Writing Program 40th Anniversary Profile: Anne Herrington
Monday, September 26, 2022
Monday, September 26, 2022
This profile is the first in the Writing Program’s 40th anniversary series highlighting faculty members instrumental in beginning the WP at UMass Amherst. Each profile provides a unique perspective on how the program has grown since the beginning. We appreciate each one of them for sharing their thoughts and time with us!
Anne Herrington, former Director of the Writing Program and Distinguished Professor Emerita of the English Department
The Writing Program began its legacy of providing excellent writing instruction to UMass Amherst undergraduates in 1982. Since then, the program has changed along with the shifts in the university, the field of Writing Studies, and broader national and international scholarly movements. However, a commitment to student-centered writing instruction has remained consistent. To find out more about the evolution of the program since 1982, we spoke with previous administrators in the program. Anne Herrington, Director of the Writing Program from 1990-1996, shares her experiences.
How would you describe the Writing Program during your time working in it? Can you tell me about one moment that stands out?
I think two things stand out. One isn't curricular, but it was the first contract for Teaching Associates. Writing program Graduate Teaching Associates were instrumental in leadership, particularly Emily Isaacs and a couple of others. There was a lot of tension with the provost around that negotiation, and we as a writing program stood with our graduate students and, I think, helped keep the provost from making any moves that would have been counter to successful negotiation.
The other moment that stands out the most is with Marcia Curtis making the justification for Basic Writing (EnglWrit 111, now named Writing, Identity, and Power) to continue receiving course credit. There was some pressure to call those courses remedial, and we said they should get credit and maintain their ability to fulfill the diversity requirement for general education. (See the 1986 entry on the Writing Program timeline for a news story on this event.)
Over the course of its 40 years, how do you think the program has changed?
The program was originally designed by a cross-university team of faculty so writing in the disciplines was central to the program from the get-go. It was designed in the spirit of a program that had a coherent curriculum but allowed room for individual instructors to put their own imprint on it in some way. Actual frequent writing was always central to it. Over time, certainly who does what has changed.
When the program was created in the early 1980s, the Junior Year Writing courses were taught primarily by tenured faculty. Now the world of UMass has changed considerably since then, with fewer faculty lines, so clearly there are more professional instructors teaching Junior Year Writing courses, and not all of them are necessarily trained in the disciplines in which they're teaching. But I’ve done a little consulting with some of them in recent years, and from my observations I think they're all doing an excellent job. The Junior Year Writing goal is still being realized, but in a different way-- we're recognizing different times.
Clearly, the curriculum has changed over time as well. And that's fine. I mean, initially it was more of a of writing-as-craft approach and now it's more rhetorical and textual analysis, so there's a change as times change and particular interests and emphases change. I hope and think it's still the case that there's the aim to have a coherent curriculum, so the university can say if someone takes 112, this is what they're going to get, but that it still allows room for variation to bring in expertise and interests of individual instructors.
I think the other thing that's always been really important to the way the Writing Program is run is to make it a place where those—particularly people who are getting doctorates in Rhetoric and Composition or who have an interest in pedagogy—can draw on some of that teaching as a kind of laboratory for research work that they want to do. Dissertations, right from the beginning and until now, come out of this Writing Program, which is not only good for the graduate student doing that, but it's good for the Writing Program as well. It helps keep it alive.
What do you see as the contributions of a Writing Program like ours to a university and to society more broadly?
Well, it's only as good as its impact on those who are taught, so the degree to which it helps undergraduates develop their abilities as writers and thinkers, helps them think about themselves and their place in the world, then it's certainly contributing to what those broader aims of general education are in both the first year and the junior year writing courses. The Junior Year Writing Program has always aspired to help make that move into not only writing in disciplinary settings but also in those junior courses that have thinking about the kind of writing they will be doing in the world. You see that in the range of assignments in Junior Year Writing courses.
The Writing Program also contributes to the university and helps maintain its strength by being involved in other university endeavors. That can be by direct ties or indirect ties; for example, having ties with the general education Integrative Experience requirement which, in many ways is fairly writing intensive. When we were working with the office of academic planning and assessment on the AAUP value initiative, the Writing Program participated in that. I think those kinds of initiatives help take the expertise of people in the Writing Program into other university programs; it also keeps the Writing Program visible and recognized for the contributions that it can make.
Where do you see the field of Writing Studies and writing instruction going in the next 40 years?
They will go with the times, so chances are the focus of the curriculum ten years from now may be very different from what it is now, depending not only on the times but on who is directing the program and what their interests are. You know, I'm the last person to have any idea about where technology is going, but I think there's still a chance that forty years from now, it could still be a program that values teaching students. People are writing to be able to use tools of writing with agency and awareness of the world in which they're acting. What that means structurally, or in other ways, I have no idea.