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A Brief History of Minnesota’s WAC Program

The University of Minnesota’s WAC-oriented activity began in the late 1980s and was initiated by one part-time director on a limited budget drawn from a shared endowment. Now, with substantial fiscal support from central administration and a 5+ member staff, the program offers a robust menu of interdisciplinary programming and a comprehensively structured system of intradisciplinary support to all instructors at our large, public, research university and, through topical institutes and consulting, to the international WAC/WID community.

Here’s a brief timeline of the WAC program’s development and growth:

The University of Minnesota’s campus-wide support for integrated writing instruction was initiated in 1987 when the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing (CISW) was created to support faculty, staff, and graduate students researching and teaching writing across the curriculum. In 1999, when the University launched its 4-course writing-intensive course requirement, WAC efforts focused on supporting course- and discipline-specific writing pedagogy, disseminating information about requirements, and providing consultation and workshop support to WI course instructors.

As CISW expanded to become the multi-program Center for Writing, instructional support offered to WI course instructors consolidated under the new Teaching with Writing Program (TWW). This program, established by WAC Director Pamela Flash in 2001, was developed to offer an expanded group of faculty members instructional consultations, an archive of online instructional resources, and an annual series of interdisciplinary workshops, discussions, and seminars. TWW developed its influential Faculty Writing Consultant Program by adding a WID focus to its WAC programming. Each year, 12–15 faculty writing consultants, drawn from all undergraduate-enrolling colleges, were appointed to consult with instructors within their home departments, to serve as two-way information conduits between departments and the WAC program, and to participate in one of three important task forces: Writing Requirements and Policy; Writing Assessment; and Supporting TAs.

Data generated by a University-wide assessment of the WI course requirement and from departmental focus groups and “listening meetings” clarified that the goals with which the WI requirement had been formulated were being unevenly achieved. In 2006, after consulting with an ad hoc committee of University faculty members with expertise in writing and writing instruction, program director Pamela Flash began to develop the Writing-Enriched Curriculum model (WEC). Based on a two-department pilot, the project obtained multi-year funding from the Bush Foundation. In 2010, based on WEC programming, the Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education charged a new faculty subcommittee, the Campus Writing Board, to oversee the approval of Writing-Intensive Courses and Undergraduate Writing Plans developed in the WEC program.

Participation rates in TWW programming and assessment data from WEC continue to indicate faculty satisfaction with the programs’ impact on instruction and impact on student writing. The WEC model has also proven critical to the University’s accreditation process. Robert McMaster, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, has publicly called WEC “a jewel of Minnesota’s undergraduate curriculum.” To ensure the ongoing relevance and vitality of Writing Plans, the program developed a sustainability effort called the WEC Legacy Program. This program provides early-adopting departments with opportunities to conduct new rounds of data collection, a new series of faculty discussions, and new opportunities to request service and fiscal support. On the interdisciplinary side of the program, the TWW program continues to offer all University instructors an annual Teaching with Writing series of workshops, reading groups, consultations, and dynamic panel discussions that address topics of current interest (the impact of large language model technologies on writing, approaches to equitable writing assessment, effective online writing pedagogies, to name a few).