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Composition Forum 42, Fall 2019

Being a Part of the Conversation: Reflections from Diana George

Libby Anthony

Abstract: Diana George is professor emerita at both Virginia Tech and Michigan Technological University . In this interview, Diana reflects on moving late in her career to revitalize a first year writing program and writing center at a different university. She also discusses her approach to publication; institutional capital; finding balance across teaching, scholarship, service, and administrative duties; and the importance of collaboration and supportive colleagues.

Interview conducted October 13, 2018
Transcribed by Tim Lockridge

On Moving to a New Position Late in Her Career

Libby: What was it like to move late in your career? You had a whole career at Michigan Tech before going to Virginia Tech. What was it like to move and not just move to a new part of the country, but to revitalize a first-year writing program and revitalize a writing center?

Diana: It actually was one of the best things I ever did. It took me a while to make a decision because—I mean I was 58 and when they asked me about coming, so, that's first thing I said. I reminded them that it wasn’t like I'd spend the next 20 years here [at Virginia Tech] or anything. But since they wanted a full professor who could change the program, then I suppose they knew exactly what they were looking for: somebody who's already done that and somebody—who for one reason or other—whose work they liked. And so I was worried about the move, but they didn’t seem to be.

I was worried about leaving all my friends. I wasn't so worried about leaving the weather because I was kind of tired of winters that lasted sometimes six months, but I do still miss that area. I mean it's an amazing area and I did have a really tight core of good friends and colleagues who you can count on for so many different kinds of things and because we'd all kind of grown up together in that way that you grow up in a profession. The cool thing was that there didn't feel like there was a lot of competition. It felt very much like, oh, probably the way you and Heidi [Lawrence] feel when you publish something or work on something together.

It's not: oh good, now, I have a publication and she doesn't. It's more: I can't wait to tell Heidi and I can't wait to ask her if she'll look at this for me and see what she would change or what she doesn't really get or that sort of thing. So there was a lot of that, especially with people like Marilyn Cooper and Cindy Selfe and Diane Shoos.

There was a just a lot of that kind of collaboration and trusting each other's judgment. And even when you have a disagreement knowing that you're tight enough that that's not going to split things apart, right? Whereas I think in a department where there's a lot of professional jealousy or people who think “if she gets tenure then maybe I won't” kind of thing there is—well, there's less of a sense of really wanting to collaborate with somebody and more just locking yourself in your office and not telling anybody what you're working on, which I have always thought of basically as a literary scholar model. I mean I was obviously sort of raised to be a literary scholar because my work was in 18th century British literature.

A portrait of Diana George.

But the one thing that I always or never really quite connected with (and, this is probably a much older model of scholarship) was how closed they were about their own work, that they didn't really want to talk about it. They didn't want to collaborate because somehow collaboration didn't count for anything, you know. There’s always just the literature Professor who is in his office, closes door when he wants to write—and I say “he” for the reason that, when I was coming up, it was a very male profession —and doesn't really step out much, doesn't have much to say about teaching because that's not the interest—even though lots of them tend to be pretty decent teachers and many of them wonderful.

I mean, I had wonderful mentors at Missouri but—but I didn't like that idea of not getting fascinated by the way my students were working. And there was very little of that kind of fascination with students when I was in grad school—of people (except in Composition) people really caring about, well, how are [students] learning? What do they already know?

Where can we push them, where does all this stuff just interfere with what we're trying to teach them? There was very little respect for that concern and there was very little of that concern, at the time, among literature profs.

So anyway, I had that that atmosphere at Michigan Tech and I didn't know if I'd have it here because Virginia Tech was primarily a Literature department. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

On Tenure, Institutional Capital, and Funding

Diana: But the best thing that happened here was—I came already as full [professor], and since I came tenured, I got to do things with the program that were my decision, and I had a lot of support from the Department despite the fact that they were primarily a Literature Department.

I think at first they didn't really know, you know, what was going to happen. But I got tons of financial support for the program from the Dean, from Jerry Niles, and he just said do what you need with this money for the program—for the first two years I had an extra $30,000 each year and had to spend that whole amount just for the [first year composition] program.

So, knowing I had to spend that money, I could, for example, bring in speakers, or I could bring in people to look at the program and consult with. That's when Peter Mortensen and Pat Bizzell came. I had Art Young come in to talk about how we could revitalize this Writing Center, financially really, because I knew already what I wanted to do with it academically.

So bringing people like that in (and all of that was partially funded by the Dean because of that extra money and partially funded by the textbook that we had to write each year). The textbook, by the way, for some reason I had not noticed when they hired me that I was going to have to write this textbook every year for their [first year composition] program.

And what happened with the textbook was that, even though I didn't realize it at the time, the textbook would become my way of showing the rest of the University what the [first year composition] program was doing.

It still was hard to get some of the instructors to buy into it, but it mattered more that the GTA population was growing very fast because when I started there were something like a dozen GTAs. By the time I finished we had about 60 GTAs, and the program was continuing to grow so those GTAs had become the core teaching faculty for the Comp classes. And they were the ones you could talk to about what a writing course should look like because they wanted to know how to teach the course.

Libby: And they were taking a practicum too.

Diana: Right, and also I have to say that this doesn't even exist anymore, but [the department chair] Lucinda [Roy] really was responsible for making a deal with Pearson that made the Comp program even more profitable because she made a deal so that we could have 51 percent of the profits.

Libby: Wow!

Diana: I know that never happens. I don't know how she did—only Lucinda could do that, right? But that meant that I had that those first two years of startup money, and then after that I could rely on money from the textbook to continue the speaker series; to give instructors and some graduate students money to travel to conferences that were about writing instruction; I could buy release time for a few people—all of those things made a huge difference in the program. So what I'm trying to say, is that moving to a new job with tenure, I didn't have to worry about pleasing everybody and if there was a serious question about why I was changing from a literature-based composition course, say, to what I thought of as more clearly a composition and writing course, well, then I could also fall back on the fact that the only Ph.D. program we had was a rhetoric and writing program. So to some degree they had to trust the people that they had hired as their experts to try to change that program and I think it worked— I liked doing it.

On the Relationship between First Year Composition and Writing Centers

The Writing Center, as you know, was also just absolutely dead. It was empty all term every term, and somebody in the department had created an online program to teach grammar. Did you ever see the Grammar Gym? Well, one of the reasons I immediately decided that change had to happen sooner rather than later was something one of my students asked in the middle of my first term.

I was teaching from the textbook as it was when one of my students raised his hand before the second paper was due and said “Well, where do we get ahold of this Grammar Gym?” And I said, I had kind of heard about the Grammar Gym, but pay no attention to it. But he said “Well it says here in the book that we can't turn our next paper in until we've passed it” (laughs) I was stunned because what was suggested by that directive was that, by going to this online programmed series of lessons on grammar, you were then qualified to write a second paper in first-year compositon. And, believe me, some of the lessons were the most esoteric grammatical terms and things like that that you really do not want to suggest makes a better writer. I mean, I think that a solid knowledge of grammar is important. It's a wonderful thing, but I don't think that if you don't have that you can't write well, and the assumption of that direction was if you've passed the Grammar Gym then you're good enough to write your second paper in first year comp. It didn't make any sense at all.

And it certainly didn't make any sense with anything I was teaching or I had ever taught. So I had to get rid of that immediately, and there was a lot of blowback from that too because I think what little work The Writing Center was getting at the time was related to those grammar drills.

Libby: That was part of the work they did in the Writing Center.

Diana: Right, so I don't know. I was trying to get the person in charge to make some changes to the Writing Center. He was not interested in Writing Center Journal. He had just given all of the copies away. Just put them out in the hall. He did not want to be associated with any comp organizations or writing center organizations.

He said he didn't see what that had to do with writing centers. He was a film and literature person who had been given this as an interim job, and I know I've told you this story before but when we were cleaning that place up, we found little notes that they used as jokes that said things like “If we're not in right now, just remember we're smarter than you are.”

This is at a writing center! So kids who are coming to writing centers on their own are often kind of intimidated to begin with and I, I remain outraged at these—I think Jenny [Lawrence, the assistant director] said “Oh, I'm sure they didn't really ever get to put that out.” But I think they probably did put that sign out any number of times because they thought it was clever.

So there were problems with the Writing Center that had to do with that, but also the Center had no paid tutors. The tutors they had were all instructors who were getting a course off to tutor in the center, but the instructors were teaching a 4/4 load already, so a 3/3 load isn't much of a light teaching load. So some of them, and I would not say that this is true in general, but there were instructors who liked having that time off but didn't necessarily like coming to the center to work that time, partially because they didn't have that time to work, you know? If you're teaching three courses a term or four courses a term you don't also have another like 10 hours of the week to sit in some place and wait for another student, who's not your student, to come in, and if you already have dozens and dozens of students, you don't need more. On top of that, there was no teaching philosophy for the Center. There were no meetings. There was little indication that they paid any attention to what was going on in writing center scholarship. So when Lucinda asked me if I would also direct the center I said no, that's crazy. But then she said Well, I don't know what to do because if you don't do it this person's going to keep it and—so I couldn't see that happening.

Libby: How long had you been there?

Diana: I'd only been there half a year.

Libby: Oh, right, okay.

Diana: I know, so yeah, I think some people are still feeling bruised by my entrance, and I didn't even think that I was that forceful a person until I got there. But there are things that I feel very strongly about, and I don't like an empty writing center at a place that was already four times larger than the place that I had just come from where the center was crammed all the time with students.

So I said if I can hire somebody to be the assistant director, and that was Jenny, then I would take the Center. And then, because I had that money for the first year program, I used some of that money as well for the Writing Center, so I put some seed money in there and I talked to the dean and he gave me some seed money.

So that allowed us to hire students to tutor who Jenny trained, and from there it was more just asking Jenny to bring the center up to current writing center professional standards. I always said it was like an angel on my shoulder when I chose Jenny Lawrence for that position because she did it and she said at the time she didn't really know anything about the literature, but you know, Jenny: she's fast and smart and good at what she does and she loves students and she loves teaching and that's what we needed. And so she's one who's really turned the center into what it is today from my point of view. But without her I don't think I could have done it because I couldn't have paid attention to training the TAs, working with the instructors, changing the first year composition program, changing the Writing Center, working with new tutors—I mean, I just couldn't have done it. So Jenny's kind of like the other half of everything that happened there.

Libby: You also had graduate students helping in the center?

Diana: Yeah, and so to answer the original question it was scary to do it, but I was so busy and excited about the kinds of work that I was doing that it was hard to look backwards. There was never a time when I thought oh, I really wish I was back at Michigan Tech because I knew the kinds of things I was doing here I couldn't have done there. I wouldn't have gotten the same financial support. I wouldn't have gotten the same buy-in, simply because that program already was a rhetoric and writing program and it already had sort of long-standing ways of doing particular things.

On Being a Part of the Conversation and Finding Balance among Teaching, Service, Scholarship, and Administration

Libby: One of the things that you said that stood out to me—being a newly minted administrator myself this year where I'm filling in as the acting director of my college’s writing center—is this relationship between administration and teaching, not to mention scholarship and trying to find a balance among them. I mean, I'm currently not tenured. What are your thoughts about like trying to strike that balance as an untenured faculty member?

Diana: That's a really good question. I've got a lot of different ways I think about it and one is when I was not tenured at Michigan Tech and I was doing the same thing and was teaching a lot of classes. There, I started by running the Writing Center, but there also it was a matter of changing a writing center that was at the time basically an auto-tutorial lab. In fact, they called it the “writing lab” and there were workbooks that students filled in, things like that. So it was again a matter of kind of creating a program where there wasn't one before.

All of this depends so much on support from your colleagues and from the department and ultimately from above the department because you can't really get anything done if you're just trying to do it as an individual—you can you can make some changes as an individual—but real programmatic change takes a lot of people. But anyway, one of the things I do remember thinking at the time was: I really love 18th century literature and have a couple things I'd like to eventually teach, but that's not what I'm doing right now. I mean, I was also teaching literature and teaching a course called Science and Humanities at Michigan Tech. That was really fun. But most of my work, really because of the program, was thinking about teaching writing and running that program.

And so what I decided was I really wanted to be able to be in that conversation about what goes on in writing classes and what we value in writing at any number of levels. And then other kinds of interests like the interests in the visual, and in cultural studies, and things like that really kind of grew out of paying attention to how students work, which is something that I feel that cultural studies doesn't like to admit. There's a way in which cultural studies thought it was supposed to be about culture, and it likes to hold itself above that, but in fact cultural studies really is about what people look at, what people see, what people write about, why certain patterns emerge or are at least how they emerge and things like that. So in some ways, I just started seeing connections among all the things that I was doing as those things were growing out of classroom work and the work with my colleagues.

So I allowed myself to focus on pedagogy. And to think: okay, I didn't study this as a graduate student, so I've got to do it now. And composition was a place where that was happening in higher education, you know outside the Ed School.

Later, areas like math became really powerful sites of study for pedagogy, I think, but writing—teaching writing was one of those places. It was like a laboratory all the time. And because it was a required subject, it wasn't a matter of people coming to you and wanting you to just give them your wisdom, right, a lot of times it was: I really don't like this course and why am I here? (laughs) And yeah, then the power of being able to show students how much they actually do bring to a course already was kind of fun, so I had to tell myself that if I was going to publish, certainly early on, that publication had to come from what I was doing in my work. I could not even pretend that this work that I was doing in composition was a separate thing from the scholarship that I do—and now I'm probably not being fair to a lot of really wonderful literary scholars, but that was one of things I didn't see in my literary scholarship; I didn't see people saying whatever is happening outside my office is just as important as what's happening when I close my door and I open my books and get down to my own research. Which is what I was hearing too much on the University and college level. And you know, I also started thinking in terms of why is, why is something like composition a university-level course? Is it because we don't believe that students can write an English sentence? Which is what so many of our colleagues love to say.

I think a lot of people believe that, but I don't think it's right. It's because we actually value language and we value communication and that there are ways in which that composition course or any University-level writing course can get beyond what you were doing in grade school and high school with writing and that's what things like Writing Across the Curriculum were all about and continue to be all about, and that's what writing centers have grown into: learning how to value language and languages and languaging, and I think that that's where ideas about individuality and diversity really take root in college classrooms. Because if it's not just about getting everything correct, if it really is about communication, then you have to know something about how people work together. You know, how networks form and what communication has to do with that.

So a lot of my balancing had to do with that that. I made a deal with myself that if I wrote a talk for a conference, that talk eventually had to become an article one way or another because I couldn't waste time thinking of something else for an article, right? I had to decide that there were things that seemed pretty simple to me, as time went on I look back and still seem a little simple to me, that you still had to write about and if you could get it out in a publication, that's fine. But mostly if you had broad career goal for that scholarship it had to be to become a part of that larger conversation. And so that meant you couldn't just get hung up on your own little thing. You had to listen to what other people are doing and saying and then also reach into other fields. I think Elizabeth Boquet and Neal Lerner right when they criticize writing center scholarship for being too much about other writing center scholarship. And I think anybody in composition is right who says the same thing that if all you're doing is drawing from three Cs and College English and Praxis and a few other journals like that, even Rhetoric Review, then you really aren't getting what this world of language is all about. And so it probably helped me that I could see connections among so many different areas. I often had to convince people that I saw those connections or I had to convince people to see those connections with me, I guess I should say. But that's why something like cultural studies became a kind of foundation for me early on in the field because it allowed for that kind of crossover from what are you doing on the daily day-to-day work of getting students to write papers. I thought: where does that come from? Is it just a series of exercises? Or is it really about what's going on around them and how knowledge filters in and how it connects with other kinds of knowledge and then other kinds of language systems including visual language?

On the Threads that Tie Her Work Together

Libby: Yeah, you’re getting at one of the questions I had for you: you've done writing center work, composition, cultural studies, visual, public rhetoric/dissident presses, most recently Hobo News. So what would you say are some of those threads that tie all of those together?

Diana: I think the one thread that ties all of it together is not the term “popular culture”—which is, I think, the sort of broad brush approach—so much of it is the ordinary. You know, to me, it was very important to figure out how ordinary lives connect with larger events. So you need things like Hobo News or you see things like street papers and when I see that stuff I think about when I was a kid and after they told me I couldn't be a baseball player when I grew up (laughs), and anybody would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd say a writer. I was on the high school newspaper, and I was on my college newspaper. Any organization that you have has a flyer or newspaper a newsletter. I just started wondering: those papers don't last. Who reads them? Why even put that material out if it doesn't count for something, right? If it really doesn't have any effect—because that’s the way we often treat papers like that—then what's the point? And for me the answer was well, of course it has some role and it's not just raising money, because in a lot of cases like Hobo News they never raise much money, but it has a lot to do with spreading the word.

I think the same thing with my interest in the visual. I grew up loving to read, loving to write. When I was in grad school we had to choose outside areas in our Ph.D program of study, and I wanted to do a multidisciplinary approach. But at the time you couldn't do that at Missouri. Now you can. But my outside area ended up being art history and so part of it was: how do I get to work with what I love? But even if I look at what I really loved about art history, I loved the 18th century, I loved the early genre paintings, I loved the kind of work that reached a lot of people—I loved Hogarth because he was sort of the equivalent of yet another novelist, and again, accessible to lots of people. We're all influenced by what we grew up with and what was important to us when we grew up and, like a lot of my colleagues, I grew up with just a little bit of nothing. But that didn't mean there wasn't a lot of reading and thinking and talking about politics in my house, and all of that was really important. And so I think that is sort of like having the little “well I didn't grow up in your class” chip on your shoulder, to say “well, I think this is important too.” I think that that's how I see all those connections with the visual and with cultural studies and certainly with alternative press papers, dissident press papers, all of it is about how do you get to be a part of that conversation when you're not already established as part of it?

Libby: So you see it as marginalized voices making those connections.

Diana: Yeah.

On Collaboration

Libby: So one of the things that you just mentioned that circles back to what we were talking about earlier with your time at Michigan Tech is this idea of making connections to works and being able to see sort of that bigger picture and you yourself—you mentioned Cindy [Selfe] and Marilyn Cooper, Paula Mathieu, and John Trimbur. You also mentioned Diane [Shoos]. So much of your work is has been collaborative over the years, and I know as one of my mentors you put me in connection with other people had to help me form own personal network and my own connections to other scholars and teachers. And so I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that value of collaboration in the discipline, but also for you personally.

Diana: Yeah, Paula and I have talked about it a lot too. Wonderfully, composition and rhetoric is one of those places where collaboration has been valued and I think work by people like Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede who made that argument very early on sort of set the stage for others like that. But the other thing is that if you're talking about how knowledge is made, and if you really want to talk outside yourself—good gravy, it is the height of hubris to me to say that my work is more important than anybody else's. And I know that I often have more fun if I'm collaborating. There are times when it's absolutely frustrating especially because if you're collaborating at a distance, you know, and the other person isn't coming back to you or the other person is on something else and you're on this and you know timing is never right—but when it's good, it's very, very good (laughs).

Now there are times when I've thought I should have just written this myself, but those are rare times and they're usually about topics that were topics that were really close to home—a lot of those are the cultural studies kinds of topics the stuff about poverty, the stuff about images, even the piece that I have in cultural studies on American Indians, you know, I feel like that is a piece that was kind of close to home and should have just written it on my own but that doesn't mean that whoever I was writing it with wasn't also an important piece of that.

It's just means it's sometimes your head just wants to go in this direction and the other person's head wants to go in that direction. (laughs) So that doesn't always work. But mostly for me it has worked and it worked partially because I think of myself as a person who, because of the time constraints that we talked about before -- trying to balance teaching and scholarship and administration all of that trying to do all those things at the same time -- I think I've had a tendency to let something go too soon. It's got to get out there. So just get out there. So it's really wonderful to collaborate with somebody like, say, Diane Shoos who doesn't ever want to let anything go— (laughs) so we felt like we had sort of complementary flaws (laughs). She would hold on something and maybe never send it out and I would want to send it out too soon. And so we could just serve as a kind of checks and balances for each other.

Diana: There have been some things I've written that have been accepted but took two and three years finally to get out just because of publication hang-ups elsewhere. There you have a piece just sitting someplace for a long time. Right? Well, if you're trying to get tenure, you can't sit around for two years waiting for something to get published. You have to turn it over. So that I think is one of the flaws in the system of tenure and promotion that ties itself so closely to how much you publish rather than the worth of a particular piece. At the same time, it also forced me to just push, you know—

Libby: —and to be a part of the conversation.

Diana: Exactly.

On Labor

Diana: You just have to keep going. And I wouldn't say that's a good model for everybody. (laughs) But I would say it's a practical model. It was a practical model at the time. Because at Michigan Tech when I was untenured, we were on the quarter system. And so the load was 4/4/4. It wasn't 2/2/2 or 3/3/3, and then when I was given the Writing Center my load was 3/3/3, so I still was teaching an awful lot and the classes were big enough that I had probably too many students to work with plus trying to run a program plus trying to train tutors. But I was very lucky. At the time we were using professional tutors, so I was hiring people and I got people who were just remarkable, like Nancy Grimm was one of my first tutors and you know, just absolutely remarkable people. So, if you could trust people that you're working with then your next job is to get job security, as much as we talk about scholarship and the value of scholarship, which I think is invaluable really.

I think we sometimes forget that it is also a labor issue, that one of the crises facing universities today is a labor crisis. It's not a matter of, are there conservatives in the University or are there liberals in the University or are there leftists or are there right-wing crazy people? It's who do we want to pay? How much do we want to pay them and how much job security do we want to give them? I think the reality is worse right now for people coming up for tenure and promotion because there's that mindset above the department, probably above the college even, and it's determining a lot of people's lives and that's including the undergraduates and graduate students that we teach so some of it is just flat out practical: I need job security. How do I get job security? I do it by publishing. I can teach my butt off, but if I don't publish, forget it, and that's where you know, I think that that's where the literary scholars had gotten it a long time ago. You know, I need this publication and doesn't matter what I teach because right now I have to get this book out.

Libby: So at my school, tenure is based primarily on teaching, and I'm fortunate to be at a place where I have a voice and feel like people listen, even though I'm untenured, and I'm looking forward to that time when I have stability where I can kind of try to make some bigger changes. So even when it's that, you know, the scholarship isn't the be-all and end-all—I don't have to write a book to get tenure—getting that job security is important.

Diana: Yeah, I mean for right now you're doing the writing center. And that means that you do have to turn your focus. You have to be multifocal. You have to be looking at the classes you're teaching but you also have to be looking programmatically and that's hard to do sometimes, and you have to start thinking about yourself. You know, how much— and you have a family. You know, Tim and Zoey would like you home sometime, right? All of those things are things that are important in both of our lives, and there are things that you just have to somehow work out. And I do think that teaching at a university feels like a very privileged kind of life, but it wasn't always easy, that's for sure. You know I said that I had retired when I still really liked my job—but that was on purpose. I mean I really did. When I got to the point where I liked my job, but I was getting kind of bored with some of the classes— not so much with the students, but with my own work—in fact, I remember saying to Jenny, I wish you'd met me when I still had energy. (laughs) Because right now, I don't feel like I have any energy left. And I still resent it when people say what do you do with your time [since retiring]? Like if you're not there at the University somehow your time doesn't count for anything. It's a weird kind of question. I mean, I think it's a normal question and I shouldn't resent it. But I do for some reason—like what in the world would you do if you're not in your office doing stuff, right?

On Doing Knowledge and Information Work

Libby: I've been thinking about you a lot recently. As you know, there’s a lot of hurt in the world right now, and I know you have some activist-leaning tendencies. You’re very engaged in the political conversation in the country. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about how scholars and teachers of writing can do things to help?

Diana: Long ago, [John] Trimbur and I had this conversation, and I said I thought it was important for students to be aware of different ideas. And John—being John— is the person to douse that candle said, (laughs) “well Diana, that's kind of ‘knowledge-hope,’ that if you give somebody enough knowledge, then they'll act the way they should and the way you do and hope that they would.” I'm sure Dick Cheney was in office at the time. He said, “you know Dick Cheney knows more about the stuff that's going on than we know. Do you think he's moral? No. He's not. So it's not just knowledge.” And I think that that's right. So I used to think that, but I do continue to think, though, that most students don't have access to enough different ideas, enough different responses to the status quo. What they choose to do with that knowledge or that exposure is theirs to choose. But if you never get to see it, if you never get to see Howard Zinn, if you never get to read from another point of view, well, then you might as well just watch Fox News or you might as well just read the New York Times or you might as well just watch soap operas all day, because you're not really engaging in any kind of difference ever. You know, you can't ever really assume somebody is going to do what you want, what you think is right, just because you've given them an argument for doing it. But at least you’ve given them an argument for doing it (laughs), and you've given them information to work with and you've given them ways of talking about something that isn't the normal way of talking about something.

I mean right now my real despair is that there has been a kind of black box put around information. There's been a black box put around any kind of true debate. I was watching the documentary on Bobby Kennedy that American Experience did. And one of the things that struck me about that documentary is that I knew a lot about Bobby Kennedy before and I don't think there was much in this documentary that I hadn't encountered before, so I knew his early pretty conservative tendency, I mean he was part of the Joe McCarthy hearings. He was part of that whole Red Scare and to me, you know, you always want to like push that aside. But what was fascinating about watching it was the way in which he was smart enough and receptive enough to listen to ideas from both sides of the table or from all seven sides of the table or whatever and say, well, you know what, this notion I've been working with is wrong, It's got to be this instead.

Right now I'd say today just the whole idea of changing your mind is presented as a weakness. We’re shown presidential or political debates that don't resemble anything that you or I ever knew of as a debate. There's no debate there at all. It is a forum, and much of it is pre-scripted and too much of it is controlled. A real debate is where people really do engage ideas. And a true debate is about one topic. It's not about everything in the universe.

So I found myself waking up in the middle of the night last night because I just read that John Kelly called Elizabeth Warren an “impolite arrogant woman” (laughs) —and first of all, clearly John Kelly doesn't mind working for and defending an impolite arrogant man. Part of the objectionable part of that descriptor is “woman” because if she were impolite and arrogant and a man it'd be okay, but to be a woman and be impolite and arrogant is just out of the question.

Those things that we like to think that we value about communication seem to be closed down because of an absence of legislation that has to do with monopoly. You know, I was thinking this morning that— It's like we're back in the Carnegie era, you know one guy can own everything and right now one guy can own all the ideas, one guy can own all the news outlets, one guy can own all the social media outlets, one guy can own—and so whoever has the most money and wields the most power and is the pushiest male (laughs). Although that does not let women off the hook, because as we know, they don't get to be left off the hook because there are tons of Sarah Palins and Margaret Thatchers and everything else in the world, you know, Theresa May and all those people who really just bow to power. I think the problem is capitalism, because capitalism is ruled by profit and whoever owns the most makes the most, and right now there are few laws in place to keep that from happening. I don't see a free press. I've totally tired of the New York Times. It's like reading the National Enquirer, and they're all just chasing the story that will get the most clicks. So if all of news is just click bait we get really not much in terms of journalism.

On What She’s Most Proud of

Libby: I have one last question for you. What are you most proud of?

Diana: That’s easy, people like you. I have to say I'm most proud of my students. I'm most proud of the people that I think I've mentored a bit. And I watch what they do and I think, holy shit (laughs) I could never have done that! That's so good. So I have to say that's what I'm most proud of.

After that, I'm most proud of the fact that I actually did make a whole career in this field and I did get to be part of the conversation.

Works Cited

Boquet, Elizabeth H. and Neal Lerner. Reconsiderations: After ‘The Idea of a Writing Center.’ College English, vol. 71, no. 2, 2008, pp. 170-189.

Lunsford, Andrea, and Lisa Ede. Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing. Southern Illinois UP, 1990.

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