A Brief History of University Writing Centers: Variety and Diversity
©2002 Susan C. Waller
Today, writing centers thrive on many college and university campuses. Yet, this has not always been the case. This paper traces the development of writing centers in the 20th century. Given the variety and diversity of centers, their development is presented by theme rather than chronology. After exploring some possible historical antecedents, the paper discusses the reasons for founding, various names or images, staffing and pedagogy, and relationship to the university at large. It concludes with a series of indicators that describe the current position of writing centers.
On the campuses of many American colleges and universities today, students frequent a place that supports writing. And that support of writing may be the only commonality among these places. They differ in name, staffing, method, funding, and emphasis; yet, they are joined by their increasing presence and importance to the university community. In The American College and University: A History, Rudolph defined the American university as a place with "a remarkable diversity, an unwillingness to be categorized, a variety that would encompass differences.1" This definition of variety can be applied as well to the writing centers that developed as part of the university. Kinkead and Harris in Writing Centers in Context asserted this diversity as the major commonality among centers.2 In a National Conference of Teachers of English (NCTE) statement, Harris described "writing centers [as] exist[ing] in a variety of shapes, sizes and settings."3
It is this very variety, however, that makes the writing of an official, chronological history of writing centers difficult. As Carino noted in "Early Writing Centers: Towards a History," it is easy to document writing center history from the 1970s, but more difficult before that time.4 In addition, "official" writing center history (at least in 1995 when Carino’s article was published) presented the development of writing centers as evolutionary and progressive. It described early centers as inadequately staffed, poorly funded outgrowths of the English department, frequented by freshmen or delinquent students, therefore on the periphery of serious academic work done at a university.5 But on deeper examination, this characterization has not always been accurate. Although writing centers have certainly progressed, Carino argued that their history is not as linear or simple as often presented.6
This paper will examine the writing center in its parts to achieve a greater understanding of the development of the whole. After exploring some possible historical antecedents, it will focus on the reasons for founding, various names or images, staffing and pedagogy, and relationship to the university at large. Arching over this, however, the literature clearly shows that amidst all the diversity, the one consistency is that the writing center developed in the context of the college or university, shaped by the mission, models and materials of its parent institution. Harris asserts that the idea of a generic writing center makes us uneasy because it is a truism of this field that writing centers tend to differ from one another because they have evolved with different kinds of institutions and different writing programs and therefore serve different needs. But by surfacing our traditions, we can formulate some general truths about similarities among different writing centers.7
The first hints of writing centers do not appear until the early years of the 20th century, and centers were not "professionalized" until the 1970s. But American college history reveals several places where writing center work was being done long before centers came into existence, primarily in tutorial and conference settings but possibly also in the early extracurricular vehicle known as the literary society.
Although no direct link exists between 18th century literary societies and 20th century writing centers, a comparison of the two makes such a connection tempting. Rudolph described literary societies as those places on campus where students "owed their allegiance to reason, and in their debates, disputations, and literary exercises, they imparted a tremendous vitality to the intellectual life of the colleges."8 Headed by students, not professors, the societies often ran counter to the ethos of the college that emphasized character over intellect and rote learning over discussion and debate.9 Several aspects in this description echo in definitions of writing centers. Like the literary society, the writing center is student-centered, where students work with peers or with faculty in a collaborative way.10
Using this interactive method, the center also emphasizes the process of writing, seeking as North said "to produce better writers, not better writing."11 And like the literary society, the center has been seen as counter to the university, especially in its collaborative methods, described by Harris as "the antitheses of generic, mass instruction."12 However, the comparison cannot go much farther because literary societies are firmly anchored in the extracurricular as Rudolph pointed out,13 but writing centers emanate from the curricular. Boquet admitted that she, too, given "the politics of location," would like to connect the writing center to the extracurricular, but found "scant support in the early articles on the writing lab method."14 In spite of this difference, the similarities between society and center are suggestive. Almost two hundred years before the first writing center was started, something akin to it, something that supported intellectual growth as seen in spoken and written communication in the context of one’s peers, existed on the American college campus.
Besides the historical echoes of the literary society, writing centers also have an historical antecedent in tutoring services. In "The Bottom Line: Financial Responsibility," Jolly argued, via Rudolph, that preparatory work has always been done at the college level. Historically, tutors were poor scholars whose services were underwritten by the student’s family. In other instances, tutoring was provided by "honor societies or social organizations" that paid for tutoring for their academically underprepared members.15 In the 1950s, colleges offered free tutoring for athletes and World War II veterans, usually paid for by the athletic department or the GI Bill.16 According to Jolly, "an estimated one-third of the 11 million veterans" 17 used the GI Bill, and many of them needed academic assistance. A striking difference between this mid 20th century tutoring and earlier tutoring was that the student and his or her family did not pay for the service; it was provided by the institution.18
In the 1960s, as one outcome of open admissions, universities provided low- income, underprepared students with tutoring. Again, Jolly noted that this service was free for students who met government criteria.19 Therefore, by the late 1960s, academic assistance was available for athletes, veterans, and low-income students, paid for by the college or the government. Wealthy students, as had always been the case, could afford private assistance. Jolly pointed out that the overlooked group was middle-class, underprepared students, who mainly were financing their own education.20 Many of the writing centers that developed in the next decade would address the needs of those students.
A third historical antecedent came from the composition classroom and also served as an impetus for the founding of writing centers. As will be explored in the next section as well as the section on names, the earliest centers grew out of a conferencing method used in composition classrooms.21 What these three forerunners of the writing center show is that the kinds of work done at the center and the atmospheres engendered were not completely foreign to the university community.
Although one can find historical antecedents, however tenuous, for the kinds of work eventually done within the walls of the writing center, more than these antecedents needs to be considered when discussing the reasons for the founding of writing centers. Research shows that there are almost as many impetuses as there are centers; however, they can be grouped around several themes: outgrowths of the classroom, sites for remediation and/or proficiency work, support for writing across the curriculum programs, or havens for writers of all kinds.
The earliest writing centers, often known as labs whose purpose was to enhance writing instruction, were an extension of the classroom. Carino noted that initially writing labs began within the context of the classroom,22 prompting Boquet’s distinction that labs were viewed more as methods than sites and often focused on the grammatical aspects of writing.23 However, she noted that they did provide opportunities for students to write and revise.24 Eventually, method changed to site as the work moved out of the classroom and became an addition to the classroom, following the scientific model of the lab as an extension to classroom work.25
A second impetus for the founding of writing centers involved remediation. Several historical events served to change the emphasis of the writing center from the classroom and from helping writers in general to proficiency and remediation. Among them are events in the 1930s, World War II, the Civil Rights movement that created affirmative action and open admissions, and the literacy crisis of the 1970s.
Though the term "open admissions" is usually applied to the late 1960s and early 1970s, colleges and universities in the 1930s saw an influx of new, underprepared students, whose parents had never attended college or who were immigrants. Writing labs provided a place for needed remedial work.26 Further, Carino saw a writing center antecedent in the Armed Forces English program, developed in the 1940s to prepare World War II officers in a short time. The self-paced and intensive program, which on many campuses became the foundation for later communication programs, encouraged the lab approach.27 By 1950, a survey conducted by Illinois University’s Writing Lab director, Robert Moore, found that 70% of the colleges who had responded to his survey conducted remedial programs at their centers.28 The remedial nature of this work led to the view that early centers were "fix-it" shops.29
Although some writing centers tried to attend to global writing concerns as well as grammatical ones, their institutions often forced them into remedial work. Already twenty years old at the time of Moore’s survey, Iowa University’s center was begun by Carrie Stanley as a writing laboratory where the weaker students who had been referred to her class "labored" to improve skills.30 However, as Kelly noted in his history of that center, Stanley did not give students worksheets and drills; instead she worked individually with them. Eventually this extension of her classroom became a site that provided additional work for weaker students. Finally, attendance became voluntary on the student’s part or suggested by a professor, and eventually required as a consequence for failing the writing competency test.31
By 1945, the emphasis of the Iowa center was changing. Having been officially recognized by the university, Stanley’s center, once a place where students worked individually to improve their writing, became the place "to provide instruction for the students whose placement themes did not meet departmental standards." 32 Now the center’s work involved facilitating, grading and re-teaching proficiency skills. The addition of proficiency to Iowa’s program and the emphasis on "diagnosis and prescription" as well as remediation revealed in Moore’s survey support Boquet’s observation that changes in higher education in the post World War II era created an emphasis resulting in a focus on the individual, practical, skills-centered nature of composing."33 Students came to the lab as individual writers to improve the grammatical aspects of their writing.34
This intertwining of proficiency and remediation would also provide the impetus for many writing centers in the late 1960s and early 70s. At least two waves of open admissions occurred in the second half of the 20th century. An early one, post World War II, brought large populations of veterans to college campuses. As was discussed in the first section of this paper, they often had their own tutoring services.
The second wave of open admission began in the late 1960s. A number of articles in early volumes of writing center scholarship and in articles outside of the profession often begin history here,35 even though there is ample evidence of writing centers before this time. However, the field certainly did explode in the early 1970s.36 A primary reason for this expansion was the open-admission policies adopted on many college campuses during this era. Open-admission policies, such as City University of New York’s (CUNY) in 1966, came as a result of affirmative action and the growing discontent of those segments of society who previously had not had access to college. Boquet noted that growing minority populations and increasing enrollment created problems that "university officials had difficulty even naming," yet they hoped the writing center would remedy.37
In "The Evolution of a Writing Center: 1972-1990," Yahner and Murdick described the results of open admissions including changes in race and socio-economics, and also "sheer numbers"38 – more students had to be accommodated at the university. Part of this accommodation occurred through the introduction of developmental or basic courses, but at University of California, Riverside, minority students resented placement in basic English classes, seeing them as discriminatory. As an alternative, writing center visits did not carry the same stigma as did basic classes.39
On the heels of open admissions came the literacy crisis of the 1970s, 40 the beginning of which is usually traced to Sheils’s article, "Why Johnny Can’t Write," in Newsweek, that argued for weakened literacy abilities based on falling SAT scores among other indicators.41 Administrators charged writing centers with the responsibility of reversing this trend. Harris noted that many centers, including hers at Purdue, were started as a place to help many students with deficient writing skills.42 Yahner and Murdick traced two prevalent views of teaching composition to the remedial work done in the center. One view of composition sought to perpetuate formal English through grammar and other mechanical work while the other view addressed usage and style as well as mechanical concerns, "helping students develop and test ideas in writing."43 Consequently, some writing centers existed to help low achievers and low scorers to improve their basic writing, especially through drill and exercise. Of the twelve centers presented in Writing Centers in Context, three began solely as remedial services and five others included such work in their descriptions.44
Although many centers emphasized remediation as an outgrowth of courses and concerns internal to the university, a few centers, the University of Delaware and Widener University among them, began from general remediation concerns that had emanated from outside of the university. At Delaware, several companies, major employers of university graduates, complained of poor writing skills. At Widener, one trustee in particular who had hired several graduates lobbied the president for a program to improve writing skills on campus.45
But not all centers saw themselves as supporting specific writing done in composition classrooms, propping up underprepared students, or guaranteeing the writing skills of their institution’s graduates. The final reasons that led to the creation of writing centers were more generally conceived. Some centers were outgrowths of writing across the curriculum (WAC) or writing in the discipline (WID) programs. These programs encourage writing in all the disciplines, not just English or the humanities. Writing centers are situated to support these programs, and as Waldo argued, even coordinate them.46 Eight of the twelve centers presented in Writing Centers in Context have a direct connection to their university’s WAC program.47 Harris noted the WAC context as a major trend for writing centers in the 1990s.48 These centers, and increasingly more and more centers, hope to foster and encourage individual thinkers and writers.49 Ideally, most writing centers want to be seen as places where all writers within the university community can find thoughtful, competent readers of their writing.
As well as having multiple reasons for their founding, writing centers have been known by multiple names. Primarily, three terms have been used for these spaces on campuses that support writing: lab or laboratory, clinic, and center. Given the fact that the majority of writing center personnel have English backgrounds, a center by any other name does not necessarily smell as sweet. As writing center theory and practice developed, its adherents formed strong opinions about titles, attaching metaphorical significance to each term. As Carino noted in "What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Our Metaphors?: A Cultural Critique of Clinic, Lab and Center," these metaphors reveal much about the emphasis of the staff and center as well as the relationship to the university at large.50
The earliest spaces called themselves labs or clinics. Boquet noted that there was overlapping between site and method, with method often preceding site.51 In fact, according to Carino, early centers did not see themselves as different from the classroom, but as outgrowths of the classroom, providing time for individual to receive assistance from teacher and peer interaction. The earliest reference Carino found was in 1904, in St. Louis high school teacher Philo Buck’s "laboratory method." His students chose topics, conferenced with him and with their peers. They used class time to accomplish this.52 During the next two decades several similar programs began at both the high school and college level, so many that by the late 1920s enough programs existed to provide research for a master’s thesis by a West Virginia teacher.53
In the 1930s, the University of Minnesota and the State University of Iowa created labs separate from the classroom. Minnesota’s was a "large, well-lit room with writing tables and reference books, as well as a smaller anteroom where students and tutor could conduct individual consultations.54
In the 1940s, the terminology, perhaps showing a connection to psychology and medicine, shifted to clinic. At least one clinic implemented a "psychotherapeutic approach to writing lab work."55 The University of Denver shifted emphasis to "Rogerian non-directive counseling," to bolster students’ self-esteem, to help them overcome fears and compensate for deficient skills because of poor education or background.56 Although Carino noted that this approach was highly criticized and did not last long officially, Boquet argued that the foundations of non-directive tutoring and of providing a safe haven for students who come to the center began here. She also asserted that it was "through this therapeutic closed-door policy that writing centers [began] to engage in some versions of counter-hegemonic work."57
Even if Denver’s overtly medical paradigm did not last, the vestiges of "clinic" remained. Moore, writing in 1950, reporting on his survey of writing clinics and writing laboratories, made copious use of medical terminology. He saw clinics as places of "diagnosis and prescription" and talked in terms of clinicians and specimens of writing.58 For Moore, garbled writing may come from garbled information or "habitually confused thinking"; in that event the student should be referred for psychological help!59 Moore asserted that the clinic or laboratory is valued for its "ready accessibility, its concentration on the removal of specific deficiencies, and its development of instructors particularly skilled in remedial procedures"60. Eventually, however, the term clinic fell out of favor in part because, as Carino noted, it ended up treating students for an illness and implying an objective standard of writing to which everyone must aspire.61
Where the term clinic seemed to conjure up medical and psychological connections, the term laboratory evoked scientific ones. Initially containing the positive images of experimentation, especially when combined with the new process approach to writing, the term turned pejorative as the laboratory became the place to do what classroom teachers did not want to do – grammar.
Increasingly, labs were seen only as places for remediation or places some students may select to go. Writing lab attendance was not required as in the scientific context. Work in the writing lab was not presented as an integral part of classroom. Carino observed that
Not to require all students in all writing courses to work in the lab was to deny that the kind of instruction it offered is integral to learning to write. To require the lab of only basic writers was to infuse the metaphor with connotations of punishment meted out to those who dared to be ungrammatical.62
As more and more centers opened in 1970s and 1980s, the preferred term became center. Centers meant, according to Harris, people with people.63 As centers, these spaces, in North’s words, sought to become "the centers of consciousness about writing on campus, a kind of physical locus for the ideas and ideals of college or university …or writing."64 Harris noted that centers were often cast in "nurturing, nutritive analogies… [seen as] nurturing, helping spaces which provide assistance to other writing centers and sustenance to students to help them grow, mature, and become independent." 65
Where earlier labs and clinics may have relied heavily on machinery such as cassette players and headphones, carrels for individual work, and skill and drill exercise handouts done at an individual pace, centers focused on conversations at tables in open areas with skill discussions emanating out of the text in front of the readers.
Although writing center history cannot be seen as a simple linear progression, as more and more centers emerged in the later decades of the 20th century, the nomenclature progressed from lab and clinic to center. Today, most of these spaces are called centers. Those working in labs are often strongly urged to change their name at annual conventions. At least one vestige of the past remains, however. Perhaps in deference to the past and to differentiate its less formal style from The Writing Center Journal, the Writing Lab Newsletter elected to keep the term lab.66
As the discussion of the names and metaphors reveals, writing centers contain a variety of interactions. These interactions have directly influenced staffing. Yet, despite the variety of staff configurations, most centers rely on some sort of collaborative methodology in opposition to the traditional teacher-centered method found in many classrooms.
Staffing at writing centers has two primary paradigms, faculty based or student based. The earliest centers were staffed by faculty since for the most part they were outgrowths of composition classes, such as Stanley’s at Iowa.67 Even those centers that served a wider campus clientele than first-year-composition students employed faculty and graduate assistants. However, as Carino observed, these faculty members made deliberate efforts to set aside their authority when working in the lab. Buck, who founded one of the earliest labs, suggested that those who would work in that setting must "come down to the same plane with your pupils and then you can help them."68
Several of the labs that started in the 1930s and 1940s employed graduate assistants working closely with faculty members.69 What seems significant, however, is that from the beginning there was acknowledgement that the teaching done in the writing center context was different from that done in the classroom. It was, Carino noted, "not assumed that just any faculty member could work in the lab."70 The early literature revealed the development of specific pedagogy for writing center instruction and a need for resourcefulness and flexibility on the part of the instructor.71
The acknowledgement of the writing center as a place other than and different from the classroom perhaps set the stage for the introduction of peer tutors in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As noted earlier, although centers existed before this time, many new centers emerged on college campuses during this era. Early on, some writing center faculty, notable Bruffee, found great resistance from students to the idea of meeting with a faculty member, even in the writing center context. Bruffee observed that some students who should be prepared for college work did not succeed. It seemed that these students had "difficulty adapting to the traditional or ‘normal’ conventions of the college classroom."72
To reach these students, Bruffee and others adapted peer tutoring to the writing center. Seen as "radical" – to fit the times – this method of teaching was an "alternative to the classroom."73 Peer tutoring provided a reciprocal method of instruction. Tutors both taught their fellow students and learned from the experiences. Interactions were collaborative. The content learned was not altered, but the method of delivery or the "social context" was changed.74
Boquet noted that peer tutoring helped to solve two on-going dilemmas in writing center contexts: "the call for human contact and the very real fiscal constraints faced by labs."75 These centers, now inhabited by students who tutored there as well as brought their own writing there, took on a different flavor, a decidedly undergraduate one,76 hearkening back, albeit still curricular, to Rudolph’s description of the literary society.
Both the setting aside of instructional authority and the development of peer tutoring laid the foundation for the significance of collaboration in writing center theory and practice. Scores of articles about collaboration appeared in both the Writing Lab Newsletter and the Writing Center Journal. In the official NCTE statement about writing centers, Harris described tutors as coaches and collaborators, not teachers. …Tutors do not evaluate their students in any way because the tutor’s role is to help students, not to lecture at them or repeat information available from the teacher or textbook. Instead, tutors collaborate with writers in ways that facilitate the process of writers finding their own answers.77 In recent literature, some writing center scholars have questioned, and even criticized, collaboration.78 However, collaborative methods of some sort currently form the basis of most writing centers.
The penultimate section of this history of writing centers addresses the centers’ relationship to their universities. Seen especially in the impetuses for founding, centers are intricately attached to their sources. Again, to quote Harris: Writing centers "have evolved with different kinds of institutions and different writing programs and therefore serve different needs."79 Two areas that illuminate the attachment are the center’s funding sources and the university’s attitude toward the center.
Writing centers have been funded in a variety of ways. As outgrowths of the classroom, early centers were funded through their departments, primarily the English department and often staffed through release time.80 In 1950, Moore found that few charged fees; most were free "accepting the handling of remedial composition problems as a necessary, if deplorable, part of the task of American colleges and universities."81 He described them as self-made centers, funded by the English department or dean and staffed by department and graduate assistants.
Some schools still fund centers directly from the English departments, while at others, the funding flows from the college that houses English, such as Arts and Science. In their survey of twelve writing centers, Kinkead and Harris noted four that were directly funded by English, two by the writing program, and four by the supporting college within the university.82 At a few schools, the center was funded by a specialized area, such as ESL, basic skills, or minority affairs.83
Another monetary issue that has greatly affected writing centers is the consistency and availability of funding dollars. Much of the literature that discussed funding comes out of the proliferation of centers in the 1970s. Many of these centers started on soft or grant money.84 This funding source put them in precarious situations. Space for centers was limited, with centers ending up in basements or broom closets.85 Directors had no guarantees of jobs from year to year. After staff was paid, little money was left for supplies or furnishings. Writing center literature abounds with stories of scavenger hunts for tables, chairs, and other equipment.86 In 1981, the NCTE issued a statement calling faculty status for writing center directors.87 Today, more and more centers are funded directly through their unit’s budget rather than relying on annual grants.
How the university at large views the writing center has long been a concern of writing center directors, faculty and tutors. North began his almost canonical 1984 essay, "The Idea of a Writing Center," by bemoaning the ignorance of the university at large, particularly his colleagues in English departments, to the work of the writing center. He gave example after example of misunderstanding of and condescension toward centers, describing faculty who saw centers as "fix-it shops" or "giving first aid and treating symptoms."88 This attitude had surfaced earlier in Hayward’s survey which found that most faculty referred students to the writing center for grammar and punctuation and are not receptive to other, more primary, aspects of the center.89 In a 1990 article, Harris referred to "a tradition of misunderstanding," which she suggested came from the radically different educational perspectives held by classroom faculty and writing center faculty.90
Yet, this ignorance is nothing new. In 1950, Robert Moore berated those faculty who refused to see the value of writing centers. Faculty "complain," Moore said, about the quality of their students’ writing, but they rarely address the issue themselves with their students in their classes.91 For Moore,
student indifference stems from faculty indifference…. I remarked earlier on the difference that often exists between the quality of the writing which a student can produce when he is aware that his writing skill is to be considered and that of his habitual writing. If instructors in non-English courses would insist on the best writing of which the student is capable, they would find – amid much student grumbling – that the English departments have builded (sic) better than is often supposed.92
In some cases, that ignorance has given way to an adversarial stance, questioning the legitimacy and ethics of writing centers. In "What Composition Teachers Need to Know about Writing Centers," Powers noted that some instructors view writing center staff as assistants, while others are wary of divided loyalties in their students. She argued that composition instructors need to know the value of peer tutors and understand the collaborative learning model.93 Some faculty, Maxine Hairston in particular, even questioned the legitimacy of writing centers, seeing them as
improvise[d] ad hoc measures to try to patch the cracks and keep the system running….[These] writing labs sprang up about ten years ago to give first aid to students who seemed unable to function within the tradition paradigm. Those labs are still with us, but they’re still only giving first aid and treating symptoms. They have not solved the problem.94
In addition to questioning legitimacy, faculty questioned the ethics of the work done at centers. Clark and Healy noted that faculty "continue to express concern that the sort of assistance [given] may be inappropriate."95 The improprieties involve plagiarism and questions about ownership of texts. In response to these concerns, many writing center theorists advocated what came to be known as non-directive or "minimalist tutoring." 96 Described in articles and texts in the early 1980s,97 minimalist tutoring was fully defined by Brooks in 1996 with caveats such as these: "Sit beside the student, not across a desk…; try to get the student to be physically closer to her paper than you are…; sit … [so as to] make it more difficult for you to write on the paper [,–] better yet, don’t let yourself have a pencil in your hand; have the student read the paper aloud to you."98
Yet, not everyone in the writing center community agreed with these techniques. Seeing them as defensive and not necessarily in the writer’s best interests, Clark and Healy argued for a continuum of tutoring practice that is proactive, rather than defensive. Since a "hallmark" of writing center theory and practice is "individualized writing instruction," according to Clark and Healy, writing center instructors or tutors must make use of a variety of methods, both direct and indirect, to assist each writer in the best way possible. 99
Rather than react to critics in a defensive manner regarding legitimacy and ethics, many writing centers actively communicated their mission and methods to their academic community. Yahner and Murdick noted the importance of formulating an appropriate response to critics:
Writing centers are not monasteries, not safe enclosures in which the spiritual work of tutoring and speculating about the ‘riddles of convoluted syntax’ can proceed untouched by the vulgar discord of the academic world. We must recognize our vulnerability, our penetrability, and prepare to live politically if we are to continue to grow as progressive resources within … higher education.100
Not all centers at all times have had to deal with negative attitudes from faculty. Especially on campuses with Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) or Writing in the Disciplines (WID) programs, or with strong commitments to writing, the writing center has enjoyed the support and partnership of faculty and administration committed to writing. 101
Although the legitimacy and importance of writing centers is firmly established on many college campuses, not all of the negative attitudes have been disarmed. Harris advocated research and articles published in non-writing center journals as a means of educating the uninformed and answering the antagonistic.102
Over the past century, writing centers have move from method to site, from margins to the center. They are recognized and accepted on college campuses as advocates of writers of all kinds and at all levels.103 Many current elements point to this acceptance. First, years after the NCTE statement concerning the status of writing center directors, many directors are tenured faculty members and advertisements for directors indicate a desire to hire those with terminal degrees and writing center experience.104 In addition, writing center staff are seen as professionals. Second, regional writing center associations and the International Writing Center Association (IWCA) exist to support the work writing centers do.105 Third, writing center research in practice and theory is directly supported by two organs, The Writing Lab Newsletter, begun in 1977, to support practice, and The Writing Center Journal, founded in 1980, to support research and theory.106 In addition, a writing center archive and research project is on the Internet. 107 Fourth, in addition to the publications themselves, the research published in them and others, such as College English and College Composition and Communication, establishes writing centers as sites of academic enquiry. Finally, tutor-training courses are now offered for credit on many college campuses, indicating that the university has recognized the academic value of collaborative work.108
Despite, or perhaps because of, these indicators of acceptance by and status in academia, some within the writing center community, such as Summerfield, are suspicious of the acquired centrality:
I have visited some writing centers of late. Some astonish me. They are plush, with luxurious carpets, modern (or post modern) prints on the walls, secretaries, computer terminals, stocked libraries, spacious surroundings – and cubicles. I say watch out for the cubicles. Watch out for the computer terminals. Watch out for all evidence of attempts to break down the gathering of minds.109
Yet, it is this gathering of minds that is the most important aspect in the development of the writing center. Stemming from historical antecedents that presupposed conversation, established through a variety of impetuses, encompassing several names and images, relying on faculty and students to carry out its work collaboratively, and eliciting conflicting responses from the university, the writing center has remained true to its mission, as North said, of talking to writers:
If writing centers are going to finally be accepted, surely they must be accepted on their own terms, as places whose primary responsibility, …is to talk to writers. That is their heritage, and it stretches back farther than the 1960s or the early 1970s, or to Iowa in the 1930s [, or St. Louis in 1904] – back, in fact, to Athens, where in a busy marketplace a tutor called Socrates set up the same kind of shop: open to all comers, no fees charged, offering, on whatever subject a visitor might propose, a continuous dialectic that is, finally, its own end.110 This heritage of conversation is what makes the writing center such a rich and integral part of the university community today.
1. Frederick Rudolph, The American College & University: A History
(Athens: University of Georgia,1990) , 332.
2. Joyce A. Kinkead, and Jeanette G Harris, Writing Centers in Context: Twelve
Case Studies (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1993) , iv.
3. Muriel Harris, SLATE (Support for the Learning and Teaching of English) Statement: The Concept of a Writing Center.1988. Available [Online]: <http:// iwca.syr.edu/IWCA/Startup/Slate.htm> [10 October 2002].
4. Peter Carino, "Early Writing Centers: Toward a History," The Writing Center Journal 15, no.2 (1995): 103.
5. Ibid., 103,104.
6. Ibid., 104.
7. Muriel Harris, "What’s up and What’s in: Trends and Traditions in Writing Centers," in Landmark Essays on Writing Centers, ed. Christina Murphy and Joe Law (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press,1995) , 27.
8. Rudolph, 138.
9. Ibid., 139.
10. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 33.
11. Stephen North, "The Idea of a Writing Center," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon,
2001) , 69.
12. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 31.
13. Rudolph, 137.
14. Elizabeth Boquet, " ‘Our Little Secret’: A History of Writing Centers, Pre- to Post-open Admissions," College Composition and Communication 50, no.3 (1999): 467.
15. Peggy Jolly, "The Bottom Line: Financial Responsibility," in Writing Centers: Theory and Administration, ed. Gary A. Olsen, (Urbana, IL: NCTE,1984), 101.
16. Ibid., 102.
21. Boquet, 467.
22. Carino, "Early Writing Centers," 105.
23. Boquet, 467.
25. Boquet, 467; Carino, "Early Writing Centers," 106.
26. Carino, "Early Writing Centers," 106.
27. Ibid., 107.
28. Robert Moore, "The Writing Clinic and the Writing Laboratory," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 3.
29. North, 66.
30. Lou Kelly, "One-on-one, Iowa City Style: Fifty Years of Individualized Writing Instruction," in Landmark Essays on Writing Centers, ed. Christina Murphy and Joe Law, (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press,1995), 11.
31. Ibid., 11,12.
32. Ibid., 12.
33. Boquet, 468.
35. Muriel Harris, "Growing Pains: The Coming of Age of Writing Centers," The Writing Center Journal 2, no. 1(1982). Available [Online]: <http://www.wcrp.louisville.edu/ wcj2.1_mharris.htm> [9 September 2002]; Suzanne Powers, "What Composition Teachers Need to Know about Writing Centers," Freshmen English News 19, no.2 (1991): 15.
36. Joyce Kinkead, "The National Writing Centers Association as Mooring: A Personal History of the First Decade," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 29-40.
37. Boquet, 472.
38. William Yahner and Willam Murdick, "The Evolution of a Writing Center: 1972-1990," The Writing Center Journal 11, no. 2(1991): 16
39. Ibid., 15.
40. Harris, "Growing Pains," "SLATE Statement;" Kinkead and Harris, 2
41. John Trimbur, "Theory of Visual Design," in Coming of Age: The Advanced Writing Curriculum. ed. Linda K. Shamoon, Rebecca Moore Howard, Sandra Jamieson, and Robert A. Schwegler, (Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton Cook), 277; quoted in Rebecca Moore Howard, Syllabus CCR 651:Interdisciplinary Studies in Language and Literacy. Available [Online]: <http://wrt-howard.syr.edu/Syllabi/CCR651SylS00.html> [15 November 2002].
42. Harris, "Growing Pains."
43. Yahner and Murdick, 14.
44. Kinkead and Harris, 228-31.
45. Patricia M. Dyer, interview by author, Chester, PA, 8 October 2002.
46. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner, The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 401.
47. Kinkead and Harris, 228-31.
48. Harris, "Growing Pains."
49. Boquet, 467; Harris, "Growing Pains."
50. Peter Carino, "What Do We Talk about When We Talk about Our Metaphors: A Cultural Critique of Clinic, Lab, and Center," in Landmark Essays on Writing Centers, ed. Christina Murphy and Joe Law (Davis, CA: Hermagoras Press, 1995), 37.
51. Boquet, 465.
52. Carino, "What Do We Talk about," 105.
54. Ibid., 106.
55. Boquet, 469.
56. Carino, "Early Writing Centers," 107-8.
57. Boquet, 470.
58. Moore, 4-6.
59. Ibid., 6.
60. Ibid., 4.
61. Carino, "What Do We Talk about," 39-40.
62. Ibid., 41.
63. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 33.
64. North, 78. Carino makes this connection to North.
65. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 29.
66. Kinkead, 34.
67. Kelly, 12.
68. Carino, "Early Writing Centers," 111.
72. Kenneth Bruffee, "Peer Tutoring and the ‘Conversation of Mankind,’ " in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 206.
73. Ibid., 206-07.
74. Ibid., 207.
75. Boquet, 474.
76. Ibid., 475.
77. Harris, "SLATE Statement."
78. Andrea Lunsford, "Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 93; Eric H. Hobson, "Maintaining Our Balance: Walking the Tightrope of Competing Epistemologies," idem, 105; Christiana Murphy, "The Writing Center and Social Constructionist Theory," idem, 112; Linda K. Shamoon and Deborah H. Burns, "A Critique of Pure Tutoring," idem, 227.
79. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 27.
80. Jolly, 106.
81. Moore, 8.
82. Kinkead and Harris, 228-31.
84. Jolly, 103.
85. North, 68.
86. Harris, "Growing Pains."
87. Kinkead, 31.
88. North, 66,67.
90. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 20.
91. Moore, 9
93. Powers, 18.
94. Ibid., 16.
95. Irene L. Clark and Dave Healy, "Are Writing Centers Ethical? in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 242.
96. Jeff Brooks, "Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student do all the Work," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 219.
97. Linda Bannister-Wills, "Developing a Peer Tutor Program," in Writing Centers:Theory and Administration, ed. Gary A. Olsen, (Urbana, IL: NCTE,1984), 136; Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 32.
98. Brooks, 222.
99. Clark and Healy, 255.
100. Yahner and Murdick, 26.
101. Barnett and Blumner, 401-02.
102. Harris, "What’s up and What’s in," 31.
103. Kinkead, 37.
104. International Writing Centers Association (15 April 2002 [Last update] ). Available [Online]:< http://iwca.syr.edu> [14 November 2002].
106. Kinkead, 30,33.
107. Writing Centers Research Project (1 November 2002 [Last update] ). Available [Online]: http://www.louisville.edu/a-s/writingcenter/wcenters/index.html [14 November 2002].
108. D’Ann George, "Lobbying for New Courses in Writing Center Theory/pedagogy," The Writing Lab Newsletter 27 (October 2002): 5.
109. Judith Summerfield, "Writing Centers: A Long View," in The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Writing Center Theory and Practice, ed. Robert W. Barnett and Jacob S. Blumner (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2001), 28.
110. North, 78.
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