Note: This post follows up on the post of June 28 regarding my ongoing attempts to access the administrative records of the Writers’ Workshop, for which I have had to make a FOIA Public Records Request through the University of Iowa’s Transparency Office:
Public Records Request
Thanks to the generosity of Mark McGurl I have now received a redacted version of the Director’s Files from the Frank Conroy Era currently housed under restriction as part of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Records in the Special Collections and University Archives of the UI Library. I received 21 pdf files totaling 626 pages. They are organized and named alphabetically starting with “A_Redacted.” According to the Transparency Office these files represent about ¾ of the entire series I requested. The Workshop was provided with the opportunity to withhold materials prior to the Transparency Office’s redactions.
Before I discuss what’s in the redacted records I’d like to summarize what’s in the Workshop records as a whole (their record-keeping has in fact been quite thorough), how the authority over access to these records has shifted since my FOIA request, and the state and federal laws that will determine access in the future.
The Iowa Writers’ Workshop Records consist of 13 series of varying sizes and provenance. Here is the content description from the Library Finding Aid:
Series I: Student Coursework, consists of photocopies of students’ works arranged by semester and class section within each semester. It is the largest series in the collection, dating from Fall 1965 to the present. Note that a few of the semesters are filed out of chronological sequence.
Series II, Award Competitions, consists of writing entries from individuals vying for scholarships and other awards.
Series III, Students and Alumni, consists of files containing correspondence, applications, and other material, arranged alphabetically by name of individual within each accrual. Note that accrual dates cover academic years e.g., 1986-91 covers the 1986-87 to 1991-92 academic years. Restricted access.
Series IV, Faculty, is arranged alphabetically by name of individual. Restricted access
Series V, Director’s Files, consists of correspondence and other material created and received by the Office of the Director. Restricted access.
Series VI, Administrative Files. Restricted access.
Series VII, Accepted Not Coming. Restricted access
Series VIII, Rejected Applicants’ Evaluation Sheets. Restricted access
Series IX, Applicants’ Letters of Recommendation. Restricted access.
Series X, Ephemera, includes posters and other printed matter, dating from 1982 to present.
Series XI, Stephen Wilbers Project, consists of correspondence and interview notes prepared by an alumnus of the Workshop who prepared a history of the program in 1980.
Series XII, Jean Wylder Project, consists of survey responses obtained from numerous alumni during the early 1970’s as part of a history project. The responses are arranged by era of attendance/graduation.
Series XIII, Newsletters, consists of newsletters released once or twice yearly since 1970 chronicling the publishing activity of Workshop alumni and students, as well as Workshop programs and events.
The original restrictions consisted in consulting with the University Archivist and the Workshop. Since my request, access to Series I-IX of these records comes under the authority of the Transparency Office. This includes the 380 boxes of student coursework running from 1965-2011, which prior to my request were under no restriction at all. Anyone wishing access to these records must now file a FOIA request with the UI Transparency Office and pay for its processing (as an example, the charge for reviewing the Director’s Files was $1080; the estimate for processing the remainder of the administrative records is $12,000).
Two laws are used by the University of Iowa Transparency Office in redacting requested records, one federal and one state:
- The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.
- Chapter 22.7 of the Iowa Code concerning the Examination of Public Records.
I anticipate that these laws, and others like them, will restrict access to educational records for future researchers into the history of the Program Era.
So what’s in the records that I received and what was redacted?
Selectively and roughly alphabetically here are some examples:
A redacted copy of the AWP’s 1992 Survey of Creative Writing Programs filled out by Conroy. The redactions are interesting, and indicate some of the difficulties researchers will face in determining the demographic composition of creative writing cohorts. Since the law apparently dictates that any statistical measure of 6 or fewer risks exposing individual identities (I say apparently because I couldn’t find this specified in either law), we can know that in 1992 the Workshop had 55 men and 45 women enrolled, but we can’t know how many (if any) of them were American Indian, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, or “Other.” Nor are we allowed to know the gender or ethnic background of the faculty (though we do know that 7 are Full Professors and 5 are Adjuncts).
Extensive discussion with the upper administration concerning the awarding of Teaching-Writing Fellowships (TWiFs as they were colloquially known) and their importance in competing with other programs for students. All student names in these discussions are redacted.
Much discussion with a series of English Department Chairs regarding the administrative autonomy of the Workshop. Indeed, the process whereby the Workshop achieved this autonomy, ultimately resulting in their move to Dey House, is documented in some detail in these pages.
An itinerary for, though no results from, the External Review conducted of the Workshop by Nicholas Delbanco and Stephen Tatum in 1992.
A series of increasingly testy exchanges about violations of the smoking policy in the English-Philosophy Building (EPB). Though the violator is never named, it is well-known that Conroy was a chain smoker.
Correspondence with or about Frederick Barthelme, Saul Bellow, Annie Dillard (about the possibility of adding a Literary Nonfiction Track to the WW), Gail Godwin, John Irving, Norman Mailer, Tom McGrath, Joyce Carol Oates, George Plimpton, and Roger Strauss.
A Graduate Writing Faculty Assistance Survey issued by the University of Houston and filled out by Conroy which confirms that faculty meet with graduate students a “fair amount” in “bookstores, local bar and local restaurant (Foxhead, The Mill),” in a “miraculously open” climate, and affirms that the criterion for acceptance includes “the pressure of the soul behind the language.”
Extensive correspondence, internal and external, some redacted, involving funding, for TAships, visiting writers, copy machines (they made 100,000 copies a month), and more.
Numerous redacted nominations for prizes and awards.
A letter to all Workshop Faculty discouraging them from conducting workshops in their homes.
This is only a selection; there is more in these records, far more than I have any use for (and none of it violating any privacy or confidentiality laws). Unfortunately, I’m not sure where the funding will come from to redact the remaining administrative records, nor where they would be housed if the funding is secured. At this point, what I’ve received is housed in a folder in my Dropbox account. Do let me know if you’d like access.