Writing Center scales back hiring efforts, hours to meet budget cuts

Media Credit: Jennifer Igbonoba | Photographer

Faculty in the Writing Center said the center decreased its operating hours at its headquarters in Gelman Library by seven percent and paused services at its three satellite centers ahead of the fall semester.

Faculty overseeing the Writing Center said they scaled back hiring efforts and hours this fall after officials instructed them to cut their operating expenses for the academic year.

Faculty in the Writing Center – which offers free support to students seeking to improve their writing – said the center decreased its operating hours at its headquarters in Gelman Library by seven percent and paused services at its three satellite centers in Eckles and Himmelfarb Libraries and the Multicultural Student Services Center ahead of the fall semester. Faculty said they also decided against hiring two new graduate student writing consultants to meet the budget cuts Columbian College of Arts and Sciences officials requested.

Kim Gross, the CCAS vice dean for programs and operations, said CCAS, which runs the center, sets the maximum number of hours it is able to operate during the fiscal year. She said the center allocated 8,706 hours to the center in fiscal year 2023 but declined to say how many hours they allocated last fiscal year.

“The college allocates hours rather than a specific dollar amount and programs work within that,” she said. “Wages are based on hourly D.C. minimum wage.”

Gross said officials determined the number of hours to allocate based on enrollment trends, usage rates in prior years and CCAS’ overall budget.

“The program has requested some additional hours in light of this year’s large first-year class size,” Gross said. “CCAS recognizes that the demand for Writing Center support often comes from first-year students, and we are now working with the program to add to the hours currently allocated.”

During a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month, faculty senators said the Writing Center and multiple other departments, programs and centers within CCAS are experiencing hiring issues due to “inadequate” financial support.

Gordon Mantler – the executive director of the University Writing Program that houses the Writing Center – said while the center employs 45 to 50 consultants, which is in line with the number of consultants they employed in previous years, with this year’s exceptionally large freshman class they had hoped to hire more. He said canceling the search for new graduate student consultants has made it harder to support first-year students since they don’t have enough consultants available to meet the demand for appointments.

Officials said GW’s acceptance rate rose from 43 percent in the 2020-21 academic year to 49 percent in the 2021-22 academic year because they received a larger number of qualified applicants. Provost Chris Bracey said the acceptance rate spike was also the result of officials reversing a former policy of being hesitant to accept “higher-caliber applicants” due to worries that they would not matriculate to GW if accepted.

“The unfortunate thing is that we have this huge, dynamic class of great students who have understandably more demands for these kinds of resources,” Mantler said. “And we can’t fully meet them the way that we would like.”

Mantler said the center also introduced a lunch hour where it is closed from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday to reduce staffing costs. He said the cuts limit the number of writing consultants available at any given time, making it difficult for students to book same-day or next-day appointments.

“You want to have a 70 to 75 percent usage rate,” he said. “In other words, if somebody wants a same-day or a next-day appointment, they can get it. But right now we’re running closer to 95 percent, which means that every appointment that’s available is taken, which makes it really difficult for somebody to come in spontaneously and set up an appointment.”

Mantler said the center provides services to graduate and undergraduate students from all of the University’s schools but only receives funding from CCAS, amplifying its budget constraints.

“I want to stress that the College of Arts and Sciences is who funds the Writing Center, but the Writing Center serves everybody,” he said. “It’s my bosses, the deans, who work very hard to figure out how to serve everybody.”

Mantler said CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck told faculty in the Writing Center that they may receive a slight increase in their budget for the spring 2023 semester.

“What that most likely means is that the center will be able to meet demand with more flexibility in the spring than this semester,” he said.

Blyss, an undergraduate consultant for the Writing Center who only shared her first name because of the center’s academic confidentiality policies, said the introduction of the center’s lunch hour limited the number of hours available for consultants to work. 

“The budget cuts mean that we can’t get as many hours as we used to due to the center being closed for an hour every day, except Friday, during the week,” she said.

Blyss said appointment availability for Writing Center clients has been limited throughout the fall semester. She said the Writing Center is “helpful” to the GW community as it provides services that support students’ academic and professional pursuits, like assisting students with written assignments.

“I’ve had people reach out to me and tell me that they got good grades on assignments I helped them with or got into programs based on the personal statements I’ve helped them with,” she said.

Carol Hayes, the director of the Writing Center and an assistant professor of writing, said the center avoided hiring more employees to limit the competition for hours among staff. She said the center is offering the same number of working hours to their employees as they have in past semesters, despite the fact that the center’s operating hours decreased by seven percent.

“We’ve offered student employees the same hours as we offered in past semesters, Hayes said in an email. To make this possible, we limited the total hours we’re open and did not hire new staff. The results have protected student employees.”

Hayes said while the center paused operations at its satellite locations in Eckles and Himmelfarb Libraries and the MSSC, the decision to not staff the other locations did not result in any cuts to student positions because there are usually no separate consultants for the satellite locations.

“Keeping all the consultants centered at our main Gelman Library location ensured that the full campus community could access the consultants,” she said.

Hayes added that hiring the two graduate student consultants this semester would have increased the Writing Center’s appointment capacity by about 15 percent.

“We regret that the impact of the budget cuts has been on the side of our clients – the students who rely on writing support and have fewer opportunities to receive it,” she said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.