Student demand for the services of residential-college writing tutors is at an all-time high. But despite the surge, tutors’ hours will remain capped.
The 12 college writing tutors — who are seeing approximately 15 percent more students than they were three years ago — are almost completely booked for the rest of the academic year, Writing Center Director Alfred Guy said. Although the end of the year is traditionally a busy time for writing tutors, tutors and Writing Center administrators said a greater demand for tutors coupled with a new scheduling system have led to a shortage of available times.
Guy estimated that the tutors — who are professional writers and University lecturers — see about 1,200 students a year, compared with 1,050 a few years ago. Tutors are limited to 150 hours of tutoring per semester.
Guy attributed the increase to the more rigorous writing requirement adopted by the University in 2005 and the Writing Center’s heightened efforts to publicize the tutor’s services. And the Center’s automatic online scheduler adopted this year, he said, ensures more students are able to make appointments.
“The pathway is much smoother and shorter,” Guy said, noting that, previously, students had to e-mail tutors to set up appointments.
As a result, students waiting until the last minute, or even the last two weeks, may be out of luck when it comes to scheduling an appointment for help with their writing.
“This year it might look like no one who waits until the last minute now ever gets an appointment with a tutor, unless they get in touch with the tutor directly,” Guy said.
Guy said the hours are limited so that students will seek out a number of perspectives — from professors, roommates, peer writing tutors at the Writing Center in addition to tutors — on their writing instead of relying on a single favorite tutor for help on assignment after assignment.
“Most writers should see different people,” Guy said. “It’s partially a principled resistance that has kept me from having more residential-college tutors or to have the residential-college tutors have more hours.”
But Spencer Gray ’09 said he would like to see an increase in the number of students the writing tutors can see each semester. After finding that his tutor was unable to see him because of a cap on the number of hours she could work, he said he wrote letters to Guy and other administrators but was not satisfied by their responses.
“I’ve found it the best service that Yale offers,” Gray said. “It’s surprised me that with the ostensible emphasis that the University wants to give writing it’s decided to cap these hours.”
But Ezra Stiles College tutor Paula Resch said even when she has to turn down students, they can almost always get at least some help with their writing, no matter how late in the semester.
“I think everybody goes the distance and accommodates more at the end as well,” Resch said. “My impression is that rarely is a student left totally out in the cold. I don’t think you can add on 50 extra hours at the end, because anybody who does this also has another professional commitment.”
But Silliman tutor Betsy Sledge said the tutoring system could use some “tweaking” to better accommodate certain students, although she said no one is quite sure how exactly it could be fixed.
“The system … is moving along in a direction that at this point is not serving the end-of-the-term student with the long paper, or the senior essayist or the junior or senior student who’s looking for some real expert guidance on applying for graduate school,” Sledge said. “So what’s the solution? I don’t know.”
English professors differed on whether or not hours should be increased. Creative-writing professor Anne Fadiman said she thinks the tutoring program should get more funding given its positive reputation among students.
But English Department Director of Undergraduate Studies Lawrence Manley said the current complaints among students and professors are merely a cyclical phenomenon that occurs at the end of every semester.
“If you’ve been here any number of years at certain times of the year, people complain about the same thing,” Manley said.
Sledge and Guy said the availability of tutors varies between colleges. The variability could be due to the popularity of a specific tutor, or the fact that colleges like Silliman and Timothy Dwight house all four classes, unlike other residential colleges.
Guy said this semester, the Trumbull, Jonathan Edwards and Pierson writing tutors have been the busiest.
The residential-college tutoring program has been a University institution for over 30 years.