Explaining ourselves to others: A study of how WPAs argue for humanities -oriented composition programs in the “Corporate University”

Jonikka Charlton, Purdue University


This dissertation looks at how four WPAs argue for the value of first-year composition programs with curricula that are "humanities-oriented," particularly in the midst of competing values over what the humanities is/values and over what writing teachers versus many of their stakeholders value. This study looks closely, then, at the rhetorical work these WPAs do on behalf of their programs, asking what their program goals are, what arguments they make for the value of their curricula, and how they change those arguments based on the rhetorical situation. It also asks how these WPAs, graduates of the same PhD program, were prepared to take on the work of defining and arguing for a program. The researcher interviewed each of the subjects and collected documents the WPAs had written for various audiences in order to determine what arguments they had made and how well prepared they were to make them. She found that most of the subjects had not been asked to justify their curricula, and they each responded to stakeholders' questions about the curriculum very differently. One took a my-way-or-the-highway approach, falling back on his disciplinary expertise to explain why he wasn't concerned if other people didn't like his curricular approach. On the other hand, another subject preferred to remain "under the radar" where she was able to carry out the work of her program with relatively little interference from others within or outside the university. As a result of the findings, the researchers call for a more detailed discussion of WPA professionalization and education and introduces the concept of the WPA as vir bonus, claiming it is the WPA's responsibility to be a "good" administrator/rhetor who uses knowledge of herself, her discipline, her institution, and her stakeholders to think about what she's doing and why and how her values and decisions interact with others' values and decisions. It is an ethical, rhetorical position to take, but the WPA as vir bonus is one who looks forward to and takes every opportunity to explain herself to others.




Rose, Purdue University.

Subject Area


Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server