Another installment of some data that will be more fully presented with some (hopefully) sharper analysis in the “book” on programs, I wanted to share it hear since so often people are concerned with the location of programs. Historically, TPC programs emerged in English departments because that’s where people who were interested in TPC and writing in the disciplines were housed. The highly problematic essay by Yeats and Thompson (2010) was overly concerned with locations so here’s a more comprehensive view.
Of the 305 institutions who presently offer a degree program in technical and professional communication (which is an umbrella term for all the diverse names folks are using these days), the majority of those programs are housed in English departments. This number is a tad bit skewed in some ways because when you break it down by degree, you’ll find that its minors and emphasis degrees (degrees in English with a concentration in TPC) that are still the majority in English departments. The reason for that is numerous, but the most important reason is that those degree types are typically easier to start from an institutional perspective and it gives English departments that may be struggling a way to potentially draw new majors.
Founding mothers and fathers of the field did not have degrees in TPC, but rather they had degrees in English. I even co-authored a piece on how TPC programs can find a good home in an English department, but it’s an ongoing question about whether English departments are the best places for TPC programs. There is much lore-based and water-cooler talk that posit the theory that TPC would be even more and greater and lives would be perfect if were simply out of English departments. While I can buy into that argument and theory, the field needs to be careful in such wide generalizations or desires for greener pastures. Much of a program’s success is dependent on leadership in the department and the college—no matter where that department or college is. There are numerous reasons that I left UC, and it’s not a secret that one reason was departmental and college leadership.
For those consistently thinking the grass is greener in other locations, I have to wonder how much about institutional cultures and funding that one actually understands. Big departments with PhD programs and big budgets, maintain certain power within College structures. Smaller departments that are only seen as service departments rather than an integral part of the research mission often suffer from the same lack of resources that many complain about in English departments. Moving departments or moving programs is expensive and time consuming, and that won’t necessarily lead to new resources or different resources. The problem isn’t a specific location, but shrinking resource pools that inflame differences as every area and department vies for the same dwindling resources. So while some may continue to beat the drum of separate departments, those moves bring with it a different set of problems that need to be considered.
There are pros and cons to every situation, and we can find success stories and not so great stories across the field. Paying attention to locations is important, but it may be time to consider what the important questions are about programmatic location outside of the immediate reaction of the (troubled) marriage to English.
I have always had an uneasy relationship with the piece I referenced above. I did not agree with some it when we were writing it. I briefly wrote about that in a different solely authored publication. And re-reading it recently, I still find myself ambivalent about it. Still somewhat conflicted about not only the conclusions we make, but what those ideas mean in relationship to the field. My feelings are similar to those raised by Porter and Sullivan (1993 & 2007), but while I don’t feel “colonized” I do wonder what would happen if we considered departments, and our relationship in them, differently.
But working within the current constructs most of work in, I think that ambivalence is an important moment to consider programs and locations and relationships at the departmental, institutional, and national, field level, differently, alternatively. And consider those locations in light of a different set of questions that center on relationships and the role that we want TPC to play within those various structures. There is some truth that rhetorically we can shift institutional structures, policies, and procedures, but we need to know what we want them shifted to, and what the consequences of those moves are. Sure, locations matter, but the questions attached to them are actually more important.