The IWDPA traces its roots back to the early 1990s, when Barry Maid, Peggy O’Neill, Shirley Rose, and others formed a group that had a common interest in freestanding, or independent, writing units - whether those were departments, programs, or centers. Early in its activity, the group was recognized as an affiliate of the Council of Writing Program Administrators (C-WPA); at the same time, it has a long history of gathering as a Special Interest Group (the Independent Writing Unit, or IWU, SIG) at annual CCCC conventions. Its connection to both the C-WPA and CCCC is acknowledged in its concurrent identify as a C-WPA affiliate and as an approved CCCC Standing Group.
Executive board members are currently working on the IWDPA’s C-WPA affiliate history; we are pleased to share the follow history of the IWDPA’s path to CCCC Standing Group status.
History of the IWDPA at CCCC (from the 2014 annual report)
What is now called the IWDPA has had a lengthy association with the Conference on College Composition and Communication. At the 1994 CCCC in Nashville, participants in a Think Tank session recommended creation of an independent program SIG, which met for the first time at the 1995 CCCC in Washington, DC.
The Independent Writing Unit (IWU) SIG has been included in the CCCC program continuously each year since 1995, and it had its twentieth anniversary in at the C’s 2015 in Tampa. For much of this time, the SIG functioned as an informal gathering at which CCCC members in independent units and those seeking freestanding status outside English departments could meet to discuss the implications of separation.
While those who applied for and attended the SIG did not attempt organizational status for most of its history, prominent writing program administrators and writing studies scholars who have published and spoken on freestanding writing units were active SIG attendees at CCCC over the years. That group includes Barry Maid, Becky Howard, Shirley Rose, Peggy O’Neill, Judith Kearns, Angela Crow, Wendy Bishop, and others. Further, many of the same CCCC members who went on to develop related SIGS and other 4Cs-related entities (such as the CCCC Committee on the Major and the Masters Degree Consortium of Writing Studies Specialists) were involved in the related activity of the IWU SIG.
For most of this history, SIG participants were held together loosely throughout the year by an email listserv created by Barry Maid at the University of Arkansas Little Rock circa 1995. The listserv functioned to sustain community among like-minded colleagues and advertise the SIG in advance of CCCC each year. It continues to be the primary medium for correspondence among members of independent writing departments today and has over 140 subscribers.
Organization of the IWU SIG as the Independent Writing Departments and Programs Association
The formalization of the IWU SIG as the IWDPA began in 2009. In the sections below, we describe the process of the organization’s development and its ongoing activities over the past five years.
2009: At the 2009 meeting of the SIG at CCCC in San Francisco, discussion began in earnest about formalizing the group as an organization with rotating leadership, bylaws, and mission. The group further agreed to begin meeting at the WPA summer conference to further consolidate participation and advance movement toward organizational status. During the year leading up to the 2010 CCCC conference, a group of motivated individuals led by Keith Rhodes (Grand Valley State) began this process by email, eventually resulting in the adoption of a constitution, which was written and affirmed by the start-up officers and board members in June of 2010.
2010: At the July 16, 2010 meeting held at WPA, the group ratified the constitution draft debated at the 2010 CCCC meeting, revised the initial board rotation plan, began building a roster of members, as membership is defined in the Constitution, and planned the agenda for the 2011 Cs SIG.
2011: At the 2011 CCCC in Atlanta, attended by 19 individuals, the group listened to a talk by Margaret Proctor from the University of Toronto about movement toward freestanding writing programs in Canada. At the business portion of the meeting, the group reviewed the ongoing draft of the constitution, which was approved by an email vote following the meeting on April 8, 2011. At the WPA meeting that summer, members began generating a list of future tasks and activities, to include ● Generating a comprehensive list of independent departments and programs ● Assembling a bibliography of independent departments and programs ● Brainstorming priorities among problems the group might be able to address on behalf of members. Consideration of these issues helped consolidate plans for the 2012 CCCC meeting.
2012: As a result of the more active use of the FreeWrit listserv during 2011, the group’s roster of members rose to around 60. At the 2012 IWU SIG at CCCC, the group began discussing options for a web presence—how it would be managed and paid for, and what content it would provide. This meeting also saw the first proposal of a pre-conference CCCC workshop on independent programs organized by IWDPA members. At the summer meeting, members engaged in goal planning for the following year and agreed to support the nascent national honor society for undergraduate writing students, Pi Epsilon Pi. The group also intensified discussion around how to structure SIG meetings at CCCC to optimize use of the group’s time.
2013: The group’s primary activity during 2013 was the creation of a pre-conference workshop for the 2014 CCCC. The IWU SIG that year was largely given over to planning among members who wished to participate. The proposal was written collaboratively after the CCCC meeting by email, and acceptance was announced prior to the summer meeting at WPA. At the WPA meeting, members discussed the ongoing absence of a working web presence and the state of our affiliation with WPA in light of the announcement of CCCC Standing Groups.
2014: At the most recent CCCC in Indianapolis, the officers and members present at the SIG debriefed the preconference workshop. Although lightly attended, the workshop helped bring into focus the extent to which rapid changes in US higher education are impacting independent departments, and the extent to which independence has stimulated remarkable diversity in programmatic structure, curriculum, and learning outcomes. The group also developed firm consensus among members present on the intention to develop a proposal for Standing Group status, and this status was granted for the 2015 CCCC.