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A long-planned effort to step up enforcement of the University's writing competency requirement got off to a rocky start last semester. The Herald reported in September that the Dean of the College's Office had been screening incoming students' letters to advisers without informing students. At the time, we opined that this policy was unnecessarily misleading and constituted a serious violation of privacy. Fortunately, last week, an e-mail to students from Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron took a big step towards clarifying the nature of the writing requirement and making transparent the relevant enforcement mechanisms.

Brown has expected students to show evidence of writing skill in order to graduate since the 1800s. Given the importance of clear writing to all disciplines, it is not surprising that this requirement was the only one that survived through the adoption of the New Curriculum in 1969. Dean Bergeron's e-mail signals not so much a change to the substance of the writing requirement as such, but rather the introduction of several practical measures to ensure that the Brown degree continues to certify recipients as writers.

Starting next fall, writing-intensive courses will receive a special designation on Banner and in the course catalogue. While students will not be required to take these courses, students who do enroll will be able to offer concrete evidence that they have worked on their writing while at Brown. Additionally, the class of 2013 and subsequent classes will benefit from the development of Advising SideKick, an online portfolio where students can compile written work and share it with their adviser. Finally, the Banner system will be updated so that professors can flag students whose writing is sub par. Professors have always had the option to point out students who seem to need additional writing help, but now they will be able to do so electronically when they submit final grades for a course.

In communicating these new steps to students, Dean Bergeron's forthrightness is greatly appreciated. More importantly, we applaud her and the College Curriculum Council for devising creative ways to assess writing quality across the student body without threatening students' freedom under the New Curriculum.

Going forward, we hope these new practices will engender a small but noticeable shift in Brown's academic culture. Students should now be completely convinced that writing is a critical skill to be refined and honed over the course of four years, and faculty advisersmust make more of an effort to read some of their advisees' written work.

Towards this latter objective, the Advising SideKick can start to play an integral role. In describing ASK, Dean Bergeron's letter notes that concentration advisers will evaluate students' portfolios when they approve students for graduation. However, if the University wants to use ASK to its fullest potential, it should expect concentration advisers to be reviewing students' writing well before the point of clearance for graduation. Indeed, the ASK system makes possible a more developed adviser-advisee dialogue on writing.

It is troublesome that a students graduating before 2013 could do so without having their concentration adviser read a single piece of their writing. Nonetheless, we are hopeful that things are going in a positive direction.

Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to



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