Officials critique writing course

While administrators and several professors are praising the academic merits of a new freshman writing course currently being phased into the University, at least one professor has questioned the benefits of the program for faculty.

Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman said GW developed the class, University Writing 20, to make students’ writing backgrounds more comprehensive and allow for more time to be spent on the actual mechanics of writing.

Sections of the course are worth four credits and meet three times a week.

While each University Writing class has a specific topic, the structure of each class is similar, making freshman writing at GW more uniform from section to section than the former introductory English classes.

University Writing 20 is being taken by 700 randomly selected freshmen in place of English 10 and 11 this year. Of those students, 300 are taking the course this fall.

“We wanted to create a program where nobody thinks their roommate has it better,” said Professor Cayo Gamber, who teaches University Writing.

Gamber said she and other writing faculty members met over the summer to discuss and compare teaching methods and class structure. The University is also mandating that only fulltime professors teach University Writing.

“It allows us to be available to one another,” Gamber said. “If the University doesn’t invest full time, how can you invest full time in the University and your students?”

She said students are assigned a contact at Gelman Library to help with finding research materials for the class.

Professor Jessica O’Hara also lauded the program for its maximum class size of 15 and increased amount of in-class instruction.

“It allows me to have content and writing in the course” without worrying if increasing time in class for one will take away from the other, she said.

Although the program is designed to improve students’ academic experience, some professors disagree with the credentials administrators want University Writing faculty to have.

“The concept for the program is absolutely right: to focus on writing and not ideas,” said Debra Bruno, who taught freshman English at GW from 1986 until 2003, and is now the editor of a literary magazine. ” The problem was with professors needing credentials. One does not have to be a scholar of rhetoric to be a good writing teacher.”

Gamber and O’Hara, like the rest of the faculty teaching University Writing, hold terminal degrees – Ph.D. or master’s. But Bruno said she does not have a terminal degree.

“Ironically, even though I offered a more comprehensive course in critical reading and argumentative writing, I was pushed out of the writing program mainly because I was short on academic credentials,” she recently wrote in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Officilas and Bruno declined to comment on why she left GW.

Professor Chris Sten, a member of the University Writing Program’s Appointments Committee, said it received more than 50 applications for the positions, many from professors already teaching at GW.

“We wanted professors who would be teaching out of their own

scholarly strengths,” he said.

Director of University Writing 20 Phyllis Ryder said the main goal of the program is to concentrate on having students write “throughout their years at GW.”

Each class has a relatively long research paper due at the end of the semester, with writing assignments done throughout the semester that increase in complexity and length.

The program also calls for students to take writing-intensive courses during their sophomore and junior years that coincide with their majors.

The selected students are in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences or the Elliott School of International Affairs and were notified they were taking the course over the summer before attending Colonial Inauguration. Students had the opportunity to list their top five topic choices at CI.

“You have people who chose to be in your class,” Gamber said.

The course will continue to be phased in, with two thirds of incoming freshmen taking the course next year and all incoming freshmen in 2005.

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