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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Writing program rewritten

Tim Glass
Tim Glass / Arizona Daily Wildcat Anne-Marie Hall, Director of the Writing Program.

As the UA copes with $100 million in cuts over the last two years, UA President Robert Shelton has called on the campus not to do more with less, but to do less with less extraordinarily well. The Daily Wildcat’s Marissa Freireich searched the campus for individuals who have done just that.    

With the UA experiencing severe budget cuts, programs across campus have been forced to operate on tighter budgets.

Anne Marie Hall, the director of the Writing Program, has made some adjustments to allow the program to operate as efficiently as possible.

The program, which includes all of the 100-level English courses and professional writing courses, has been cut by $1.5 million in the past five years. Hall said they are currently operating at 65 percent of the budget they used to have. Although this has created many challenges, Hall said the students are still the biggest priority.

“”Our goal constantly is to meet demand, not raise class size and support the graduate students,”” she said. The Writing Program has more than 100 instructors and teaches about 12,000 students each year, including summer sessions, Hall said. The regular English classes are capped at 25 students per section, and ESL and Honors sections are capped at 23 students.     

“”If they have to blow up some of their gen-ed courses into these huge sizes, they have to balance that with keeping something really small and quality,”” she said.

Hall has adopted her own philosophy to deal with the budget cuts.

“”I think it’s more a matter of work smarter, not harder, and not doing more with less because I can’t do more, I was already doing a lot before,”” she said.      

One of the ways the Writing Center has dealt with these cuts is by not filling vacant positions. For example, it once had five full-time employees in composition and 11 lecturers, whereas now it has one permanent position in composition and seven lecturers. The program is not able to hire as many adjuncts as it was in the past either, Hall said.

Another change is the requirements for honors students. In the past, English 109 was only for students who received certain scores on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, while other students who placed into honors English took 103 and 104. Starting this semester, however, all students who place into honors English only need to take English 109.

Similarly, the program has eliminated English 100 and 106, which are developmental classes. Instead, students take English 101 with a one-credit studio class attached with it. This allows students to finish their English requirement in fewer semesters.

“”So we’ve really streamlined and simplified our offerings,”” she said.

In addition, the Writing Program is experimenting with offering the research component of English 102 to a web-delivered format. In the past, library employees visited every class to teach research methods.

“”The Writing Program instructors can focus on teaching writing with research instead of teaching research,”” Hall said.

The program is also trying to offer some online, Saturday or eight-week long courses.   

Another change is that the Writing Center, a student tutoring resource, is now under the direction of the Think Tank rather than the Writing Program.

“”The English department can’t pay for a tutoring center for the whole campus,”” Hall said. “”We just don’t have the resources.””     

The department does produce some custom publications for student textbooks from which they receive royalties. This money goes towards supporting graduate students.   

The Writing Program has also altered the way graduate students are trained. After their first year, the graduate students have more responsibility for their own professional development through brown bag lectures than in the past.

In addition, the Writing Program is no longer able to offer course releases to graduate students. Previously, during their first year, graduate students taught two sections the first semester and one section the second semester. The graduate students were also able to teach only one section during the semester that they wrote their dissertation. However, now all graduate students must teach two sections every semester.

“”So that slows down the graduate students’ ability to finish on time and it affects our ability to attract top graduate students,”” Hall said.

Derek Adams and Erica Cirillo-McCarthy, graduate associates in teaching and co-chairs of the English Graduate Union, shared Hall’s concerns. Cirillo-McCarthy teaches English 101 with an attached workshop and Adams teaches two sections of English 101.

Adams said the goal of the foundations English courses is to give students “”the critical thinking and critical writing skills that will translate across all disciplines.”” He called writing a personal experience.

“”The amount of personal attention they have to put into a piece of writing, we have to be able to give them the same amount of personal attention,”” he said.

Cirillo-McCarthy added that there are benefits to having smaller class sizes. She said in the three years she’s been here, the cap on class sizes has increased from 22 to 25 students.

“”I think the smaller classrooms create the sense of community that helps students see their writing as personal,”” she said. Cirillo-McCarthy said students can feel “”a sense of despair”” with increased fees and class sizes.

Adams pointed out that the caps on class size are not a matter of laziness, but rather of students getting the most out of the class.

“”If you take something like the Writing Program that all students are required to take and you turn that into something that mediocre effort is given in terms of teaching that, mediocre effort will be given by the students taking those courses, and you’re going to end up with mediocre forms of critical thinking and critical writing.”” Adams said.

In terms of graduate student training, Cirillo-McCarthy and Adams noticed an increase in online resources and peer mentoring compared to years past.

Besides discussing issues that affect graduate students, one of their responsibilities with the English Graduate Union is to maintain morale during this difficult time, Cirillo-McCarthy said. She acknowledged that the Writing Program has worked hard with the English department and the university to deal with the cuts.

“”We have to continue to be strong as an organization because the budget cut is going to get worse,”” she said.    

Adams agreed.

“”There seems to be no light at the end of this budget cut tunnel,”” he said. “”We’re working as smartly as we can.””

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