English, Department of


Date of this Version

April 2007

Document Type



A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska in Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Major: English; Under the Supervision of Professor Chris W. Gallagher
Lincoln, Nebraska; May, 2007
Copyright © 2007 Katie H. Stahlnecker.


In this dissertation, I build upon the notion that for writing centers to thrive in the twenty-first century, they must reposition themselves not as marginal but as central to alliance building within the institution (Brannon and North). I tell the story of establishing one writing center’s mission that thrives on building democratic relationships within the institution and dissolving traditional academic hierarchies. At the core of our mission is the dialogical exchange that allows for student writers to be heard. The true work of establishing and preserving the integrity of the open forum we have created for student writers involves making democracy an institutional way of life not only within consultations but also with each other as writing center professionals, with the faculty, and with administration.

The main goal of this dissertation is to help my fellow colleagues in writing centers and composition conceive of the various forces within an institution not as potential problems to avoid, but as institutional relationships to develop and foster. Relying throughout on Dewey’s notion of democracy, I share representative anecdotes from our writing center to illustrate the process of relationship building and provide conceptual tools to put them into a useful context for readers: dialogue (Freire); rhetorical listening (Ratcliffe); critical colleagueship (Lord); institutional critique (Porter et al); and critical administration (Lee; Shor and Freire). Throughout, I argue for the writing center’s capacity to democratize various forms of institutional communication and effect meaningful change. This project also answers calls from Elizabeth Boquet and Nancy Maloney Grimm to move writing center scholarship from the familiar declaration of independence brand of manifestos to work that conveys the intellectual and pedagogical value of writing centers. Overall, this dissertation offers for writing center directors and other educators interested in promoting democracy a form of institutional literacy (Gallagher) that provides an alternate way to read the role of the writing center within the institution.

Adviser: Chris W. Gallagher