In response to an article published in The Sun, The Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines said yesterday that there is no discussion taking place about the possibility of undergraduates teaching Freshman Writing Seminars. Prof. Paul Sawyer, English and Knight Institute director, confirmed that graduate students and faculty will continue to teach all FWS courses into the foreseeable future, regardless of budget cuts.
Prof. Katherine Gottschalk, English and director of first-year writing seminars, emphasized that the Knight Institute — and all of Cornell — highly values its graduate student and faculty seminar instructors, whom she called the, “fundamental source of the program’s strength.” She also expressed her strong support for the intellectual stimulation of the required discussion-style classes.
“Undergraduates never have been, are not being and will not be considered by the Knight Institute to teach First-Year Writing Seminars. The Knight Institute greatly respects the work of the graduate student instructors and of the faculty who teach First-Year Writing Seminars,” Gottschalk said in a statement. “It would never consider having undergraduates take over the teaching of these very pedagogically and intellectually demanding courses. Faculty and graduate student instructors put intensive work into the preparation and teaching of seminars and do outstanding work, the work of graduate student instructors often being so excellent that it serves as models for faculty, as well as the other way around. That undergraduates could teach First-Year Writing Seminars is out of the realm of reasonable possibility.”
Gottschalk explained that current rules that govern the College of Arts and Sciences prohibit undergraduates from being “instructors of record,” which precludes the idea that undergraduate students could serve as instructors for writing seminars.
However, she wrote that the Knight Institute is considering hiring undergraduate teaching assistants to serve as tutors for its larger intensive writing courses as part of a possible Writing Fellows Program. Prof. Joe Martin, English and director of writing workshops at the Knight Institute, said that the proposed initiative, which is merely in the discussion phase, would be adapted from other colleges and universities to fulfill the “changing needs of the undergraduate population.”
Undergraduate tutors would be assigned to specific courses, where they would keep up with the reading and assignments, so they would be the best trained to help the students taking the course. This would be a “more intense” version of the walk-in writing services currently available, since the tutors would have deeper knowledge of the subject matter the students are writing about, Martin said.
“We think there needs to be more writingat every level of the undergraduate program,” Martin said. “One of the challenges is that many of the courses undergraduate students take are fairly large. If there is any way to provide more support in completing their assignments [we want to provide it].”
One reason for the discussion about this new program stems from the expectation that courses will continue to grow over the next few years. Referring to the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee for Academic Planning for the College of Arts and Sciences, Martin said that if enrollment grows and the number of faculty shrinks, classes will necessarily become larger.
“I think [Sawyer] is talking about this because of the recognition that if courses end up being larger, students will be on their own to complete assignments,” Martin said. “This approach of using highly trained tutors is a way of alleviating the challenge of a larger writing course where a student is expected to do significant work.”
Referring to discussion amongst faculty spurred by yesterday's Sun article, Martin said, “I think it’s an indication of how spirited the mood is about the cuts.”
In yesterday’s Sun article, Sawyer further emphasized the continuing importance of the seminars to the undergraduate education: “The FWS Program is the closest we have to a common education experience. University-wide budget cuts will require an increase in lecture classes at the expense of small classes. Small, writing-intensive classes will be more important than ever as average class size grow.”