University News

Writing requirement oversight to be shifted to departments

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Responsibility for monitoring students’ writing competency will be centralized in concentration advising, Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron said at a monthly faculty meeting Tuesday.

Bergeron, who presented the latest statement from the College Curriculum Council on the undergraduate writing requirement, said the committee had determined that the best way to ensure students fulfill the College’s only academic requirement might be to lean on departments.

“Concentrations are traditionally responsible for clearing students for graduation,” Bergeron said, so consolidating oversight of writing competency with their existing responsibilities makes sense.

Beginning with the Class of 2012, sophomores declaring concentrations will be required to include information on their writing abilities and experiences, Bergeron told The Herald after the meeting.

Bergeron said the CCC plans to collaborate with departments and concentrations to “help them work out a plan.” The CCC is currently working to make funds available for faculty who want to create courses in their discipline that would support the writing requirement, she said.

Those courses, Bergeron said, would emphasize the writing process, encouraging students to work with professors to receive feedback and make revisions to their writing. In an effort to highlight these courses, they will be marked with a “W” in the Course Announcement Bulletin, she said.

“We want to provide opportunities to ensure that students have completed this,” she said.
The CCC, which Bergeron chairs, has worked to clarify and strengthen the implementation of the writing requirement since the final report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education was issued last fall, she said.

The Task Force, also chaired by Bergeron, recommended that the University take a “much more coherent approach to its writing requirement.”

The writing requirement has been part of Brown’s undergraduate education since the introduction of the New Curriculum in 1969. But mechanisms for enforcement have generally been ill-defined and at times unreliable.

The CCC drew upon the Task Force report, faculty suggestions and student opinions to address how to “strengthen and qualify” the writing requirement, Bergeron said yesterday. The CCC’s statement was last updated in April, she said.

The statement, Bergeron said, was “written for students,” but that the CCC wanted to “discuss it with faculty first.”

She said the new adjustments would be introduced to students later this semester.
“This is not a change in the writing requirement,” she said. “This is a change in how we go about doing this.”

In recent years, the writing requirement was considered fulfilled by default as long as a student was not flagged by a professor for a demonstrated lack of writing skills. But that policy, Bergeron said, amounted to a system in which “the only way students demonstrated their ability to write well was not demonstrating an inability.”

Although students’ concentration departments would take a greater role in overseeing writing competency, students would not be expected to take a specific course to fulfill the requirement, Bergeron said.

Bergeron emphasized to the faculty yesterday that she knew many departments already make efforts to ensure writing competency for their concentrators.

“We know a lot of this is already happening,” she said. “It’s just that students don’t always know.”