Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Rhetoric, Theory and Culture (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Humanities

Advisor 1

Marika Seigel

Committee Member 1

Patricia Sotirin

Committee Member 2

Laura Fiss

Committee Member 3

Laura Micciche


Writing Program Administration (WPA) is an interdisciplinary field that addresses the management and development of writing programs in educational institutions. WPA entails writing instruction pedagogy, curriculum design, assessment, and faculty development pertaining to the teaching of writing. Graduate students in Humanities and English-based programs typically fill this position which can offer a career trajectory. However, the position is often experienced as demanding, unrewarding and does not deliver on the career-enhancing experience it seems to promise. Historically, this is unsurprising given that the position has been a subordinated role occupied by women in composition. And yet, the troubles besetting contemporary graduate student writing program administrators (gWPAs) positions are complex, involving organizational, gendered, and labor issues. Still the voices of gWPAs are missing from analyses of these issues. Based on a poststructuralist framework, this dissertation performs a thematic analysis of interviews with gWPAs to comprehend the systemic, structural, and rhetorical factors that contribute to marginalization, feminization, and emotional labor burden required for gWPAs.

As neoliberal ideals have permeated deep into higher education, inequities are exacerbated, the burden is put on the individual to improve their professional skillset to acquire and retain different positions. Additionally, the exploitation of liminal positions, those that are tasked with yet unauthorized to exercise significant authority and the demands of and for emotional labor are endemic. The analysis sheds light on what I identified as the main issues of the gWPA position. First, the position is highly unregulated and arbitrary, which leads to wide disparities between the qualifications needed and responsibilities across the board. Second, dynamics of nepotism and patronage tend to develop around the position. Third, it usually involves different types of exploitative practices. And fourth, the position is highly feminized.

While there have been advancements in the position, there is still room for improvements. To address these issues, this dissertation proposes three pathways forward: the professionalization of the position, the creation of career directions for gWPAs and finally, enhanced labor protection and collective bargaining movements. Overall, this project contributes to the revaluation of graduate student labor and a revision of subordinated labor in university writing programs.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.