Open Letter from Professor Katherine Binhammer (EFS): Reject BA Core Proposal at Arts Faculty Council on Nov. 24th

Dear Colleagues,

I write to you today as an Arts colleague to strongly encourage you to attend Arts Faculty Council on November 24th, 2 pm (in Council Chambers, University Hall) and exercise your right to vote. As you know, on that day Council will be voting on the proposed new B.A. Core requirements and I am extremely concerned for the future of the Faculty and of our students if the proposal is passed. Thus, this email’s purpose is to rally the troops to show up and not allow a flawed proposal to pass.  Below I outline a few reasons why I will be voting against the proposal. Whether or not you agree with me on what the new B.A. core should look like does not matter; what matters is that we collectively reject the proposed model which would be a disservice to our students.

Here are my Concerns with the Current Proposal

1. What is the intellectual or pedagogical reasoning for the proposed new core requirements? Continue reading

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Brad Bucknell (English & Film Studies) on the arguments at Arts Faculty Council on the transformation of the Centre for Writers

This is the fifth post on ArtsSquared by members of the Faculty of Arts on the Provost’s planned transformation of the Centre for Writers into an administrative unit run by Student Services. Further to a motion passed by Arts Faculty Council at its meeting of 25 May 2016 advising him to reconsider his decision, the Provost has agreed to delay any change to the Centre for Writers for one year, to allow for further review of the issue. Here Brad Bucknell (English & Film Studies) comments on the arguments of the Acting Vice-Dean of Arts, Stuart Landon, at the Arts Faculty Council meeting of 25 May 2016 as he spoke of his role in this decision.

It was, to say the very least, a curious and disheartening AFC meeting this past Wednesday. Near the end of the meeting, we began discussing the recent changes to the Centre for Writers. Specifically, we took up the removal of Professor Lucie Moussu as the Centre’s director. Many people there wanted to hear a more complete explanation of the replacement (indeed, the displacement) of Professor Moussu who is both a trusted colleague and a widely known and well-respected scholar. Nothing about her replacement made much sense, so we came seeking enlightenment. We left without it.

The explanation contained these “points.” We were told that there had been a year’s consultation on the matter, including conversations with Prof. Moussu. This may be true in some way; however, it is hard to know what the word “consultation” means here, since Prof. Moussu would hardly have agreed to her own removal from the directorship. Perhaps there was less consultation than plain old telling: this is how it will be. Continue reading

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Professor Moussu Speaks Out on Centre for Writers Changes Sought by Faculty of Arts (Open Letter)

Dear colleagues,

I would like to address two important points about the announced changes regarding the C4W: first, how it affects my career, and second, how it affects tutors in the C4W.

First, my career: I would like you to imagine a UofA Biologist, who works in her lab and conducts research projects with her research assistants and her participants. She teaches courses related to her research, gets grants for her research, mentors her graduate students through their studies, hires and train the best research assistants, recruits participants according to best practices and research ethics, presents and discusses her results at national and international conferences (often with her students), and publishes her results in peer reviewed journals (sometimes as co-author with her students). Every year, she writes an annual report about her work, gets evaluated by her peers at the UofA, and gets excellent feedback—one year, she even got tenure!

And then one day, she is told that she can no longer work in her lab. She can go inside her lab and watch what happens, but she can’t be the Principal Investigator anymore, can’t work with her research assistants, can’t recruit or interact with participants, and can’t decide what is or isn’t being done in the lab.

This is exactly what has happened to me and to my “lab.” Continue reading

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Professor Sargent Responds to Provost’s Document on Situation with Centre for Wrtiers

The post below is the response of Professor Betsy Sargent (English & Film Studies) to the formal response that the Provost and Vice-President Academic Stephen Dew has offered to members of the General Faculties Council in the form of document 14.1.R for today’s meeting of GFC. The Provost’s document responds to a question posed by graduate student Shumaila Hemani which may be found here. The matter of what is happening to the Centre for Writers was first raised at the last meeting of the General Faculties Council, and GFC told that President Turpin would investigate.

Centre for Writers: Response to Statement from Provost and Vice-President Academic Steven Dew (Professor Betsy Sargent)

 

I want to respond not only as a Professor of English in the Faculty of Arts, but as a Professor in the disciplne of Writing Studies who has served as the Co-Chair of the University’s Writing Task Force, as Director of Writing Initiatives (2007-2012), and as the Founding Director of Writing Studies in Arts and the award-winning Writing Studies 101 (2008-2014).

I’ll respond to each paragraph in turn, starting with paragraph #2: Continue reading

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Open Letter from Professor Garry Watson (English & Film Studies) on the Centre for Writers (To be discussed at the General Faculties Council meeting of 30 May 2016)

Dear Colleagues,

Many thanks to those of you who were able to attend Arts Faculty Council on Wednesday afternoon. As you know, the motion was passed to advise the Provost to delay by one year the decision to move the C4W out of Arts into Student Services and to allow the current director, Dr. Lucie Moussu, to complete her administrative term (which goes until July 1, 2017), said delay to allow for wider consultation and further research at least equivalent to the wide consultation and extensive research that created the C4W in the Faculty of Arts in the first place.

If you were unable to attend AFC on Wed and were so inclined, emailing a sentence to President Turpin <dturpin@ualberta.ca> today would be enormously helpful, since he’s chairing GFC tomorrow afternoon and this time-sensitive C4W issue is on the agenda. Something quite brief like the following would work well: “If I’d been able to attend AFC on May 25th, I would have added my vote to pass the motion advising the Provost to delay for one year any changes to the administration or directorship of the C4W.” Continue reading

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Open Letter from Betsy Sargent (English & Film Studies): Do Not Let Faculty of Arts Undermine Centre for Writers

Dear Colleagues,

Even those of you who have already heard my plea (at the department gathering on April 7th) about proposed serious changes to the Centre for Writers may be surprised by the latest development. While the University Writing Committee was informed as early as Fall term about the proposal to move the C4W from the Faculty of Arts (where it has served as an academic unit for 7 years, an extension of the university curriculum) to student services (under the Dean of Students), a proposal that the University Writing Committee vigorously opposed to no avail, there was never any mention of changing the Director of the C4W.

On April 14th, however, Lucie Moussu was informed by the Acting Vice-Dean of Arts that she would as of this July 1 no longer serve as Director of the C4W. The explanation given was that the Dean of Students did not want to supervise a faculty member; there will soon be a search for a non-faculty manager of the C4W.

This in spite of Lucie’s extraordinary work in developing what is now one of the finest writing centres in Canada and in spite of her currently serving as head of the Canadian Writing Centres Association and hosting (with generous SSHRC funding) a major CWCA conference this May in Calgary (keynoted by an internationally recognized expert in the field, Oregon State University’s Dr. Lisa Ede, longtime collaborator with Andrea Lunsford). Check out Lucie’s amazing annual reports on the excellent website she created for the C4W at http://c4w.ualberta.ca/ or the lively 5-minute video about the most recent Long Night Against Procrastination (Ted Bishop and I have cameo appearances for our middle-of-the-night workshops!) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oVLRaXx-dY.

As you’re probably aware, all grad and undergrad C4W tutors until now have been required to complete a 3-credit 300/600-level course in writing centre theory and practice, a course that included many supervised hours in practicum in the C4W. Only the best students in that course went on to work in the C4W in subsequent terms, students who had deep preparation in a range of areas from second-language issues to composition theory to the writing process to writing-in-the-disciplines (not to mention intensive work on citation, plagiarism, and basic grammar and usage). And even after completing the course and being hired to tutor in the C4W, these tutors were carefully mentored (with observations and evaluations of all 40+ of them completed each term by Lucie Moussu).

None of this will be continued—unless those of us affected by this undermining of a splendid Faculty of Arts teaching unit manage to convince the university otherwise.  Please sign this petition arguing for the retention of “highly qualified directors in College and University Writing Centers”:
https://www.change.org/p/international-writing-centers-association-members-retaining-highly-qualified-directors-in-college-and-university-writing-centers/.

The petition has 763 signatures from around the world already, but the more from the U of A the better (please feel free to circulate it to other U of A faculty, in any Faculty); it will be used at the May 25th Arts Faculty Council meeting to make the case for serious, effective writing centres as teaching units within an academic faculty (i.e., they are not remedial services). And even if you don’t feel able to sign the petition, it’s well worth reading since it makes the case even more eloquently than the Writing Task Force was able to do in its 3 years of research 2005-2008, arguing for the creation of the C4W, free and open to everyone in the U of A community.

A particularly convincing comment on this petition argues that accrediting bodies need to insist that a professionally-recognized writing center (led by an expert in writing-centre theory, practice, and research) is as essential to an institution’s accreditation as its library.

An Arts graduate student/C4W tutor has asked for a discussion of these changes to the C4W to be placed on the agenda for the May 25th Arts Faculty Council meeting. Both Lucie Moussu and I plan to attend that meeting, hoping that the phrase Lucie has heard too often this year—that Arts doesn’t want the C4W—will be disproved by the number of our colleagues that show up to protest otherwise.

After all, the C4W was funded by Central through Arts on the condition that Arts run the program for the University—it was funded as a university resource arising from recommendations from a university-wide task force that was established to do extensive research and get answers about best practices in the teaching of writing. Since the C4W was created after extensive consultation, Arts should not be permitted to undermine it or move it elsewhere without similarly wide consultation, in particular with faculty in Arts. And of course, one would hope that at a major research university, such a major decision would be based on the best research possible, not on expediency or the latest administrative fad.

Lucie has received letters of support from writing centre directors and other colleagues around the world. It seems that many post-secondary administrators have jumped on the latest bandwagon, which is to have a one-stop shop for student services (from mental health resources to math and science and writing tutoring, based on the apparent assumption that all tutoring is the same). In this scenario, a writing centre is no longer seen as a teaching unit (used by honours students and grad students and instructors as well as by first-year and international students); it’s seen primarily as a remedial service. Of course, since the C4W will continue to be located in the basement of Assiniboia after this change in leadership, it’s not yet clear exactly how it’s becoming part of a one-stop tutoring service (all the other services being in SUB).

A major concern in this new situation is the looming danger of a form of plagiarism— excessive help—which is much more likely in the absence of disciplinary expertise at the helm, without a Writing Studies faculty member emphasizing repeatedly and modeling how tutors can ask questions, make suggestions, and listen closely as students talk about their ideas and their struggles with writing, but insisting that tutors can never take the pen out of the student’s hand—all the work has to be the student’s own, with the student fully understanding why he or she made each particular choice.

I also understand that the real possibility exists after a year or two of students’ being charged for C4W writing help (as they are currently charged at the Student Success Centre, $20 per hour—which raises so many equity red flags that it’s puzzling how that embarrassing practice has continued for so long). How does that support the excellence in education that the U of A supposedly stands for? What’s next? Charging individual students each time they check out a book at the library?

Of course our students will be the biggest losers if these changes are allowed to go forward (even though wide student protest is unlikely, given that students understand that the C4W will continue–just under different leadership; only the tutors—because of their thorough grounding in writing centre theory and practice—fully understand what they’ll be losing). It would be a different story if the C4W were simply being shut down (or if students were being asked immediately to pay for help with their writing).

So I think it’s up to us, those who understand what’s at stake, to protest. Please come to the Arts Faculty Council meeting on May 25th if you can and/or please sign the petition at the link above (and share that link as widely as possible). Also, do let Lucie know how much you’ve appreciated the work she’s done in the C4W since her arrival 7 years ago. Lucie Moussu <moussu@ualberta.ca>

Gratefully,
Betsy

Professor, Department of English and Film Studies
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E5
Office: Humanities Centre 3-79
E-mail: bsargent@ualberta.ca
Writing @UofA

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Academic Freedom and “Respectful Dialogue” at UAlberta’s Faculty of Arts: Response to Message from the Dean

Just over two weeks ago, there was some surprising news from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), which announced the launching of an investigation into infringement of academic freedom protections at Laurentian University. The surprise: the Faculty allegedly in violation of academic freedom is Arts. Arts! Arts is the Faculty one would expect to be most effective at protecting academic freedom principles in practice, given that so much of its raison d’être depends upon its rigorous cultivation, sometimes as a central matter of a discipline, of that other freedom with which academic freedom so complexly intersects, freedom of expression. How, then, could any Faculty of Arts in the country have so disastrously infringed academic freedom protections that it could find itself the object not only of a CAUT investigation, but under threat of CAUT censure?

We won’t know what is going on at Laurentian for months. [Correction: CAUT’s report is here.] But whatever has been playing out there will almost certainly in the end be publicly revealed to be tied to one administrator or another’s failure to recognize how a given administrative practice, policy, or action was antagonistic to basic principles of academic freedom. I, for one, will be particularly interested to hear what CAUT has to report in regard to the second item in its list of announced concerns, “Disregard of collegial decision-making.” Continue reading

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