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Pomona College Professor Dara Regaignon Authors Book on Writing Programs at Liberal Arts Colleges

Writing Program Administration at Small Liberal Arts Colleges book cover

Dara Rossman Regaignon, professor of English and director of the Writing Center, is co-author of Writing Program Administration at Small Liberal Arts Colleges (Parlor Press, 2012), the first empirical study of the writing programs at 100 small, private arts liberal colleges.

What many of the programs have in common is a focus on writing across the curriculum (WAC), a pedagogical movement that holds that writing belongs in all courses, in all disciplines, because writing is a mode of learning and communication that is important to how all fields make knowledge.

The widely discussed 1975 Newsweek article “Why Johnny Can’t Write?” made institutions think more strategically about how and whether they were teaching students to write well, Regaignon said. It served as a catalyst for the modern pedagogical movement at many institutions, all of which—save Michigan Tech—were small liberal arts colleges.

The book, which was co-authored with Jill Galdstein, uses survey, interview and focus group data, site document analysis, and institutional history to describe how curriculum-based and peer-writing approaches became the dominant methods used at the writing centers that were studied. The book’s findings are that:

1. Writing programs at small colleges are typically more flexible and less formally structured than those at larger institutions.

2. These programs typically take a WAC approach—so that writing instruction is shared by the faculty of the institution, although it's typically led by a director of writing of some kind, rather than being the primarily responsibility of a single department or course.

3. As these institutions make their writing curricula stronger or give greater status and permanence to the leadership positions associated with them, it is typically as a result of developing that commitment to WAC (rather than establishing writing studies as an interdisciplinary program).

In the book, Regaignon and Gladstein build on the work of historian David Russell to argue that the association of modern WAC with small schools is not accidental. There is a longstanding historical affinity between this type of institution and language instruction across the curriculum. “The small size of liberal arts colleges made them hospitable to WAC pedagogies, which rely on intensive feedback and active learning,” explains Regaignon.

Since 1986, Pomona College has required that all first-year students take Critical Inquiry, a writing-intensive seminar, during their first semester. The seminars are taught by faculty from across the disciplines on various topics—all designed to rigorously hone students’ writing and critical analysis skills through drafting, discussion and revision.

Pomona College provides additional WAC support through the Writing Center, which offers students free, one-on-one consultations at any stage of the writing process—from structuring an argument to fine-tuning a draft to generating a thesis. Sophomores, juniors and seniors, majoring in varied subjects, staff the Writing Center and are trained to work with writers at all levels, at all stages of the writing process and on assignments in any discipline.

Pomona College, one of the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges, is known for the close relationships between students and faculty, providing a range of opportunities for student research and leadership, and meeting the full financial aid need of each accepted student with financial aid packages that do not include loans.