The University Writing Program is now under the direct supervision of the Columbian College’s dean as part of a restructuring that removed Melinda Knight from her position as executive director of the program.
Knight has held the position of executive director since the program’s inception. University officials attributed the change to a need to complete the goals of the program. Knight is still employed by the University but will now focus on grant writing.
“Eliminating (Melinda Knight’s) position puts writing programs in direct contact with the dean’s office,” said Peg Barratt, dean of the Columbian College.
Knight declined to comment on this decision.
Though administrators were hesitant to outwardly criticize the program, they said it is weak in some areas, like in the effectiveness of themed classes.
“I don’t think it is working as well as it could work,” said Paul Duff, associate dean of undergraduate studies in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.
He added, “Because we have new leadership at both the University and college levels, it’s time to step back and take a look at it.If we can’t put out students that can write well,
then we’re not doing our jobs.”
The UW program is conducting a self-study, set to be completed this winter.
“Because (the UW program) is so big – it affects every single student in every single department – there are many opinions,” Barratt said. “We are trying to collect some of these ideas.”
Carol Hayes, director of First-Year Writing Program, said the program is developing a bidding system so students will not be stuck in classes with themes they are not interested in, a common complaint of students. This will be implemented in fall 2008, at the earliest, Hayes said.
“The theme-based classes offer both a real and potential problem,” Hayes said.
“We need to stay focused on the original objective and assess where the program is now,” said Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “We always set out with certain goals and need to check on their achievement.”
Lilien Robinson, chair of the Faculty Senate and an art professor who teaches several upper-level Writing in the Discipline courses, said her the students have complained of there being too much of an emphasis on the themes of the courses, which include “Trash Talk,” “Legacies of the Holocaust” and “Homeless Chic? Poverty, Privilege and Identity in Contemporary American Democracy.”
“My understanding from discussions with many of my students is that primary concerns have been lack of consistency in approach among sections, too much emphasis on the content of topics and not enough on the actual writing,” Robinson wrote in an e-mail.
The inconsistencies in the program and the lack of focus on writing, Robinson said, has led to students struggling in the upper-level Writing in the Discipline courses.
“Effective analysis of material, organization of ideas and incorporation of transitions are the problems I see most frequently in the writing assignments,” Robinson said. “I will note, happily, in the last year I have seen far fewer problems with basic grammar.”
Elise Kigner contributed to this report.