Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Second Advisor

Betty Taylor

Third Advisor

Brian Gerrard


Although California grows more socially and ethnically diverse, and its public universities serve this changing population, spending in higher education has been cut over the past few years. In this context, crucial departments such as writing programs, which offer all students the opportunity to build their communication skills while bringing their unique perspectives to traditional theories, have been under pressure for their higher cost than traditional lecture-style and new online courses. Further, writing programs are not always perceived as a source of institutional prestige.

This study starts with critical pedagogy: the idea that education is social change. The study then assumes writing programs enable critical pedagogy by engaging students’ own experiences while teaching students the tools of communicating effectively to help drive social change for themselves and their communities. Leaders at California universities thus effectively promote or restrict critical pedagogy by cutting or growing writing programs. Using the lens of leadership theory, the decisions of these leaders ultimately demonstrates how they value student voices and engagement and the long-term social impact of their institution.

At five public California universities, writing program directors were interviewed and institutional reviews performed to evaluate local leadership practices. Key factors that supported writing programs were an emphasis on workforce development and a student-centered mission. Universities with an emphasis on research and on increasing their selectivity tended to put pressure on their writing programs. From the perspective of leadership theory, servant leaders aligned with a strong writing program whereas transformational leaders yielded mixed results, depending on whether the mission of the institution prioritized the writing programs.

Writing programs provide two essential benefits to students. First, writing is an essential skill for participating in the workforce and obtaining access to economic and social capital. Second, writing programs, although not ensuring critical pedagogy will take place at the university, help enable access to empowerment for driving social change to serve communities through active engagement with academic theory. For California public universities to adapt to the increasing diversity and evolving educational needs of students, writing programs need to remain funded and active.