Undergraduate Council Minutes
April 14, 2010
Present: Ora Bouey, Cynthia Dietz, Donna Di Donato, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Rick Gatteau, Jeff Ge, Norman Goodman, Joseph Mitchell, Beverly Rivera, Scott Sutherland
Guest: Gene Hammond, Director, Writing Program
After brief discussion and suggestions for minor changes to the minutes of the April 7, 2010 meeting were approved as amended.
Gene Hammond, Director of the Writing Program, was invited to attend this UG Council meeting to offer an update on the activity and plans of the Writing Program. Professor Hammond responded in writing to some questions in advance laying the foundation for our discussion. These questions were:
-What has the Writing Program done in the past two years to strengthen writing on campus?
-What are the plans of the Program for the next two years?
-How are ESL students integrated into the mainstream courses?
Responses to these questions were distributed to Council members prior to the meeting.
Scott Sutherland raised the first question in the meeting on behalf of Michael Barnhart who was unable to attend. Professor Barnhart is concerned about the current grading option for the University’s writing courses, (which is A,B,C/U). He believes that this option may not encourage students significantly enough to make an effort in the class. He wonders if the A through F grading option might not encourage students to make a greater effort given the possibility that if they do poorly or fail the course the grade will be factored into their cumulative average.
Professor Hammond likes the current grading option and pointed out that most students taking WRT courses are at an early stage in their college careers and are learning the skills to be students. Further, they are learning to be responsible and live with the consequences of their actions. He believes that the current grading option supports this process.
Norman Goodman replied that the same argument could be made for the A through F grading option.
Sarah Fuller raised ESL as another issue. She argued that some students pass/leave ESL classes, but are not ready for WRT 101.
Gene would like more feedback from faculty of this kind, (about student progress) good and bad. The Writing Program will follow-up with instructors about individual cases.
He also mentioned that the Program has established a new initiative in which selected writing instructors will work with students for up to an additional six hours each week on their writing. Available spots for this offer filled up almost immediately. Writing has also applied for a grant for ESL writing instructors to work additionally with students.
Sarah Fuller asked Gene to comment on the Upper Division Writing Requirement (UDWR). In response, he said that he would like to see an upper division requirement that is the same across the board for all majors. He could also envision a system in which the UDWR is vetted through the Writing Program for review, but that would require more resources.
Joe Mitchell asked how much graded writing is done in class. Gene said that it’s about 10%. Joe encouraged the consideration of an exit exercise where students would be asked to write a modest amount, a paragraph for example, so that an assessment could be made on what we directly observe students write in class.
Gene said that we do something similar to this now in WRT 102.
Rick Gatteau mentioned that there is ongoing outreach by academic advisors to reduce the number of students that delay taking WRT until the junior and senior year.
Joe M. wondered whether the University is admitting students who are too weak in writing.
Gene responded that although the writing of entering students has improved over the last thirty years, reading has worsened. Students, like everyone else, need to acquire a facility for writing. They should be asked to write a lot on a variety of topics.
In reply to a question about retaking classes, Gene said that he would have no objection to students who receive a U in WRT being required to take the course in a summer session.
He added that there are two things that change the culture and practice of failed writing programs,
1, money for courses and for screening and 2, faculty not tolerating poor writing.
Gene has visited academic departments to mobilize faculty and encourage them to integrate successful techniques into their courses. He continued that it would help a lot if the Provost publically indicated that writing is a campus priority.
Ora Bouey commented that students have difficulty understanding college life, how to study, how to manage in classes, requirements, etc. She praised Gene’s method and approach as supporting students who are struggling with these issues.
Scott Sutherland asked about themed sections of WRT classes. Gene said that some sections are themed and agreed that it’s something that should be listed/promoted in advance so that students are aware of a particular theme linked with a section.
Submitted by Donna Di Donato
28 April 2010