This past spring, professor of English Rebecca Dingo was awarded a Chancellor's Leadership Fellowship (CLF) in the Office of Faculty Development (OFD) for the 2022-23 academic year. OFD Communications Project Assistant Rachel Smith Olson sat down with Dr. Dingo to learn more about her journey to this position and the work she hopes to accomplish through her project.
Q: What made you interested in scholarly writing at UMass Amherst?
When I first came to UMass Amherst in Fall 2015, I was drawn to the university because it had been at the helm of writing education since the 1980s. I was attracted to the grassroots endeavor of faculty across campus working to better student, community, and scholarly writing, as well as the strong national reputation and history of the Composition and Rhetoric program in the English Department.
Yet, I was surprised to discover that there wasn’t more conversation around faculty writing development. While there was a lot of programming like writing accountability groups and retreats, I began to wonder what kinds of institutional structures could help to sustain robust faculty writing production and assist faculty in developing a purposeful, sustainable writing practice. I have noticed that faculty writing support is scattered in many places on campus, but I am interested in thinking of it more holistically.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a Chancellor's Leadership Fellow (CLF)?
As a Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow, I want to get a sense of how upper administration think about faculty development. I am interested to know what their goals are for the campus, and how the larger goals of UMass Amherst can be supported by a robust scholarly writing program. By elevating the conversation of scholarly writing across campus, UMass can be a leader in writing development, where students are taught by faculty who are strong writers with mindful writing practices. These relationships are reciprocal, and as faculty become stronger writers, research suggests that they inspire their students to be more aware of their own writing practice, and vice versa.
Ultimately, I see the CLF project as a chance to ask, what exists, what are the gaps, and what could be? It’s a moment of opportunity to imagine–if we dream big and imagine what we could do with new and existing resources–what could happen?
Q: What does your CLF project entail?
I seek to assess the scholarly writing supports offered on campus for UMass faculty and through that assessment, offer a data-informed and scholarly backed report to campus leadership that offers recommendations for working within current campus resources and for what we might imagine with additional resources. I will gather this data by talking with associate deans of research and directors of writing and research related programs across campus, holding small focus groups of faculty, and researching similar programs at peer and aspirational campuses.
People may not know what exists at other universities, and part of the goal is to plant the seed that our faculty scholarly writing support on campus could be different and better. I also see that creating and supporting groups of writers with common research interests could foster interdisciplinary research and writing.
Some universities have separate faculty writing centers, while others have designated faculty who provide writing support through groups or one-on-one appointments. There are two ways to think about these spaces: literal spaces on campus like a writing center, and metaphorical spaces created by an official group. I have heard desire for both kinds of support at UMass.
Q: Why is it important to support faculty writing development?
The production of research and writing is part of what sustains the university, and supporting faculty in this will help to bolster the reputation of UMass. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing that everyone’s relationship to work has shifted. Many lost nearly two years of potential work, including writing books, working in labs, and conducting international research. This situation points to structural issues that need to be addressed – what do we do with this big gap in data and work time? Additionally, it prompts us to think about more sustainable structures going forward.
More broadly, when we look at faculty development across career stages, it is hard to have a sustained writing project when there are so many other responsibilities throughout one’s career. Often, there is a lot of mentoring in departments for early career faculty, but later it is assumed that mid-career faculty know how to keep up their scholarly writing. Many times, experienced faculty are still learning how to be productive as they balance new service and administrative roles at UMass, service to their fields, and often new scholarly projects.
Scholarly writing support is also tied to the idea of having a community of writers. Writing centers often embrace the belief that every writer needs an audience, and you need to find that immediate audience that can give you feedback in order to keep writing. This also gives faculty a sense of belonging on campus. Many faculty already find community in groups like the Third Spaces Writing Program and OFD’s Writing Accountability Circles, but others have not yet found a place like this. I want to think about how we can replicate these spaces of belonging on campus for more faculty to experience.