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Celebrating long-term WPA Lisa Ede

posted: 10.23.14 by Andrea Lunsford

In recent months, I’ve followed a fascinating thread on the WPA listserv about members of the rhetoric and writing community who serve as long-term WPAs (writing program administrators). Indeed, it is not unusual for people in our field to be asked to take on administrative jobs: doing so more or less comes with the territory, since the departments we work in usually have writing programs that need guidance and leadership. It is also not unusual for such WPAs to go on to other administrative jobs, including associate deans, deans, provosts, and even presidents.

But I hadn’t reflected very much on how many of my colleagues in the field take on the direction of a program or writing center—and do so for a very long time, even though I did long stints directing programs at Ohio State and Stanford. Now that I am thinking about this trend, I can see the very strong and beneficial effect it has had across the country, where stable and imaginative and forward-looking writing program administrators have built exeplary programs. I could list dozens of names here and you probably can too. But for this post I want to celebrate one particular long-term WPA, my friend and co-author of almost 45 years, Lisa Ede. Like many others in our age group, Lisa was trained in literature—she wrote a dissertation on Victorian nonsense poetry. But she did so at Ohio State, when Edward P. J. Corbett was just beginning to gather a group of students vitally interested in rhetoric and writing, and where they had recently hired Susan Miller as WPA. Lisa had not much luck on the literature job market—the mid-seventies were very, very tough years—but to her surprise, she eventually got an offer from SUNY Brockport in 1976—to be Director of Composition. So the work Lisa had been doing on her own to join the field shifted into high gear, and she was immersed in the pedagogy and theory and practice of writing studies. Then in 1980, she had an offer to move across the country to Oregon State to take on directorship of their program, which was hugely exciting to me as I had taken a job at the University of British Columbia in 1977 and was thrilled at the prospect of having Lisa just down I-5 from Vancouver.

Lisa took this administrative and teaching position, and held it for over thirty years. In that time, she developed the Center for Writing and Learning into one of the most outstanding writing centers in the country and was instrumental in shaping writing pedagogy at Oregon State, not only in the department of English, but across campus. Like many other long-time WPAs, Lisa has mentored thousands of students who would go on to become writing consultants in the Center and with whom she is in touch years after their graduation. Also like other long-time WPAs, she has left her very positive mark on the culture of writing at Oregon State.

Along the way, Lisa and I began collaborating with one another, writing our first co-authored piece as a tribute to Edward P. J. Corbett. The startled outcry from friends and colleagues (this was in the early ‘80s), that we couldn’t possibly write together and that if we did we would never get tenure, caught us by surprise, intrigued us, and got our backs up. Lisa is one stubborn character, and she would probably say the same about me. At any rate, we decided to keep writing together and to begin research on how much writing in the world is done collaboratively. Since that time we’ve published two books and dozens of articles advocating co- and group-authorship. And at last, our ship seems to have come in: “collaboration” is on everyone’s lips these days, thanks in large part to technologies that have enabled and demanded collaborative work.

Of course Lisa did all this research and scholarship and pubishing all the while teaching and administering full time: and she did so with her characteristic meticulous attention to detail, courage in the face of cuts and threatened cuts of all kinds, and grace, and wit, and more.

Thus Lisa is a model of what we celebrate when we celebrate long-time writing program administrators. And I’m thrilled to join her colleagues and friends for a special one-day conference in her honor, coming right up on October 24, 2014. My hope is that other similar celebrations are going on around the country for all those other exemplary leaders who are long-term WPAs. For right now, though, you can find more information about the conference honoring Lisa here.




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