equalling almost half the length of individual chapters.

While the authors do note that their goal is to move beyond case studies in their work (15), most noticeable throughout the text is the influence of case study methodology on their project and the importance of individual (non-generalizable) faculty voices to their conclusions. The authors make their preference for individual faculty voices and their skepticism of researcher-defined generalizations known in several places, including the following two quotes, the first of which notes the kind of study the authors of In the Long Run deliberately set out to avoid and the second describing what they believe to be a model for WAC histories:

Several…case studies…make the point that teachers' intentions may be subverted in the classroom by students' ways of working, but they study multiple classrooms, and they draw conclusions not about what the individual teachers they studied might have done, but about what teachers in general might do…. (10, emphasis added)
McCarthy and Fishman's collaborative work, published during a span of several years, provides an example, we believe, of the kind of case study the field needs. …McCarthy, a writing specialist, and Fishman, a philosopher significantly influenced by WAC, examine Fishman's teaching …. What emerges is the story of a teacher's journey whose outcome the writing specialist does not pretend to know or control, but for which she, and their interaction, provide a rich resource…. Throughout this body of work, Fishman's story leaps from the page in his own powerful words and in McCarthy's observations. His story defies the boundaries of easy generalization...(14, emphasis added).

Including faculty voices in WAC histories is a laudable, and, I would venture, essential goal. However, in trying to pay heed to individual faculty experiences and to move beyond a case study approach to systemic analysis, the authors of In the Long Run do neither in a fully satisfactory way. On the one hand, I found myself consistently respecting and appreciating the faculty voices and the teaching practices that were included in this study, but a richly detailed case study of faculty over an extended period would have required a much more substantial book than the one that is offered. On the other hand, I also found myself consistently wanting more generalization and argument from the authors of the study, who, by virtue of their collective experience and the fact that they were the ones who had actively read the vast amount of data they collected (something the individual faculty members quoted at length in the study had not done) would be in an excellent position to analyze thoroughly the institutionalization of WAC.

For example, in the chapter "What Did Faculty Expect from WAC," the most significant analysis of the important data provided comes in the last two pages when the authors briefly discuss "Stimuli to Faculty Change," and I would have greatly appreciated further discussion of this issue from a WAC administrator's point of view. In addition, in Chapter 5, "What Did WAC Experiences Mean to Faculty?" the authors note the importance of community to the success or failure of WAC, but, again, they do not take their analysis very far. Community, in fact, seems to be what the authors are pointing to as the dominant component of a successful WAC program since it comes up, explicitly and implicitly, throughout the book and is supported by a number of faculty quotes and stories. However, while the authors cite Parker Palmer's belief in the importance of community to all learning (66-67), a more in-depth theoretical and practical discussion of community, composition, and WAC programs seems called for, one that might answer questions such as the following: How is community a problem when we talk about the interdisciplinary work inherent in WAC? How can the work of Joseph Harris, Mary Louise Pratt and others on community and conflict contribute to a WAC administrator's perspective? What goes into creating successful WAC communities-among faculty members, faculty and administration, faculty and students? And, finally, how do WAC administrators acknowledge that WAC is only one element in the life of the average faculty member and respect individual faculty members' autonomy while still promoting what we believe to be a critical part of university life? This last issue, in particular, is a highly significant one for WAC administrators' lives, but it is one the authors only acknowledge rather than truly wrestle with.

To some extent, I am sure my critique of In the Long Run reflects my needs as a junior faculty member looking for "answers" regarding the institutionalization of WAC from senior members of the field, and the book can not be held accountable for not filling all of my needs. However, I cannot help but wonder how much further Walvoord, Hunt, Dowling, and McMahon could have gone with the incredibly rich and extensive data they have gathered and whether the very accumulation of such data suggests the possibility of greater generalizations about the past, present, and future of WAC-even if only tentative ones. It seems to me that, while individual faculty voices regarding WAC are crucial to assessing WAC's successes and failures to date, there is also a great deal of room for analysis by those who have been at the forefront of this movement. Maybe it's too much to ask, but could I suggest a second volume to In the Long Run, one that explicitly attempts to generalize about the institutionalization of WAC programs while not forgetting the individual faculty voices that give such programs their complexity and richness?

Works Cited

Peeples, Tim. (1999). "WAC-What Will Last?" On-Line Posting, December 10. Writing Across the Curriculum Listserv. (WAC-L@POSTOFFICE.CSO.UIUC.EDU).

Walvoord, Barbara E. Linda Lawrence Hunt, H. Fil Dowling, and Joan D. McMahon. (1997). In the Long Run: A Study of Faculty in Three Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Publication Information: Barnett, Timothy. (2000). [Review of the book In the Long Run: A Study of Faculty in Three Writing-Across-the-Curriculum Programs]. Academic.Writing.
Publication Date: March 26, 2000
DOI: 10.37514/AWR-J.2000.1.5.21

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Copyright © 2000 Timothy Barnett. Used with permission.