Institutional Writing and Rhetoric at a State University

IndustryIn 1982, the University of Massachusetts Amherst founded its Writing Program following the passage of a measure by its Faculty Senate. This measure had wide implications including the changing of general education requirements, creation of a new requirement (Junior Year Writing), and the structural changes of creating a new academic program. However, these changes would not have been possible without the institutional texts that enacted them. Through conducting an archival analysis of Senate documents, departmental memoranda, and textual ephemera, this paper considers the various institutional genres used to enact curricular change and how such genres provide insight into the workings of large research universities. Specifically, this paper explores how an organizational transition, enacted in large part through specific kinds of texts, represents connections between bureaucratic management and politics in higher education. The body of this paper conducts a close analysis of institutional discourse through its archival presence. Given power is exercised in diffuse and often indirect ways, the institution does not act with a singular objective nor rationale, and is permeated by public discourse. This has particular impact on how types of literacy are rationalized and privileged by the institution. Therefore, as primary sources, this paper looks at texts such as committee minutes and reports alongside texts from the surrounding community pertaining to writing and literacy at the University. While universities are often portrayed as ivory towers, they are in fact sites with complex rhetorical practices that engage both with the immanent needs of students and with discourses about the public mission of education with regard to literacy, the economy, and civil society. As indicated by my interpretation of archival data, the discourses of the institution do not end at the border of campus, but continue in a complex interplay between organizational structures, public debate, and the work of individuals. Through examining the archival legacy of an organizational transition such as this, I believe some of the features and functions of institutional rhetorics are cast into relief to show how texts and genres function inside, through, and around the structures of the institution.

Presented at UMass Amherst English Graduate Organization Conference, March 2014