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English Department Hosts Council of Writing Program Administrators 2017 Conference

From July 16 to July 23, 2017, the English Department hosted the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ 2017 Conference at the UT Conference Center and Hilton Hotel in downtown Knoxville. About 400 writing program administrators (WPAs), faculty, and graduate students from around the country gathered to engage in discussions about the conference theme, “Solving Problems Together: Agency and Advocacy in an Age of Austerity.”

The theme was inspired by a recent collection of essays, Composition in the Age of Austerity (2016), which examines how austerity economics affect writing program administration through such mechanisms as public-private industry partnerships, curricular mandates, competency-based education, and the marketization of learning. The book’s co-editors, Nancy Welch (University of Vermont) and Tony Scott (Syracuse), presented these ideas in plenary talks that encouraged participants to work together to solve problems and “act as advocates and agents of change.” Throughout the conference, participants explored the challenges they face in curriculum design and writing teacher preparation, among other issues, and also took part in working lunches and a “Town Hall” gathering to brainstorm possible solutions. The emphasis on dialogue and collaboration in highly interactive scholarly sessions contributed to the conference’s success.

Associate Dean Chuck Collins from UT’s College of Arts and Sciences started the conference off by welcoming everyone at the Thursday evening opening reception and plenary, and the event concluded with a closing reception at the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, where attendees were treated to local jazz entertainment provided by Greg Tardy, Associate Professor in the School of Music.

In addition to 2 days of conference sessions, CWPA 2017 offered a 3-day pre-conference Workshop for new WPAs to explore theoretical, curricular, and political dimensions of WPA work and a 1-day Institute focused on “Uncovering Program Knowledge Using Institutional Ethnography.”

Kirsten Benson, director of the Writing Center, served as Local Arrangements Chair. Her “travelogue” article “Hearing the Bass Line: Giving Attention to Writing at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville” in the Spring 2017 issue of the WPA Journal helped attendees gain broader knowledge about UT-Knoxville, its writing programs, and the Knoxville area. The Local Host Committee included Megan Bolton and Jessica Swett from UT Conferences and Kali Mobley Finn and Jacqueline Kerr, English Department PhD students, all of whom helped to organize the event. Several UT English Department graduate students and faculty also volunteered their time to help make the conference a success, including Allie Burns, Staci Poston Conner, Julie Cruz, Coralyn Foults, Kendall Jaggers, Jeff Ringer, Hannah Soblo, Kimberly Turner, Paige Walker, and Joe Wilson.

Numerous current and former UT faculty and graduate students presented at the conference, including Kirsten Benson, Emily Murphy Cope, Casie Fedukovich, Kali Mobley Finn, Peter Huk, Monica Miller, Jeff Moody, Sam Morris, Hannah Soblo, Jeff Ringer, Tanita Saenkhum, Kimberly Turner, Paige Walker, Joe Wilson, and Carolyn Wisniewski.

The event was made possible by generous sponsorships from many companies, organizations, and schools, including UT’s College of Arts and Sciences, Office of Creative Communications, and University Printing and Mail.

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