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Writing Center halts search for director

Administrators cut short second search effort to reevaluate center as it joins Learning Commons

The Writing Center has suspended its second effort in its search for a new director as part of a wider rethinking of the University’s writing program, said Christopher Dennis, deputy dean of the College.

After Kathleen McSharry, former associate dean of the College and interim Writing Center director, stepped down in August, the University decided to discontinue its search for a new director.

Instead of focusing their efforts on finding a director, “we began thinking about where the writing program and the Writing Center would fit into a larger concept of how to better support Brown students in becoming better learners and writers, and in developing their quantitative skills,” Dennis said.

“We have a space where we can rethink the strategic goals of the Writing Center,” he added.

The Writing Center — as well as the Science Center and Tutoring Services — will become a component of an enlarged Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning under President Christina Paxson’s P’19 “Operational Plan for Building on Brown’s Excellence,” which was released Sept. 15. Together, the academic support services will form a Learning Commons, which will “train peer educators to help fellow students develop the competencies they will need after Brown,” according to the plan. The Learning Commons will be housed in the renovated Sciences Library.

“We’re excited about the move,” said Janet Peters, manager of the Writing Center. “We’ll have more space, and I think the different services will complement each other quite well.”

With these operational changes in sight, “we decided not to do a director search,” Dennis said. Instead, the University will soon launch a search for an associate director, who will provide leadership at the Writing Center while the College Curriculum Council discusses the Learning Commons and broader changes to the writing requirement.

Currently, undergraduates can submit a substantial piece of writing for review instead of taking a second WRIT course to fulfill the writing requirement to graduate. The University is considering several changes to this process,  including establishing a more standardized rubric for evaluating student submissions, Dennis said.

Current Interim Director of the Writing Center Lawrence Stanley, senior lecturer in English and co-director of the nonfiction writing program, will focus on the academic portion of the Writing Center’s organization, Dennis said.

Leadership transitions have not had any noticeable impact on the Writing Center’s operations, said Josh MacLeod GS, a Writing Center associate who is obtaining a PhD in anthropology.

“I would say all of us try to make it an open and accessible and friendly atmosphere,” MacLeod said. “That hasn’t changed.”

Peters said she does not think anyone visiting the Writing Center would notice differences. “Everything is working well right now. My philosophy is that this place is so special and it works so well because of the associates we have here, and because of the input they give,” she added.

The Writing Center “hasn’t just maintained the status quo” — it has improved, MacLeod said. Under Peters’ management, a new mentorship program between first-time and veteran associates has been successful, he said.

The new associate director will work with faculty members, administrators and students to evolve the Writing Center’s role and services. “I would like to see the development of more programs, especially community outreach,” Peters said.“I’m excited to work with somebody who will bring in fresh ideas.”

The search for a new associate director will ideally “move speedily,” Dennis said, though he did not provide an explicit timeline.

In addition to looking for an associate director, the University will search for two part-time “writing coaches” who will provide additional help to undergraduates, Dennis said, adding that they will be trained in the “pedagogy of teaching writing.” The new writing coaches will be hired this year, Dennis said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of a Writing Center associate. He is Josh MacLeod, not MacCleod. The article also misstated that he is pursuing a master's degree in anthropology. In fact, he is pursuing a PhD. The Herald regrets the errors.


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