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.

But things got curiouser, and more disheartening. The next point was that the Centre for Writers is located in the basement of Assiniboia Hall. It is supposed to be “terrible” there. It isn’t, but even if it were, this has nothing to do with the directorship at all. It does not follow that because the basement of Assinboia Hall is somehow an unsuitable space for a Centre for Writers that the director of the Centre must be removed. A similar non-sequitur popped up with that administrative word: “centralization.” All student support services concerned with writing should be centralized. Whether or not centralization is the magic solution to student writing is, again, hardly the point. This means nothing in regard to the directorship. Nothing like a reasoned explanation had yet appeared.

Along the way, though, we heard many phrases about “students’ needs,” and meeting “students’ needs,” and about “what’s best for students.” Had the Centre for Writers not been meeting students’ needs all this time? Had it been not enough, or had it been doing harm? On the contrary, as one person pointed out, and many of us would concur, the Centre under Prof. Moussu’s direction is one of the few places where we can send students to get real help with second (or third, or fourth, etc.) language help. And native English speakers, professors, and anyone else can use the Centre, for free, as well.

It is true, though, that the Centre is not part of student support services (under the direction of the Dean of Students). How this harms or in any way disadvantages students at all is hard to understand. The Centre for Writers provides its services for free. Writing support offered by student services costs $20/ hour. Can the charge somehow be an advantage to students? Once again, all the heavy weather about students seems meant to obfuscate, not explain. We were told that it costs the Faculty of Arts virtually nothing to support the Centre. Why, then, move it to any other unit? What difference can it possibly make to students and their real needs (not their rhetorical ones) if it stays in Arts? Student Services could simply advertise the free service that is available to students at the Centre for Writers.

In fact, the Centre for Writers must be one of the few truly complete units on campus. Students are trained as tutors by Prof. Moussu; these students then go on to assist other students who come to them with problems: education occurs, and real “student needs” are met here in more than one way. Prof. Moussu also conducts research on language training that will serve not just others in her field, but the very students who come to the Centre. One would think that Arts would happily support such an important unit.

However, if the Centre is transferred to student services, then the director is no longer considered academic faculty. Of course, then someone can be assigned to the diminished role of the “director,” someone who can, him/herself, be administered.

At this moment in the discussion, we were told not to denigrate those in the Dean of Students office who might take up this new post. Some of them may even have PhDs. This was intended to be heartening; instead, it proved that the point was lost on our interlocutor. Indeed, it was truly remarkable to hear this plea for respect coming from one who had been part of the unprofessional and disrespectful treatment as that which was occurring to Prof. Moussu right before our eyes! And how can any of us be cheered by the fact that perhaps yet another contract instructor will be exploited in this diminished directorship?

Ah, but this is where it truly gets mysterious, and even somewhat frightening. For there are no savings to be had here. Prof. Moussu will “simply” teach in Writing Studies, and another person with another salary will be placed in the same director’s chair at the re-located Centre for Writers. No money will be saved, or, at this point, generated at all. No educational purpose will be served either. It is a certainty that students who come to the “renewed” Centre for Writers will get much less than they do now.

Indeed, at the end of the day we have no rational explanation for any of this manoeuvring; not even the prime directives of the corporate university (to generate revenue, to create “efficiencies,” etc.) can explain what is happening. The public will get less for more. We are left, then, simply with the appalling spectacle of the de-professionalization of a fine colleague through what appears to be a rather pointless administrative exercise.

Or is this the true point’: that at any time, any one of the faculty can simply be de-valued, pushed aside by other (or perhaps, former) academics? If this can be done to Prof. Moussu, who, can ‘scape whipping? At bottom, Prof. Moussu’s displacement from the directorship is stunningly unjust. It is also chilling and deeply troubling in every respect.

The one positive note that did arise from this was a resolution (moved, and passed) that the Arts Faculty request that the Provost make no determination about the fate of the Centre for Writers or its director for at least one year. This will give time to have the issue more fully, and publicly, debated.

For more on this, please see Garry Watson’s letter here at Arts Squared.

 

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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.” Writing centre research takes places in the writing centre itself and is about the DAILY LIFE of the writing centre, about all its aspects, including recruiting, teaching, supervising, evaluating, and mentoring tutors, organizing events and activities (like the LNAP), programming workshops and writing groups, assessing the effectiveness of our work, collaborating with other units (such as International Student Services and the Bridging Program), developing new ways to support native and non-native writers of English, involving tutors and students in research, providing professional development to tutors, etc. Writing centre scholarship needs to be conducted from the INSIDE, not from the outside. Therefore, my research opportunities have effectively been ripped away from me—I, a tenured faculty member in a research university, an internationally recognized writing centre scholar with advanced expertise in second language writing, am no longer allowed to conduct my own research. Other people with other areas of expertise (e.g., TESL or Education) may be able to conduct discrete research projects in the C4W in the future, but WRITING CENTRE RESEARCH can no longer be conducted, and I have therefore lost my ability to do the academic work for which I was hired.

Second, tutors in the C4W: the current “tutoring program” of the C4W includes encouraging my undergraduate and graduate tutors—who come from various departments and faculties across campus—to conduct research projects on their own and collaboratively with me, to write articles that link writing to their own disciplines, to develop and lead workshops and writing groups, to support UofA’s bridging program students, to become involved in professional organizations, and to present at writing centre conferences. I have taken my tutors to several national and international conferences where they have presented their projects and ideas, received leadership awards, learned from experts from around the world, and been able to add these experiences to their lives as undergraduate and graduate students and future professionals (and their CVs). I have successfully applied for grants for my writing centre work (at the UofA, nationally, and internationally) and included my tutors in my research projects, invited world-renowned guest speakers to the UofA for my tutors, and just last week, organized a national conference on writing centre work that involved a great number of my current and past tutors. Two of my graduate tutors are now serving on the Canadian Writing Centres Association executive board.

The proposed new “tutoring program” under Student Services will not allow for any of this to continue to happen. Instead of being perceived as and mentored to become future professionals and scholars, tutors will simply be perceived as employees. As one quick example, no tutoring sessions were scheduled for two days last week in order to allow C4W tutors to attend the national writing centre conference being held in Calgary. Although I remain Director of the C4W until June 30th, the decision not to schedule tutoring sessions on those two days was sharply criticized by those who already perceive the tutors only as employees providing a student service.

In addition, the tutoring course that I developed at the undergraduate and graduate levels and have very successfully taught for the last seven years will no longer be taught by someone who is an expert in writing centre scholarship, Second Language Writing, Writing in the Disciplines, and Composition/Writing Studies theories. As a result, future tutors will no longer receive the training and knowledge of theories and best practices that they need to help UofA students adequately, ethically, and efficiently in the future C4W. These two courses went through governance in the Faculty of Arts with supporting materials that made clear that they were to be taught by the current Director of the C4W. In addition, the tutors assigned to Bridging Program sections of WRS 101 (in a collaborative project that helped WRS 101 win an international award) will no longer receive intensive training and supervision from me in working with ESL student writers.

I don’t usually toot my own horn, but I believe I have done a darn good job in the last seven years. This university should be proud of what this writing centre has become under my leadership and of all the work my tutors and I have accomplished for the UofA students and faculty members, as well as the national and international field of writing centre theory and practice. And you just can’t separate a highly qualified and internationally respected leader from her team and then claim that the C4W will improve, let alone even remain the same.

Thank you.

Lucie Moussu

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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:

② I argue with the statement’s promise that the service provided, staff, tutors, training and mandate would “all remain as before” since the original mandate of the C4W–as laid out by the Writing Task Force during its extensive research and consultation across the university 2005-2008–was to be an academic unit, an extension of the curriculum, directed by a tenured faculty member. I quote from page 3 of the June 2006 Writing Task Force Report and Recommendations, easily available online on the Writing@UofA webpages (or just type “Writing Task Force” as a search item on the U of A homepage):

UNIVERSITY WRITING CENTRE INITIATIVE

Create a Writing Centre, to be directed by a tenured specialist in Writing Centre research, theory, and practice . . . with expertise in second language acquisition/ESL/EAL issues in relation to writing. The Centre will train and supervise student peer tutors and will address the needs of university writers of all kinds.

Operational Principles for the University of Alberta Writing Centre:

  1. provide support without charge (drop-in or by appointment) for all U of A writers,

in all disciplines, from senior professors to first-year students;

  1. be seen as a teaching centre and an ongoing resource, not a remediation centre,

staffed by trained peer tutors earning academic credit for their work.

The original mission statement of the C4W is also available online at Centre for Writers Mission Statement; and the home page of the excellent C4W website– http://www.c4w.ualberta.ca/— also makes it clear that the C4W mandate is NOT restricted to students:

We offer free, one-on-one writing support to all students, instructors, staff, and alumni at the UofAin any subject, discipline, program, or faculty, and at all levels of study and with any type of assignment (research papers, reports, theses, reflections, creative writing, grant proposals, résumés, presentations, articles, etc.).

If the C4W is moved from the Faculty of Arts to Student Services, its mandate changes immediately. If the tutors are no longer taught and supervised by a faculty member who is a “specialist in Writing Centre research, theory, and practice . . . with expertise in second language acquisition issues in relation to writing,” the tutors, their training, and the service provided will change. And obviously the staff will change since the writing centre expert at the U of A, Dr. Lucie Moussu, has been abruptly and without justification removed from her position as academic director.

③ & ④ Paragraph #3, in offering to give a “brief summary of the history of C4W,” is accurate to a point—in that the summary is definitely brief. The statement of the C4W mandate in paragraph #4 is truncated, conveniently omitting any reference to faculty, instructors, staff, and alumni users of the C4W (these users ask for and receive help with writing blocks as well as feedback on drafts of academic articles, grant proposals, conference presentations, and other writing-in-process).   Further, no mention is made of the 3 years of research and consultation done by the Writing Task Force (which included members across U of A campuses and faculties, from multiple departments and disciplines, and from the GSA and SU).

The statement that “the C4W provides no courses or programs” omits information as well, given that the intensive practicum required as an essential part of WRS 301 and WRS 603 (Writing Centre Theory and Practice) takes place in the C4W and went through governance in Arts with supporting materials making it clear that these courses would always be taught by the current faculty director of the C4W. Students who complete these courses are not automatically employed as C4W tutors—only the best of them, after close observation and feedback from the faculty director, are so chosen. And deciding to work as a C4W tutor commits them to continuing professional development and education in writing centre theory and practice, with many of them completing and presenting research in the field (the fact that many at the U of A don’t realize that Writing Studies is an academic field is worrying, given the 70+ PhD programs in North America currently sending highly qualified specialists into the job market to work as writing program administrators: directing writing centres, writing-in-the-disciplines and writing-across-the-curriculum programs, and major and minor degree programs as well as graduate programs in Writing Studies).

A select few C4W tutors are assigned each term to work with Bridging Program sections of WRS 101—they receive continuing education and supervision from the faculty director of the C4W in issues in second-language writing. These sections and their dedicated tutors are funded by the Bridging Program through a proposal that Dr. Moussu and I collaborated on—and which ultimately led to WRS 101 being recognized with an international award (making the UofA only the 2nd Canadian institution to have ever received this honour, after U of Toronto).

Six Writing Studies professional associations in Canada are currently in the process of revising and ratifying a position statement on Writing Centres and Staffing, arguing that Writing centres are fundamentally teaching units (I quote here from the 2nd and 3rd pages of this draft):

Writing centres are fundamentally teaching units where writing specialists are engaged in teaching activities. Responsibility for the teaching of writing must be undertaken by those who hold faculty-level appointments similar in rank to the course instructors they work with. . . .

Students who work as peer tutors in Writing Centres need to be educated in the field of Writing Studies and mentored by professionals with expertise in Writing Studies…the quality of their work depends almost entirely upon the quality of mentoring they receive.

Again, the mandate of the C4W is to be a teaching centre, directed by a faculty member and housed within that faculty member’s academic faculty. And of course, meaningful writing centre research with meaningful results can only be done in a centre that is running according to that mandate, under a faculty director.

⑤ While paragraph #5 mentions that the Vice Dean of Arts and the Vice-Provost (Programs) “met with members of UWC, including the Director of C4W,” it neglects to mention that the input received was vocal opposition to moving the C4W under the Dean of Students—precisely because it would destroy the original mandate of the C4W. The document produced by the University Writing Committee definitely did NOT call for the C4W to be moved into Student Services (the UWC proposal seems to have been misread and/or misunderstood by the administrators who received it), and every Writing Studies specialist at the U of A disagreed with the proposal to move the C4W from the Faculty of Arts, arguing that its primary function was a teaching one and that its mandate was to serve all members of the university community, not students alone. Further, no mention was made during any of these so-called “consultations” of the possibility of removing the faculty director of the C4W or of replacing the faculty director with a non-faculty manager. If that possibility had been mentioned, the UWC’s opposition would have been even more emphatic.

⑥ Paragraph #6 is puzzling. “Improving accountabilities” for instance—here are 6 annual reports from the C4W (I am bringing them with me to GFC). These have been produced every year since Dr. Moussu’s arrival in the fall of 2009 (the four most recent are available on the C4W website, if you want to check them out yourself). These annual reports have been submitted to the English and Film Studies Chair in Arts as part of Dr. Mousu’s annual evaluation at FEC, along with her usual report on her teaching and her research—but they have also been submitted to various deans, associate deans, provosts and vice-provosts every year. They are available online in case the dean of any particular faculty wishes to discover whether or not the C4W has been accountable to his or her faculty (the report includes statistics on users of the C4W by faculty).

These annual reports make astonishing reading. The Arts Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, acts as chair of the UWC and is also the immediate oversight for the C4W Director. While I do have some suggestions about improving the administration and administrative support of the C4W within Arts, I find it hard to believe that accountability could be improved (unless that might mean that the various administrators who receive these annual reports would actually read them).

I’m also puzzled by the claim that this move will “create synergies among some of the various student-focused writing service programs at the University” –“some” is misleading, since there’s only one possibility, the existing small Writing Resources unit in the Student Success Centre that charges $20 per hour for its services (and there has been plenty of collaboration and synergy with that unit already—no administrative move was needed to facilitate it; nor would this move do anything to change possibilities for collaboration with the Writing

Across the Curriculum program at the Centre for Teaching and Learning—these possibilities already exist through the University Writing Committee).

As must be clear from my comments above, I argue that the Dean of Students is definitely NOT the most appropriate unit for hosting C4W. Faculty across the university need to continue to see and respect the C4W as an academic, teaching unit that produces research and that serves as an extension of the university’s curriculum by teaching its clients (and its graduate and undergraduate tutors) about the writing process and about the challenges of writing in different disciplines and genres and for different audiences and purposes. The director of the C4W needs to be a tenured faculty member not least because the director needs to be able to speak as an equal to colleagues who need tactful feedback on assignment design (given that the C4W is often the place where clusters of students from a particular course descend in tears, unable to understand an assignment or unable to understand why their attempt to complete it received a failing grade; without realizing it, we’re often unaware of the conflicting cognitive demands/signals our writing assignments give to students).

Since paragraph #2 claimed that the location of the C4W would remain the same, it’s hard to see how the space would suddenly become “neutral” (as is stated here); and the C4W already has “an institution-wide mandate” (as is clear not only from the original mission statement but from the statistics on clients in the annual reports).   The move to Student Services is not needed to achieve that mandate, which has been clear from the very beginning of the C4W. As was agreed to by Dean’s Council in 2006, it was funded by Central through Arts on behalf of and to serve the entire university.

⑦ I hope I’ve made clear by now that I disagree with the claims made in paragraph #7 that there will be no change to “the nature of services provided to all students or to … the tutoring program” and that students won’t eventually notice any difference in the availability or quality of services, so I won’t repeat myself.

The concluding sentence reveals some misconceptions (and the courses, by the way, are WRS 301/603, not WRS 301/601) in that no tutor can expect to be hired simply by completing the appropriate graduate or undergraduate course. The intensive practicum in the C4W allows the academic director to closely observe and evaluate students as they learn the ropes and only those who excel are hired as C4W tutors once 301 or 603 is completed. Consider the difficult situation of future tutors if they were to complete WRS 301/603 taught by a faculty specialist in Writing Studies and Writiing Centre Theory and Practice and were then employed by a non-faculty manager who had never him or herself even taken WRS 301/603, let alone any other graduate-level course in Writing Centre Theory and Practice or in the teaching of writing. The tutors would be trying to approach their work according to the best research and theory available in the field while simultaneously being asked to tutor differently by the non-specialist director—this puts the tutors in an untenable position and is one of the reasons why the WRS 301/603 courses must be taught by the current academic director of the C4W.

⑧ I’m reassured by the statement in paragraph #8 that “the Office of the Provost will continue to support and develop this service to students at no cost to them regardless of its administrative home.”

But I believe that supporting and developing the C4W involves treating its superb academic director with respect. Not only was she not allowed to complete her current administrative term–in spite of excellent work and bringing nothing but glory to the U of A (serving this year as President of the Canadian Writing Centres Association and hosting, with the help of generous SSHRC funding, its largest national conference ever)—but, by cutting her administrative term short (it was scheduled to end June 30th, 2017), the university has deprived her of the option to express an interest in serving for another term. The usual protocol for faculty serving as chairs, directors, deans, or vice-deans who wish to serve for another 5 -year term is to put out a widespread call for comments on their performance; a formal evaluation, assuming an overall positive outcome, would then result in re-appointment for another 5-year term. No such formal evaluation of Professor Moussu has taken place, which is in my view a serious abridgement of due process for a faculty member who has put all of her considerable intelligence, energy, and expertise into the running of a writing centre that has fulfilled the hope the Writing Task Force had for it—that it would serve as a model across Canada.

I respectfully request that this change in the administration and in the directing of the C4W be delayed for a full year, allowing Dr. Moussu to complete her administrative term and allowing for wide consultation and research at least equivalent to the research that created the C4W as a teaching centre in the Faculty of Arts in the first place. Any change to the administration of the C4W–since it is a research/teaching unit, albeit in a form with which many at the U of A are relatively unfamiliar—should go through governance in Arts and then GFC, with input from all stakeholders, including students. To do anything less is an appalling waste of the 3 years of hard work and research of the faculty, students, staff, and administrators on the award-winning University of Alberta Writing Task Force.

Betsy Sargent,

Professor, English and Film Studies, Writing Studies

Faculty of Arts

30 May 2016

 

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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.”

My own opinion is that our colleague Lucie Moussu is, by being removed from her position as faculty director of the C4W, being prevented from continuing her research; and since the courses she has developed and taught since her arrival here include an intense half-term-long student practicum (during which she mentors, observes, and evaluates her students’ tutoring in the C4W)—a practicum that should only be run by the Director of the C4W—she is also being deprived of a major area of her teaching.

In my experience at the U of A, faculty in administrative positions are allowed to complete their terms (as chair, dean, or whatever) and are also asked if they want to apply for another term–at which point a wide call goes out for colleagues to comment on their performance. Since Lucie Moussu has had her administrative term cut short, in spite of her excellent work, she’s has obviously not been given a chance to request another 5-year term, nor have any of us had a chance to have input on her performance as Director of the C4W.

No students or C4W tutors have been consulted about this decision–and the University Writing Committee that was supposedly “consulted” argued strongly against moving the C4W under the Dean of Students, claiming that the C4W was a teaching unit open to every member of the university community and was not merely a student service (which is of course clear on the home page of the C4W, which states the following:

We offer free, one-on-one writing support to all students, instructors, staff, and alumni at the UofA — in any subject, discipline, program, or faculty, and at all levels of study and with any type of assignment (research papers, reports, theses, reflections, creative writing, grant proposals, résumés, presentations, articles, etc.).

The replacement of a faculty director with a non-faculty manager of the C4W was never discussed with the UWC, so was decided with no “consultation” whatsoever (see Dr. Moussu’s  credentials at  https://uofa.ualberta.ca/arts/about/people-collection/lucie-moussu, and for a sense of her professionalism, take a quick gander at her 4 most recent annual reports on the C4W site. The 2014-2015 report is 97 pages long!

If you want any additional information, a story about the scheduled move of the C4W in Arts just came out in The Gateway.

And attached is a short summary of the GSA GFC Caucus meeting held at 2 pm on May 26, 2016; the final paragraph is the relevant one, showing that the GSA is opposed to the move of the C4W from Arts:

Regarding Item 13 (“Centre for Writers”), it was noted that following a question at the last meeting of GFC, members discussed the moving of the Centre for Writers from the Faculty of Arts to the Dean of Students Office. However the Provost and Vice-President Academic felt that he did not know enough about the issue and decided it would be best to discuss this at the May 30 meeting. GSA GFC Caucus members discussed and most felt that, as the Centre provided an academic service, it seemed appropriate for it to be under the Faculty of Arts.

Thank you for anything you feel able to do in the next 20 hours or so to delay the proposed changes to the C4W, which otherwise will be final on July 1.

Best,
Garry

[ GSA Document not published here ]

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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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Kick Out the Jams (Post by Kathleen Lowrey, Anthropology)

So are we not kicking out the jams, then?

Yesterday members of the Faculty of Arts received a communication from Acting Dean Lise Gotell expressing concern about “overly critical – even aggressive” ways of speaking on the part of faculty at campus fora, with specific reference to those focused on the BA Renewal. As I am sure it did for many of my colleagues, this communication from the Acting Dean brought to mind Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ call for “civility” on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement’s founding on that campus, and the furor that followed. Like any number of us, I have benefited from multiple excellent analyses of why seemingly anodyne administration-promulgated calls for “civility” at universities throughout North America represent serious threats to university vitality. I am sure I was not alone, then, in being surprised to see such a hackneyed demand echoed at a moment when the Faculty of Arts is engaged precisely on a project of renewal with a particular emphasis on relevance, variously defined: up-to-date, experiential, in touch with the real world, flexible, adaptive, immediately applicable, and generally hip to the pulse of today.

For all that, it seems the staid and stuffy bits of hallowed tradition that are to be preserved in whatever is to come are the ones involving the disciplinary uses of decorum. I’ll admit to being a bit of a creaky old dinosaur, but this makes me nostalgic for the heady early days of internet feminism when we talked about stuff like tone policing, derailing using anger, and derailing using emotion (if we were still being that kind of unfashionable, I’d make a nod to the references to our charming and adorable “passion” in Dean Gotell’s message). Oh well. I’ll be over here quietly and politely trying to figure out why everything old is new again, except for the parts that aren’t.

 

 

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