The Worth of the Writing Center: Numbers, Value, and the Rhetoric of Budget Proposals
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When it comes to securing funding from upper administration, all writing center directors share a similar rhetorical goal: to justify the “worth” of their writing centers. What kinds of appeals win over administrators, especially in times of economic recession? This question plagues Daniel Reardon, an Assistant Director at Missouri University of Science and Technology, in his Spring 2010 essay in Praxis. Reardon explains how he chose to play the “numbers game” when his administration requested “estimates for a 3%, 5%, 7%, or 9% budget reduction.” He approached budget talks “lightly armed with . . . problematic attendance numbers and the support of a few instructors.” He admits to being “more comfortable talking qualitatively about what an undeniable benefit the writing center is for the student community,” but he “wonder[s] just how much weight those qualitative arguments have” with numbercrunchers. Reardon raises an important question: are numbers more persuasive than qualitative appeals when it comes to funding? In “Counting Beans and Making Beans Count,” Neil Lerner describes an all too familiar scenario: a “late-night phone call from [his] department chair, telling [him] of impending budget cuts.” His response, like Reardon’s, is to produce quantitative data since “college administrators often want numbers, digits, results” (2). Because a writing center’s “worth” is a construct that depends on institutional context, both quantitative and qualitative appeals are useful tools in any director’s toolbox. For some budget authorities, usage numbers (or some other quantitative data, like number of first-year students served) indicate the “worth” of the writing center; for others, “worth” resides in the value the writing center adds to students’ learning experiences. In this essay, I will examine several different types of quantitative and qualitative funding appeals. While strong proposals generally combine various appeals, several factors, like the age of the writing center, the campus writing culture, and the institution’s sense of mission, influence the choice to emphasize one appeal over another.