Maria Trumpler, a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, used to have all eight sections in her lecture course “Women, Food and Culture” listed as fulfilling a writing requirement. This year, however, only five of the eight sections have the “WR” designation, although the teaching and assignments are the same across all sections.
The reduced number of sections with a writing credit is the result of an effort to keep the spending on writing-intensive classes within budget, professors interviewed told the News. Since such spending — mostly used for training and paying teaching fellows — has exceeded its allocated fund from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for the past few years, there has been a cap on the number of graduate fellows in writing classes starting this fall. These cuts have adversely affected longstanding lecture courses with a writing focus, drawing criticism from students and faculty alike.
“The challenge is that the students write the same four papers — in writing sections or not — and they’re constantly asking me why they don’t get writing credit,” Trumpler said. “I have to tell them that the policy is that they have to do more than just the writing. They have to be taught by a writing teaching fellow, even if other TFs teach just as much writing.”
Registration for the sections was on a first-come, first-serve basis and students who did not “urgently” need the writing credit were encouraged to switch to a non-writing section, Emma Pierce-Hoffman ’20 said.
“Some people did drop the class because they really needed the writing credit,” Pierce-Hoffman said. “Maybe they were really interested in the material but they couldn’t get into a writing section. They had to look somewhere else. It seems very arbitrary to me to cap the writing sections at five.”
Still, Pamela Schirmeister, dean of strategic initiatives for Yale College, the Graduate School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences who is in charge of the reallocation of funding for writing classes, said the change will not deter students from taking classes that they are interested in, and that even without a writing designation, those classes could still improve students’ writing skills.
Although faculty and students may be unhappy with a reduced number of writing sections in a specific lecture, there are in fact still more than a thousand unfilled seats in courses that earn writing credits, according to Alfred Guy, director of the Yale College Writing Center. He added that the recent caps do not mean students will have difficulty fulfilling the writing requirement.
There are as many overall writing sections this year as there were last year, Guy said, but faculty are paying more attention to restricting the number of students and sticking with their allocated number of teaching fellows due to the change in policy.
In most humanities and social science departments, writing sections cost more than regular sections because the teaching fellows are paid more. The reallocation of funds aims to spread writing sections evenly across different courses rather than concentrating a large number of them in a single course, Schirmeister said.
“The courses most affected will be those that in the past offered very high numbers of WR sections,” Schirmeister said. “When a single course uses, say, eight WR sections, it means we are limited in the number we can offer to other courses. We want students to be able to take WR sections in as wide as a range of disciplines as is possible.”
Trumpler said the change in funds also adversely affected graduate teaching fellows.
“The people I had hired earlier ended up teaching the sections without the WR designation and they get paid half as much,” Trumpler said. “A number of them really questioned why they get paid less teaching the same materials. I am not able to treat my teaching fellows, who I value very highly, in a fair way because of the policies in the system.”
In response to the current inequality in teaching fellows and the unfairness of students not getting writing credit for the same assignments, Trumpler said she is converting her current lecture course into a freshman seminar next year.
However, current students in Trumpler’s class expressed dissatisfaction about the switch from lecture to a freshman seminar.
“I love the class and I would hope that the course remains available to students in all class levels,” Rosario Castaneda ’18 said. “There is quite a diversity in grade level of students taking the course.”
Yale requires its undergraduates to take two courses with writing credits in order to graduate.