April 15, 2009

ESL Writing Classes to Be Eliminated

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This is the second article in a two-part series which focuses on Cornell’s decision to phase out language programs in an attempt to reduce the University’s budget.

The importance of writing skills, as exemplified by mandatory first-year writing seminars, has always been a constant emphasis at Cornell. However, English for Academic Purposes, which helps non-native speakers enhance their writing skills in the English language, will soon be eliminated due to the University’s across-the-board 5-percent budget cuts.
EngAP, which resides under the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, will no longer be available to students after this semester. With 8.6 percent of undergraduates and 37.2 percent of graduate students coming from outside the United States and with the expected increase in the number of international students for the next few years, the termination of this program is expected to be a monumental setback for non-native speakers studying at Cornell.
The four lecturers who work for this program, Deborah Campbell, Ingrid Arnesen, Kris Kershaw and Sara Schaffzin, were all accepted under the Staff Retirement Incentive Program.
Campbell, a senior lecturer and director of EngAP, has been working for Cornell since 1983.
She described the program and how it helps international students improve their English:
“We mainly work with students’ writing. … We have a basic academic course that teaches them about academic discourse and then we have a more advanced course [in the] second semester that helps them work directly with the discourse of their fields. Anything second semester they have to write is for their classes. We don’t assign anything,” Campbell said.
Although EngAP is utilized by both graduates and undergraduates, Campbell emphasized the fact that undergraduates will still be able to take first-year writing seminars designed for non-native speakers.
“I do teach a first-year writing seminar for non-native speakers and these students will be picked up by the writing workshop. So the undergrads are OK. It’s the graduate students who are left with nothing. … There is the International T.A. Development Program, but they only teach speaking, they don’t teach writing,” Campbell said.

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Both instructors and students of the EngAP program expressed concern regarding future international students.
“We’ve been told that the number of international students will increase next year. … Any writing help they need will have to come from their advisors or other grad students, unless they re-establish a program,” Campbell said.
Youngjoo Cha, a graduate student from South Korea, believes that this decision is a step in the wrong direction for the University.
“I strongly think that, when Cornell is accepting this many international students, they should be prepared to accommodate these students so that they can continue their academic achievement. In that sense, eliminating the entire program is such a short-sighted and unreasonable decision that disproportionately impacts only international students. If the budget cut is an issue, they should at least provide some long-term plans for the alternatives to this program,” stated Cha in an e-mail.
Campbell stressed the fact that her program has always been utilized by a large number of students. While EngAP classes are only mandatory for students who score below a certain mark in the Test of English as a Second Language, they still often attract students who are not required to take additional English classes.
“This program is very old and well-established. … We always knew we were doing well because our courses were constantly recommended by older students. … [Some students’] test scores were high enough that they didn’t have to take our introductory course. But they were still having trouble with their writing,” Campbell said.
Other international students were also distressed over the loss of the EngAP instructors. They described the program’s classes as invaluable.
“I was studying with Ms. Deborah Campbell and she improved my skills in writing, which I could not find anyone else in the campus to help so deeply with. Ms. Campbell gave me the techniques to create my own writing skills and influenced largely my way of thinking when I write. I could say, the class I attended was one of the most valuable classes I had here in Cornell for these years,” stated Ching-Sung Tsai grad in an e-mail.
One graduate student from Russia thinks that EngAP instructors enhance the quality of Cornell and add to the University’s overall mission.
“I am also upset that Cornell University may lose a wealth of knowledge and experience that all the dedicated instructors in this program bring to serve the University’s international audience and contribute to the University’s larger mission ‘Any person … any study,’” stated Alex Kudryavtsev grad in an e-mail.

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