I chose to respond to this because there was a question resounding in my head as I read the piece, and no offense to those who work in and are proponents of writing centers, but some of this came across as "off" to me. I love our writing center. While I have not had the opportunity to visit often, I think it is a wonderful thing, but lets be honest I know very little about it or about writing centers in general. It just seems that some of the comments about writing center pedagogy and the importance of changing current academic structures was a bit much for writing centers. I think is is an extremely important part of any university and should work side by side with the English and Composition Departments, but it is a complement to the department and the university, isn't it? Not a free for all entity? Yes they teach and tutor and advise, but some of the comments felt reaching for something beyond that. I feel that the programs are restricted to the universities and the departments that they work along side. If the program begins to take off on their own too much it might leave the students hurting for help in specific areas and create a situation where the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing. Honestly I have always seen them as an extension of the English Department/writing program, and their pedagogy somewhat the same. (I could be wrong, once again not very familiar with the subject. I would like to hear from some people in the writing center... Do you have a pedagogy? Does our writing center have one? Is it different from the departments? What is the centers connection to the department and the university? Do you feel limited? Is that good or bad?
I think there are indeed a lot of benefits to the one-on-one interaction of a writing center, but I also agree with Jennifer that the autonomous nature of writing centers can lead to problems. If the writing center is too autonomous and separate from other disciplines, it could feasibly be out of touch with exactly what the students are being required to do within the classroom. Let's face it...most students who visit the writing center are most likely requesting help for a specific assignment and only to get help "making the grade." I doubt there are very many students who utilize the writing center to realize Hobson's self-definition of the writing center's purpose: "produce better writers." And if the writing center is not WAC-focused, it's probably not helpful to at least half the students. That being said, I think writing centers are probably generally effective and helpful; they just need the same checks and balances that every other discipline is held to and should be treated as a discipline in and of itself in order to do so.