Writing Center considers expansion

With student demand for writing tutorial and the number of writing-intensive courses at an all-time high, staff at the Yale College Writing Center are considering a possible expansion in the Center’s size.

Three years after the creation of a more rigorous undergraduate writing requirement, as part of the new distributional requirements, the Writing Center is approaching “natural limits” in resources that may curb its growth, said Alfred Guy, the Center’s director. Writing Center staff said they expect the Center may have to expand permanently to keep up with demand.

aura Morris ’09, right, discusses a paper with another student at the Writing Center. The Center may recruit additional tutors to meet rising demand.
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aura Morris ’09, right, discusses a paper with another student at the Writing Center. The Center may recruit additional tutors to meet rising demand.

The Writing Center — established after the Committee on Yale College Education recommended increased emphasis on writing skills in its 2003 report — has grown rapidly since its establishment three years ago. The number of writing-intensive courses, which are overseen by Guy and Assistant Director Suzanne Young, has increased from 100 during the 2004-’05 school year to 170 this year. Next year, that number will increase further, by about 20, Guy said. The writing requirement mandates students take two courses designated as writing intensive before the end of their junior year.

In addition, Guy said the number of undergraduate tutors, dubbed Writing Partners, has increased since the program’s inception in 2005 and that eventually the Center may recruit another full-time staff member to manage its growing portfolio of responsibilities.

In fall 2005, students scheduled 100 appointments with Writing Partners. By fall 2007, that number had grown to 600, Guy said.

“We’re a big enough success that we could justify having another person here,” he said. “I think that Suzanne Young and I should keep building the program until it’s a little too big for us, then think about whether that’s the right size or we want to cut back a bit. If the larger size is right, or we want to go even bigger, that’s the right time to argue for more staff.”

Guy said he does not expect the Center to grow large enough to need a new position until the 2010-’11 academic year.

While many of the writing-intensive courses are housed in the English Department, others are also drawn from the social and natural sciences. Professors design these classes’ syllabi so they focus on improving students’ writing skills within a specific discipline. Writing-intensive lecture courses feature teaching assistants specially trained to lead discussion sections that focus more on writing than the other sections of the class.

For next year, 12 new courses have been proposed to meet the designation, and professors of six recurring courses previously taught without the writing designation are advocating having their courses listed as writing intensive, Guy said. Guy predicted about 10 more writing courses will be offered each term next school year. Ninety-five percent of proposed new writing courses are approved, Guy said.

Guy speculated that the explosive growth in the number of writing courses could strain the Writing Center.

“At some point it’s going to be too many to keep in my head,” he said. “I think there’s probably a natural limit, somewhere in the 200 range.”

Teaching assistants who lead writing-intensive discussion sections must receive training from the Writing Center, and Guy said that with a limited number of graduate students available and trained to lead writing sections, growth in the number of offered writing courses will depend on professors offering more writing seminars.

But political science professor Jacob Hacker, who teaches the writing-designated “Inequality and American Democracy,” said he thinks the writing designation is “underutilized” by Yale professors and that he has never had trouble finding enough qualified teaching assistants. Of the seven teaching assistants for his course, he said six teach writing-intensive sections.

Hacker said he would support the Center’s expansion.

“I think it’s been a great addition to Yale’s pedagogical goals,” he said.

The new writing requirement may also necessitate an expansion in another program under the Writing Center’s purview — the residential-college writing-tutoring program. In place for almost 30 years, the program links professional writers or lecturers with each residential college.

In the fall semester, residential-college writing tutors cumulatively offered 100 more hours of tutoring than ever before, Guy said.

Ezra Stiles College tutor Paula Resch said she has “absolutely” seen a rise in demand for writing tutoring among students, and eventually the size of the professional tutoring staff may need to be doubled, because tutors can only advise students on a part-time basis.

“I’d be more inclined, if we ever needed to expand, to go to the two-tutors-per-college [model],” Resch said. “[Tutoring]’s not something you would want to do full time because it’s too intense, it’s too one-on-one. It’s not something you do 40 hours a week and do well.”

Guy said funding for expansion could come from the Yale Tomorrow fundraising campaign. The Yale Tomorrow “Giving Catalog” lists a fundraising goal of $30,000,000 for the Writing Center’s endowment.

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