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Composition Forum 30, Fall 2014

A Force for Educational Change at Stetson University: Refocusing Our Community on Writing

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Megan O’Neill

Abstract: This profile presents Stetson University’s writing program at the moment of transition from a typical one-course writing requirement housed in the English Department to an embedded, cross-curricular, multi-course writing requirement. The first stage of this transition was triggered when a new conceptually-based, writing intensive General Education curriculum required the development of WI courses; the second stage, building upon the faculty development initiatives surrounding WI course implementation, saw a broader infusion of writing instruction throughout the Stetson curriculum and the rejuvenation of the University Writing Center with a multidisciplinary support philosophy. As a result of these core changes in Stetson’s writing instruction, the one-course writing requirement is obsolete; writing instruction at Stetson is incorporated both vertically and horizontally.

WAC has become part of the institutional landscape in this country, much like our general education programs (in many cases an embedded part of general education). So in spite of the various issues …, I remain optimistic about it as a force for educational change.
—Susan McLeod, The Future of WAC

At colleges and universities large and small, and perhaps most notably in institutions embracing a liberal arts philosophy and mission, distribution of writing instruction has triggered sweeping evolutions for all involved. At Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, where I have been Writing Program Administrator (WPA) since 1999, I oversaw the development of two keystone writing-intensive (WI) courses that anchored a new General Education core curriculum and triggered six years of curricular and pedagogical transformation. Now, as the University’s acknowledged “writing guru,” I am able to report that the transformation leaves the Writing Program poised to eliminate its traditional one-course Writing requirement because it has been rendered redundant. I can therefore second Susan McLeod’s optimism about writing as a force for educational change: Stetson’s new core triggered the development of a writing-enriched curriculum, which has comprehensively changed the writing program and, indeed, education on campus. This program profile describes a university at the moment of transition to an embedded writing requirement that distributes writing instruction broadly across our small liberal arts campus.{1}

As Toby Fulwiler and others have long made clear, many separate pieces of an institutional puzzle must be in place before such a shift in the campus culture can happen. Critical pieces include the particular institutional attitudes toward writing in general and disciplinary writing in particular; a faculty with widely varying levels of expertise with the written conventions of their own disciplines; comfort with apprenticing student writers; and pedagogical synchronicity between teaching disciplinary content and strategies of writing and rhetoric (Evaluating WAC Programs 62-64). At Stetson, the challenges I have faced as WPA map directly onto Fulwiler’s heuristic and, given these generalities, illuminate challenges faced increasingly in higher education. Stetson’s nature as a liberal arts institution with strong pre-professional programs encourages and rewards strong writing as a desirable skill in all disciplines. Faculty in writing-intensive disciplines are, predictably, comfortable with their writing instruction. At the same time, the Stetson University faculty at large had—and in some corners still have—concerns about whether they can teach their content material while “teaching writing.” Their concerns speak to larger pedagogical concerns, first, about teaching disciplinary conventions and, second, about the mythical assumption that teaching grammar equals teaching writing, both practices for which English Department faculty are perceived to bear primary responsibility. Further, the question of who should apprentice student writers is answered very clearly at Stetson: disciplinary experts are the best sources of models for disciplinary writing. However, the best sites for writing instruction and the pedagogical tools to teach that writing are not always clear. Since 2006, then, when the new General Education (Gen Ed) core was inaugurated at Stetson, my role as WPA has been to help faculty to feel confident incorporating writing instruction—disciplinary or not—into their classes. Fortunately, I have had the support of administration and other allies in doing so.

Although nothing about this evolution in who would teach writing and how felt at the time as if it were happening smoothly or sequentially—I often felt as if I were reacting in a dozen different directions rather than “directing”—after more than six years of work, it’s clear that our new writing intensive curriculum and our writing instruction evolved in two stages. These stages loosely correspond to what William Condon and Carol Rutz identify as WAC Program Type I, or Foundational, and Type 2, or Established (362). In Stage One, our new Gen Ed core—based on recommendations from the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) and its Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) curriculum—generated a campus-wide series of faculty development workshops focusing on writing and writing instruction to inform the key new seminar courses. LEAP privileges inquiry, analysis, critical thinking, information literacy, and problem solving—the core goals of any writing program. My role in implementing the revised Gen Ed core was to create excitement and interest by acting with what Condon and Rutz describe as “missionary” zeal (362). Stage Two saw writing intensive courses grow in number and disciplinary range and, logically, the development of an enhanced and extended partnership with a rejuvenated Writing Center. The Writing Center had offered assistance to students who were primarily in first year composition and first year seminar; now the Writing Center has added a focus on the needs of multiple disciplines. These incremental improvements are, as Condon and Rutz point out, elements of a writing program reaching the Established level (363). At each stage of this campus-wide transformation, questions of leadership, integration of writing, and engrained habits of thinking on campus arose; the resolution of initial questions raised still more complex issues. Eventually, however, our path forward was clear. The following program profile describes the stages of Stetson’s evolution and discusses—in a projection for the next stage—how they led the way to a University ready to move from a traditional one-course writing requirement to an embedded one.

When I joined Stetson in 1999, my role as Director of First Year English was to coordinate the staffing and curriculum in a long-standing, fairly traditional two-course FYC sequence. I imagined my job as helping to create an idealized space for developing effective writing, and I hoped, at some point, to take on the University-level responsibility of coordinating and assisting our writing instruction not just in English or for first year students but across disciplines and in all four years. I saw this imagined space, where professional attitudes, training, expertise, conventions, and our very language would come together, as excellent examples of the “contact zone,” the idea brought to prominence by Mary-Louise Pratt as the “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of power” (34). This was a model that maps naturally onto a campus like that at Stetson, one where multiple stakeholders, often with different agendas and positions in the power structure, expect to have input into any curricular or pedagogical initiative. As Martha Townsend memorably phrases it, however, a WPA on a campus whose writing instruction is in transition runs the risk of becoming “the campus WI police” (235) or being perceived (in the words of Gladstein and Regaignon) as “infiltrating” the classrooms of faculty across the campus (138). In 2006, this ideal of a contact zone took on particular relevance for me as I had to extend my reach and, consequently, had to take precautions to avoid inadvertent trespass. As a result, the writing studies community would be likely to see many elements of both WAC and WID at Stetson; however, in an effort to create a contact zone, I’ve deliberately avoided using those terms when speaking to my campus audience. Instead, I favor terminology like “writing-enriched,” “writing-enhanced,” “writing-rich,” “writing-intensive,” and “writing to learn.” This practice has helped shape a discussion and practice space in which each of us, regardless of discipline or level of comfort with writing instruction, can find a place of identification and in which we can negotiate a shared set of understandings around a single concept: the writing intensive course, which we’ve defined locally as a course that guides the student through a mentored process of writing to accomplish a specific disciplinary goal or set of goals. Reaching this widely accepted definition leveraged a writing-rich curriculum which is now endorsed—if not always fully embraced—by a majority of our faculty.

Institutional Background

Stetson University, founded in 1883, is a private liberal arts university with approximately 2,400 undergraduate students and approximately 225 faculty. Its several campuses include a satellite undergraduate/continuing education campus, a nationally ranked College of Law, and a main undergraduate campus in DeLand, Florida. The main campus houses three nominally independent units: a College of Arts & Sciences (A&S) offering some graduate degrees; a School of Business Administration, also offering an MBA; and a School of Music. For nearly two decades, administrators have presented Stetson as a vocal proponent for inclusiveness, diversity, social justice education, and undergraduate research. Demographically, while Stetson remains majority white, the percentages of African-American, Asian, Latino/a, and international students grow, slowly but steadily, every year.

Historically, Stetson offered Gen Ed courses arranged in a typical distributional model offered primarily through A&S and required of all undergraduates during the first two years of their education. Upon completing the Gen Ed requirements, students turned their attention completely to their projected majors in A&S, Business, or Music. The writing requirement in this Gen Ed model was two courses offered in the English Department. ENGL 121 (Research & Argumentation) introduced the principles of argument, critical thinking, and research skills; ENGL 131 (Analytical Reading and Writing) taught analysis and interpretation of written work. This sequencing presumed, first, that students would gain the skills in ENGL 121 to further the skills of critical and analytical thinking in the work of ENGL 131, and second, that successfully completing these two courses constituted the minimum necessary writing instruction to prepare students for the written assignments required in their majors.

Predictably, students’ writing performances across the four years were uneven, strong in some majors and unsatisfactory in others. The patchwork of formative writing experiences created an unpredictable set of writing skills in Stetson seniors. Assessment results were disappointing: the General Education Writing assessment conducted in Fall 2009—assessing students who had gone through our old curriculum—demonstrated that while 72% of the first year students were meeting or exceeding expectations, only 76% of the seniors met the minimum expectations. Writing skills were stagnating or, worse, deteriorating. Certainly they were not growing appreciably stronger. The “murky middle” of writing instruction created by this General Education model and its writing requirement is obvious in a typical student’s curriculum map:

Table 1: Stetson Undergraduate Writing Requirements to 2006

Original Gen Ed Writing Curriculum (to 2006)
1styr ENGL 121/131
4thyr Senior project/capstone

Stage One: The Writing Intensive Course (2006-2009)

Stage One of Stetson’s transformation to a writing-enhanced curriculum began in 2006, when Stetson University’s A&S College adopted a new General Education model that, wisely, required faculty to develop a variety of high impact learning practices, specifically including writing intensive courses. As WPA, I was initially recruited into the revision efforts to help clarify the role and nature of such courses, specifically the writing intensive seminars, which I address in more detail below. From 2006-2009, the College worked with the recommendations made in the AAC&U’s prized LEAP curriculum and implemented a concept-based model of General Education that spread mastery of various required elements—Quantitative Reasoning, Physical & Natural World, Personal & Social Responsibility, and others, including Writing—across all four years of a student’s education. (These courses were designed according to the principles of the LEAP curriculum: see for more information about the LEAP initiative.) Implementing the curriculum fully in both curricular and administrative realms required three years of developing the new course components and rethinking all our course and major offerings to help support the new core. The reconsideration of our curriculum and its new emphasis on writing-intensive instruction included a restructuring of ENGL 121 and ENGL 131, which resulted in a new required Gen Ed course, ENGL 101 Writing & Rhetoric. I address the nature and function of this course in more detail below; briefly, however, the course was meant to consolidate the key elements of ENGL 121 and ENGL 131 into one concentrated experience, taken by all Stetson students.

To implement this new curriculum, we also needed a continuing series of faculty development workshops to help us master writing intensive instruction. I worked closely with other academic leaders as the Arts & Sciences faculty decided to connect writing intensive courses with key moments in students’ educations, practices recommended by the LEAP guidelines. Our discussions resulted in our First Year Seminar (FSEM) and Junior Seminar (JSEM) programs.{2} FSEM was initially led by a senior faculty member, but JSEM courses were not originally coordinated by anyone in particular; instead, informal faculty groups shaped a general outline for the goals and expectations of the JSEM. In 2012, upper administration, having recognized the need for clear leadership, appointed a key faculty leader to the position of Assistant Vice President of General Education; until then, however, FSEM and JSEM were led more by collective faculty wisdom than by any single entity. My role as WPA was to coordinate a regular series of pre-semester workshops meant to support faculty efforts and to offer input to the faculty leadership groups involved in oversight and management of the FSEM and JSEM courses. I also assisted in mapping the initial conception of how writing instruction would be delivered, a conception that resulted in an immersion experience for students in their first year (FSEM plus ENGL 101) and the required writing intensive course in the third year.

This sequence positioned incoming students to take an exciting, intellectually challenging seminar designed to introduce them to the world of college level thinking and writing, in addition to a typical FYC course in the first year; then, in students’ third year, they complete a seminar in writing and integrative thinking –a course I think that has somewhat ameliorated the effects of the “murky middle.” Thus, a significant evolution in Stetson’s delivery of writing instruction took place: faculty across the College of Arts & Sciences, regardless of discipline, were expected to incorporate writing-to-learn strategies to help students succeed in these key mandatory courses. The faculty development workshops necessary for planning and implementing these seminar experiences began by establishing a common understanding and implementation of the term “writing intensive.”

Writing intensive (WI) pedagogy is not a particularly complicated notion for writing specialists, but I wanted to engage our community around the concept and work collaboratively to define a set of shared goals. Therefore, I provided an initial set of WI course characteristics as suggestions for my colleagues to mull over, tweak, and otherwise develop into a Stetson-friendly set of guidelines. These characteristics became “ready reference” points for the faculty at large while discussing the concept of writing intensive pedagogy. The list of WI principles I offered to my colleagues for their consideration will seem familiar to many who have read Farris and Smith’s Writing-Intensive Courses: Tools for Curricular Change:

  1. Class size or instructor/student ratio. Most guidelines insist that WI classes include no more than 15 to 25 students.
  2. Required number of papers or words. An essential WI element is 15-25 pages of writing, spread throughout the semester in a sequence of related, shorter and longer assignments and revisions. The page count is not as important as the variety of ways in which that page count is created.
  3. Revision. In a writing intensive course, some student writing is revised; some student writing must be given enough peer and instructor feedback to make revision effective. Instructors and students should both understand that feedback and revision must involve more than pointing out and correcting surface errors.
  4. The weight of writing in the final grade. In a writing intensive course, faculty stipulate that grades on written work will comprise a significant percentage of the course grade. A total of 70% of the grade devoted to writing would be good; 20% may be too low for students to take it seriously. In the WI course, the writing reveals the learning; therefore, it should be considered a major part of the grading.
  5. Types of assignments. Writing should be spread throughout the course in a sequence of related assignments rather than concentrated in a large term paper. Assignments are generally a combination of low-stakes, medium-stakes, and high-stakes writing. A lengthy term paper, no matter how demanding, is probably counterproductive to the writing-to-learn and writing-to-communicate pedagogy employed in WI courses.
  6. Assignment-related instruction and evaluation of papers. Faculty in WI courses can help students write to learn by means of a combination of the following: in class workshops; collaborative projects; hands-on, directed lessons on research techniques; checklists for feedback on drafts; minimal marking of errors; targeted summaries of readings; etc.
  7. Support services. To assign any writing task means that as teachers, we are helping our students to do well at their assignments. Any writing assignment is an opportunity for a teacher to help the student write better. Guidelines may suggest or require that students use the tutoring services in the campus writing center.

Over the course of numerous faculty development workshops, I used various parts of this set of principles to open up discussion about our individual practices and develop consensus about writing instruction. By creating this space for sharing our collective techniques for student writing instruction, I was able to shift the focus of these workshops from a WPA-centered “how to teach writing” approach to a classroom-centered “faculty sharing with faculty” approach. I was able to help Stetson’s A&S faculty form a community in which writing instruction was a shared, coordinated, and welcome responsibility. For example, one of the early FSEM faculty development workshops focused on what kinds of writing to assign (point 5 above); the discussion turned rapidly to how to avoid burnout from grading all that writing. One colleague in Russian Studies immediately mentioned his favorite technique: the “minute paper,” the end-of-class writing assignment in which students summarize the day’s discussion. From these short papers, he said, he could learn what students had retained or what had confused them. No grading was necessary; in fact, assigning grades would have been counterproductive. His suggestion led to an engaging discussion of what “low stakes,” “medium stakes,” and “high stakes” writing assignments could do in a classroom employing WI pedagogy and resulted in consensus that low stakes writing need not be graded or evaluated. This pattern of faculty teaching faculty remains the norm at the faculty development workshops that focus on writing.

As a result of these and many other faculty development opportunities, Stetson’s A&S faculty accepted the essential WI principles and, in their discussions of how the FSEM should function, came to a generally agreed-upon set of assignments, assignments that could be useful in introducing first year students to the intellectual demands of college-level courses:

  • reading summary and critical response;
  • various assignments requiring students to observe and report;
  • various assignments requiring sources and therefore research;
  • drafts leading to revisions and to final drafts of analyses and reports; and
  • reflections on their surroundings, their lives, and their identities.

The WI principles and this list of “recommended assignments for first year students” created a framework for writing instruction in the FSEM, which is reiterated and refined at every pre-semester workshop. Additionally, the Writing Program webpages provide substantial resources for WI courses, including this list, and faculty experienced in WI principles freely share their experiences with faculty new to teaching an FSEM or JSEM. Thus, while faculty retain the usual autonomy about incorporating these assignments, most of the FSEM faculty accept them as integral parts of an FSEM and practice them with this understanding.

The third year Gen Ed seminar requirement, JSEM courses, had no precedent on the campus and thus took longer to develop and implement. JSEMs are equally informed by these writing intensive principles, although the faculty teaching these seminars have not yet arrived at a core body of assignments to unite and help define the JSEM experience. The course always carries one of the Personal and Social Responsibility designations (Health & Wellness, Diversity, Ethical Decision making, or Social Justice). Additionally, the faculty have agreed that the course must be interdisciplinary in its focus, but this expectation has tended to multiply rather than reduce the complexity of the questions about appropriate assignments, level of expectation for student performance, and plans for Gen Ed assessment. Because my attention as WPA has been, like many of Stetson’s initiatives, focused on the first year experience, the role of writing in the JSEM has not yet been fully explored. Thus, for all these reasons, I focus in this profile on the truly formative work done in developing and coordinating the FSEM’s writing instruction. FSEM instruction was the most significant curricular component in this first stage of educational transformation and, indeed, the single course that began momentum toward an embedded writing expectation. Further, I believe that the FSEM process will lead faculty more readily into developing the JSEM core set of writing experiences; experience in one will certainly contribute to success in the second, and as my own position takes on more and more responsibility for faculty development, concentration on JSEMs will be easier to foster and maintain.

The successful development of the FSEM model in the A&S College equipped Stetson, and me as WPA, with a pattern to follow to encourage effective writing-to-learn instruction: create a space for discussion, share individual teaching techniques, and anchor these discussions on the WI course principles widely accepted in the discipline of writing studies. This new habit provided us with a clear direction when, in 2009, Stetson welcomed a new, dynamic University President and a new Provost/Chief Academic Officer. At some campuses, a new administration’s vision might have proved disastrous to curricular efforts already in progress; fortunately, this was not the case at Stetson. Both the President and the Provost actively supported a mission of writing excellence; they also insisted on a unified, University-wide general education program. As a result, the A&S Gen Ed revision, with its overt, faculty-driven emphasis on writing in the learning process, became the University-wide model by fiat; A&S, Business, and Music—historically divided by their respective ideologies and their own Gen Ed core curricula—were required to adopt the new Gen Ed model, develop appropriate courses in the FSEM and JSEM programs, and take part in the assessment of the new initiatives and outcomes. Although some long-standing spots of contention remain, the effect of the new administrative policy of One University meant a qualified end to decades of separation on the campus.

Certainly the new leadership meant that my contact zone philosophy would be tested. Pratt’s mention of the “highly asymmetrical power balances” in the contact zone (34) takes on additional relevance in this context; perceptions of power among academic units on a university campus are typically driven by claims about which unit costs the most in faculty salaries, which unit brings in the most grant money, which unit is getting the coveted new hires, and so forth. The natural competition between A&S and Business in the current economic and educational climate was thus complicated by the requirement that all faculty inhabit a cooperative space in an explicitly liberal arts, writing-intensive General Education curriculum.

The initial development of the A&S FSEMs—based on the many examples of such first year seminar experiences{3}—had been relatively smooth, and they coordinated well with the required ENGL 101 course. Rolling out that FSEM model to the rest of the campus as a Gen Ed requirement for all students was, in contrast, somewhat messier: Faculty autonomy and input and faculty governance of curriculum did not always create the necessary confidence in the liberal arts nature of the initial FSEM conception. The FSEMs initially offered by the School of Business Administration, for example, which were in the beginning open only to students declaring a Business major, reflected their professional context; this was sometimes at odds with the liberal arts philosophy, and it did not consistently allow for writing instruction. The course title was certainly professional: Self -Assessment and Business Introduction. (In contrast, FSEMs in A&S sported somewhat sexier titles like Concepts of the Human: Freaks, Others, and In-Groups, and Latin America Turns Left: A Backyard Challenge to North American Diplomacy.) Remaining true to the School’s expectations and requirements, the Business FSEMs were conceived by their faculty as emphasizing practical, marketable “skills”: note taking, time management, team building projects such as the “ropes” course (in which students complete team projects designed to reinforce community), self-analysis, self-assessment, and so forth were key and did not offer a wealth of opportunities for writing instruction. From the A&S perspective, the Business emphases often looked too utilitarian. Although the two visions shared a concentration on oral communication and critical thinking, for example, the differences can be seen in the early descriptions:

Table 2: A&S First Year Seminar compared to School of Business

A&S General Education: FSEM Business General Education: FSEM
First-Year Seminars are designed to improve the student’s ability to analyze ideas critically and express them persuasively in oral presentations and in writing. In the seminar, students will have regular practice in the modes of intellectual conversation that are the hallmark of educated persons. This course is designed to help students understand themselves and their environment as they make the transition into studies in a collegiate business program. Students, through a variety of self-assessment vehicles, will better understand their values, learning styles, and habits for successful academic life. Students will complete projects and assignments that reinforce business necessary skills such as team building, critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication (oral presentations and writing assignments are major components of this course). Students will also complete a service-learning project as part of the course.

The academic year 2009/2010 proved pivotal to regularizing and to some extent standardizing Stetson’s academic mission. To smooth out the various curricular, ideological, and governance differences so that all first year students at Stetson could be assured of getting a consistent FSEM experience regardless of major or program, and so that students switching majors and programs would not be at a disadvantage, the Provost appointed faculty from across the campus to new, broadly conceived University level committees. A University General Education Committee (UGEC) was created and charged with overseeing and coordinating all courses offered as part of the new Gen Ed curriculum. UGEC and its team of cross disciplinary faculty, including me, hammered out a series of agreements and accommodations, which then fell to the individual departments and programs to enact in a consensus model. (The same sorts of agreements have been made about the equally contentious JSEM course, now offered in Business and A&S. The School of Music, although now offering FSEMs, has not yet found the way within its accreditation guidelines to offer JSEMs.) Simultaneously, the Provost appointed faculty to a new University-wide General Education Assessment Committee (GEAC) and charged this group with measuring and enhancing learning excellence—including writing skills—and codifying new statements of student learning outcomes. I was one of the first called to serve on GEAC and I remain in that key position. Finally, somewhere in that momentous year, my title changed formally from Director of FYE to Director of the Writing Program, in a recasting of my responsibilities that encouraged the perception of writing instruction as a University-wide effort rather than as the function of the required ENGL 101 course (and consequently the English Department’s job). Further implied in that title change was my own obligation to the faculty development efforts required by a newly WI Gen Ed curriculum; as “Director of FYE” I was accountable primarily to first year students and perceived by most faculty leaders as housed solely in A&S, but as Director of the Writing Program I could step into a more clearly articulated, University leadership role in faculty development, specifically targeting the writing instruction offered in FSEM and JSEM. Thus, the title change has allowed me to reach further across divides in my efforts to create consensus. At times, however, even given the new, unifying university-level governance structure to which I now have access and accountability, my reach has had to exceed my grasp.

The forced union of somewhat uneasy academic and administrative partners presented specific challenges for me. Forming a shared zone for discussion about writing instruction seems daunting when the stakeholders one must reach out to hold such different educational approaches and goals. Fortunately, the established pattern of community-building developed during the A&S College’s FSEM discussions worked well: the separate elements of faculty development workshops, formal and informal conversations sponsored by the Writing Program, and the list of WI characteristics and recommended assignments came together and created a similar consensus space. The obvious disconnect of the two FSEM concepts was primarily around the purpose of the FSEMs: in A&S, a major goal was the improvement of student writing, while in Business a central concern was the creation of a professional persona. This difference created an immediate space for discussion of purposeful writing assignments designed to reveal and foster student learning. Some A&S FSEM faculty were probably surprised to discover that colleagues in the Business school share many of their concerns about student writing and were just as proactive in resolving issues by using many of the same techniques (e.g., conferencing with the professor on assignment drafts and revisions, creating peer review groups in classes, and so forth). When members of both academic units recognized some commonalities in their values and their concerns—commonalities that had been long hidden or ignored by silo mentalities on both sides—the consensus notion of “the University FSEM” began to form out of the divergent perceptions of “the A&S FSEM” and “the Business FSEM.” It has not been simple, but it has been happening nonetheless. What distinguishes Stetson’s approach is the integration of these various faculty and their willingness, even if sometimes extracted under presidential pressure, to commit their department faculty, time, and resources to this campus requirement. In brief, all faculty found stakes in this initiative.

As evidence of a common set of goals for the writing-intensive FSEM, I’d argue that the current description of the FSEM—heavily influenced by faculty-driven discussions about the place of writing in Stetson’s general education curriculum—shows significant points of concurrence between Business and A&S interests and concerns. This revision, more than almost any other piece of the curriculum puzzle at Stetson, reveals the campus ability to work together given a common goal. Writing instruction has indeed been a force for educational change:

The goal of the First Year Seminars is to improve students’ ability to analyze critically, integrate fully, and express coherently knowledge and ideas. The intent is to increase their ability and their desire to engage enthusiastically in intellectual conversations. These courses are designed to help students develop skills in Writing, Information Fluency, Speaking, and Critical Thinking. First Year Seminars focus on topics of broad interest to students and faculty. They provide for active engagement with, and inquiry into, significant ideas, questions, and issues related to that topic. They may be disciplinary or interdisciplinary in scope, but they are not designed to serve primarily as introductions to any academic major. They are discussion-based and encourage students to engage actively, both in and outside of class, with course materials. They involve substantive writing and speaking assignments, with feedback for improvement. (Stetson Catalog, 45)

I turn now to the challenges mentioned earlier, challenges created for the required first year English sequence by the Gen Ed curriculum revision. The pattern of consensus-building that helped create a true University FSEM model out of competing visions worked almost as well when, as a result of Stetson’s having effectively distributed sites for first year writing instruction across the campus, the English Department reconsidered its First Year English (FYE) sequence. The Department’s ENGL 121 and 131 courses still constituted the University Writing requirement (whereas FSEM and JSEM were key parts of Gen Ed requirements but could not themselves meet the Writing requirement); in the light of increasing writing instruction in other courses, however, I argued that one course, retaining many of ENGL 121’s principles, could suffice. That course—which became ENGL 101—would be the University Writing requirement, bolstered by FSEM in the first year and supplemented further by the interdisciplinary JSEM in the third year.

The major issues for the English Department involved staffing and course overlap. The decades-old two course sequence included ENGL 121 Research & Argumentation and ENGL 131 Analytical Reading & Writing. ENGL 121 was a traditional FYC model and was typically taught by a cadre of contingent faculty, most holding MA degrees in Composition/Rhetoric. The tenure-line faculty in English tended to prefer the comparative freedom of teaching ENGL 131, which allowed them to teach to their literary field and shifted most of the burden of teaching composition to adjuncts and lecturers. ENGL 131, however, mirrored the FSEM: small, discussion based courses focused on a given topic of the instructor’s choice. Thus, one of the traditionally required FYE courses seemed redundant. The stated goals of the FSEM also mirrored ENGL 131 in that both paid attention to careful reading and analysis, an awareness of the need to respond to different genres, and the use of secondary sources to expand analysis. Because it was usually taught as an introduction to a faculty specialty in literature, ENGL 131 seemed obsolete in the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of writing instruction at Stetson. I used the WPA Outcomes Statement as evidence that FSEMs and other first year courses could reinforce the skills taught in FYC but that ENGL 131 seemed indistinguishable from the FSEM. Ultimately, in 2008, I was successful in my arguments to the Department and to the University Gen Ed Committee that the two FYE courses should be reshaped into one course (ENGL 101 Writing & Rhetoric), which would retain the desirable, effective pedagogy and essential goals of first year composition and could—because English would need to staff fewer courses—reduce our dependence on contingent labor. (This process did not go as expected, unfortunately. The demand for FSEMs in response to unforeseen surges in student enrollment pulled more and more English Department faculty into that vital course and therefore out of ENGL 101, so that by 2012, the Department relied even more heavily on adjunct and lecturer labor to teach ENGL 101 than it had before.) After some heated discussion in the English Department about the function of ENGL 101, the course was implemented in 2009, and it—or an approved substitute—is, as of this writing, the only way to meet the University Writing requirement.

The transition, although minor from an outside perspective, presented pedagogical challenges for the English department’s faculty, who are mostly specialists in literature and creative writing. This emphasis, in combination with the preponderance of senior faculty, meant that few of us holding tenure lines had any graduate training in composition and rhetoric. Only one junior faculty member other than me was a writing specialist. I therefore faced substantial resistance to including “rhetoric” in the title, because despite years of experience in composition classrooms, few of the tenure line faculty in ENGL 101 felt comfortable being asked to teach rhetoric. Predictably, my recommendation that writing studies should make up the content of the Department’s General Education writing course created conflict. Although that recommendation was rejected on the grounds of faculty autonomy, I achieved a compromise solution to the variety of ways the course would inevitably be taught by insisting on a common pedagogical feature: a final portfolio.

Ultimately ENGL 101 retained and combined into one course the elements the Department considered most valuable from ENGL 121 and ENGL 131: techniques of craft and revision, attention to voice and audience, kinds of arguments and types of support, and essential research techniques. This generally accepted description of the course represented a compromise between the literature and creative writing faculty on one side and, on the other, the Writing Program’s adherence to the WPA Outcomes Statement:

ENGL 101 Writing & Rhetoric enhances the persuasive strategies and overall writing abilities of first-year students. It teaches techniques of writing and argument essential for the college-level thinker and writer: appropriate support and organization, revision to shape the argument to suit the needs and expectations of both audience and assignment, and building and sustaining an individual, engaging voice that works efficiently and effectively with other voices. Student work will include a final portfolio consisting of polished, revised work, facilitated by teacher/peer comments. (Stetson Catalog 121-122)

By May 2009, the General Education curricular overhaul had ensured that a broad swathe of tenure-stream faculty—14 faculty in English and an additional 45 or more faculty from across the campus—were allied in creating direct and sustained contact with first year writing in significant, formative ways. Stetson had also implemented the third year WI seminar, the JSEM, as a penultimate writing experience; this course is scheduled for writing assessment during the 2013/2014 academic year. Thus, by 2009, we had been catapulted into a writing-intensive structure, although one that retained a one-course Writing requirement of ENGL 101: every Stetson student was required to take three writing or interdisciplinary WI courses over the course of four years (with the FSEM required in the first semester and ENGL 101 within the first two semesters) and to finish their careers at Stetson with our long-held traditional expectation of a senior capstone or senior project course that involved substantial writing. (For additional information about the senior capstone project, see the 2013 Stetson University Catalog, This set of accomplishments concluded Stage One; Table 3 represents the curricular changes accomplished in the first three years.

Table 3: Stage One Curriculum Changes

Original Gen Ed Writing Curriculum (to 2006) 2009 Gen Ed Writing Curriculum
1styr ENGL 121/131 ENGL 101 + FSEM
3rdyr JSEM
4thyr Senior project/capstone Senior project/capstone

Stage Two: Growth

The second stage of our curricular and pedagogical transformation was characterized by growth and development in instructional delivery, faculty development, and changes in the writing intensive course plan, as well as a rebirth of student-centered support. As the concept of the writing intensive course began to impact our strategic curricular planning across campus, I first worked to explore potentials for WI courses in the non-Gen Ed curriculum. As corollary to that effort, I began to focus on Stetson’s Writing Center, a somewhat isolated part of the Writing Program but still part of my supervisory responsibilities. The Writing Center needed to provide effective support for students in their rigorous interdisciplinary coursework. I drew on the shared understanding of WI principles and the feeling of community that was growing around writing instruction to accomplish both goals. By the close of this second stage, which I would put at roughly 2012-2013, two significant milestones had been reached: the University Writing requirement could, for some students, be met with a WI course (rather than ENGL 101), and Stetson’s Writing Center had been revitalized with a mission of multidisciplinary expertise and support. In this way, to use Martha Townsend’s phrasing, WI courses emerged as “an enlightened, if challenging, solution to moving writing instruction beyond the English department” (233). The goal, ultimately, was to shape an embedded multi-course writing requirement that does not anchor itself either in the English Department or specifically in ENGL 101. In fact, I wanted the troubled ENGL 101 to go away. I see this stage as transitional to what came next, which I will discuss further below.

Embedding WI courses throughout the curriculum and not just in General Education FSEM or JSEM courses required that faculty see benefits to doing so. To make the benefits clear, I drew on assessment data. Our outcome statement for Writing is modeled on the AAC&U VALUES rubrics and was refined by Stetson faculty to measure formative development in the first year and summative or mastery level achievement in the senior year:

Students can compose and revise written texts that employ an appropriate voice to coherently express relationships between ideas from multiple sources, illustrating awareness of rhetorical context and purpose.

Immediately upon adopting the new curriculum in Fall 2009, the newly formed faculty General Education Assessment Committee assessed General Education Writing. In a collaboration involving dozens of colleagues from across campus, we studied writing samples drawn from students in FSEM, ENGL 101, and senior capstone courses. Realizing the pivotal role assessment plays in identifying educational growth, we used this assessment to establish a baseline of achievement but used specific results to encourage broader faculty engagement with writing. Stetson won the highly competitive Exemplar Award from the Association of General and Liberal Studies for the faculty’s commitment to and specific steps toward improving our general education program and highlighting the central role of liberal arts in education.{4}

As mentioned earlier, the data confirmed our impressions that students were not necessarily developing their writing skills over their four years of study: 72% of the first year students in Gen Ed Writing (e.g., ENGL 101 and FSEM) met or exceeded expectations as a result of this writing immersion in the first year, while 76% of the seniors (sampled from Arts & Sciences, Business, and Music) met or exceeded expectations. To the Stetson faculty, the minimal increase in skill level was not acceptable. Reasoning that nearly all of our students should be capable of meeting minimum expectations by their senior year, we set our goals at 80% for first year students and 90% for seniors. To achieve this goal, the Assessment Committee recommended incorporating more deliberate and conscious writing instruction in the second and third years of our curriculum. We expect that the JSEMs, planned but not implemented in time for that assessment, will improve our senior assessment results. We’ll find out in 2013-2014, when the next Writing assessment cycle will include JSEM data.

The 2009 assessment data also revealed a statistically significant variation in achievement results when we separated the aggregate first year samples into ENGL 101 and FSEM categories: 82% of the students exiting the FSEM courses were meeting or exceeding the expectations of first year writing compared to 65% of the students exiting ENGL 101. Although we saw several possible explanations for the split in achievement levels—sequencing of courses, prior student experience, particular facility with writing instruction on the part of the FSEM faculty whose courses were sampled—we tended to agree that these data suggest that WI pedagogy in the new FSEM is often more effective than the established ENGL 101 course at reaching our outcome statement’s goals. Because I saw the data as a very useful point to advance writing instruction across the campus, I capitalized on this unexpected result by allying with one of the Writing Program defenders in the History Department who began to ask in faculty meetings—perhaps half joking at first—why Stetson still required ENGL 101 if FSEMs were so effective. Data strongly point toward the greatest improvement when students complete two courses focusing on writing rather than just one; nonetheless, I believed that a concerted effort from faculty at reinforcing writing skills would achieve the same effect. I therefore worked in concert with faculty allies and proposed modifying the writing requirement to permit students to demonstrate advanced skills through a WI course. That is, rather than accepting only ENGL 101 as meeting the requirement, Stetson would allow students demonstrating advanced skills to count a WI course. The new policy language also stipulated that the Writing requirement could only be met with a course taken on campus; this no-exemption policy meant that students transferring in ENGL 101 via exam or course credit would submit a portfolio for proper placement.

The portfolio placement process, although time and labor intensive, identifies which of our transfer and credit-bearing students can bypass a formal writing course and which students can take a WI course. Further, because reading portfolios for placement decisions necessarily involved a number of faculty teaching WI courses, the portfolios themselves created a space for valuable discussion of the appropriate level of writing instruction in, for example, WID methods or bibliography courses, senior capstone courses, survey courses, lab science courses, and so on. About 66% of the portfolios received to date have placed students into WI courses, with the remaining third assessed as needing a course taught by the English faculty. Because these students are transferring in credit for ENGL 101, they cannot take ENGL 101 without losing that credit. The English Department therefore designed and created a course called ENGL 109, Stetson Writing Workshop, to meet the needs of students bringing credit but not the requisite skill equivalency. The need for English to create and staff such a course further added to the cost of time and faculty labor.

Even with the additional messiness and work entailed in the new policy, I believe that the revised writing curriculum is a useful transitional step in Stetson’s progress toward embedding writing-intensive principles across the campus and releasing us from the obligation to offer a first year composition course as the Gen Ed requirement. Enacting the policy meant that additional WI courses had to be developed and approved, through multiple levels of curriculum vetting, to provide qualified students with sufficient course choices and to ensure these courses match the University’s goals for writing proficiency. To meet these goals, I recruited experienced FSEM faculty, instructors teaching methods courses in their disciplines, those in inherently writing-intensive disciplines, and faculty whom I knew were using writing intensive pedagogy to enrich some of their existing courses for WI designation. I developed materials by which faculty could propose their courses for WI designation, involving the instructors in thinking through their assignment sequences and spending considerable time in one-on-one conversations about student writing. These conversations grew more sophisticated as I moved from closely allied disciplines, such as English and History, to my more skeptical colleagues in Religious Studies, Math and Computer Science, and Integrative Health Sciences. Many of the latter discussions required showing these colleagues how WI practices could help students read comprehensively, discover ideas, and remember the content material privileged by fields such as Computer Science. Once these colleagues saw the advantages of having their students study writing within the traditional parameters of their discipline’s content—and incentivized by the lowered course cap Stetson enforces on WI courses—they were much more willing to buy in.

After three years of this policy, Stetson now offers more than 45 WI courses (and dozens of FSEM and JSEM courses) from all three academic units and in all four years of our curriculum. Any of those 45 will satisfy the Writing requirement for a student placed into a WI course. Further meeting the need identified by the Fall 2009 Writing Assessment, a substantial number of these new WI courses are sophomore courses. Many more of our students are benefitting from the increased exposure to academic and disciplinary writing in a deliberate, conscious way, as was recommended by the Fall 2009 Writing Assessment and as has been accepted on campus as a way to enhance student learning. Enriched writing pedagogy is infused through the curriculum not just for the sake of utility but because a majority of Stetson’s faculty endorse the notion that more writing instruction is inherently valuable for our students.{5}

Curriculum and pedagogy initiatives that resulted in enhanced writing expectations also required enhancing academic support for students. To respond to this need, in 2011 I collaborated with the Office of Student Success, which coordinates tutoring, remediation, and accommodations, to rebuild the Writing Center, which had been stagnant under its former leadership. When I took direct responsibility for the Writing Center, the tutors were a committed but unsupported band of five English majors, who were housed in a small room located in the English Department, far away from the center of campus. Given the financial and organizational support of the Office of Student Success, I recruited and trained tutors from across the campus, reopened the lines of communication between tutors and faculty, and established a plan for independent leadership that partnered with the Writing Program.

As interim Writing Center Director, I reinvigorated the Writing Center with the vision of multidisciplinary writing and thinking. I recruited and mentored tutors from across our campus, offered regular tutor training, updated the methods for collecting visit data, and—in what turned out to be a key move—invited faculty into the Writing Center. Professors from Physics and Biology came for sandwiches and conversation to the first “What I Wish the Writing Tutors Knew” gathering, an interaction that set the tone for a true relationship among students, faculty, and tutors. A reciprocal association developed: Tutors notify faculty when students have come for assistance, while faculty can and do make suggestions to tutors about specific areas of concern. Students can fully inhabit that “third space” so clearly articulated by writing center research as a vital element of success (e.g., Eodice, Geller, and Grego).

Traffic quadrupled in the first semester of the new Writing Center and continues to rocket upward, in no small part because the new tutors had been recruited based on faculty recommendations. This tactic further engaged faculty in writing instruction because it encouraged them to think about what characterizes “good writing” and “good writers.” New tutors majoring in political science, life sciences, business, religious studies, and communications began teaching each other a variety of common disciplinary formats and conventions. Students visiting early in the Writing Center’s transformation—although predictably coming most often from the FSEM and ENGL 101—thus experienced a range of support for the FSEM’s multidisciplinary needs. Writing Center visit data indicates an increasing number of visits from students in their second and third years, including students enrolled in the new JSEM courses. The Office of Student Success substantially increased the tutoring budget in response to the clear demand, with the result that the five tutors now number 15 and, with a new Writing Center Director in place who reports to me, the Writing Center has moved from its isolation in the English Department to a larger, centrally located space in the University Library.

Whereas Stage One of our curricular evolution was characterized by the transformative notion of the writing intensive course, Stage Two saw the ripple effects of that new curricular idea: Stetson University invested more resources into developing writing instruction in a new writing-rich curriculum, and provided additional resources for student-centered support. By the end of Stage Two, the essential structures for a transition to an embedded writing requirement were in place: Many faculty were comfortable with WI pedagogy; policy and practice distributed writing instruction and responsibility for the Writing requirement across the campus both horizontally and vertically; and lastly, student support mechanisms were thriving in the renewed Writing Center. Gen Ed Writing required significant and formative writing experiences at three separate points over the four years, with specific administrative developments affecting the way and the variety of means whereby students could meet the Writing requirement. The third and fourth year writing curriculum remained the same. Table 4 below contrasts the substantive changes in the Writing Program in 2006 and in 2011-2012, when I realized that ENGL 101 was becoming redundant in the new curriculum. Moreover, due to the logistical reality of a rapidly expanding student population, ENGL 101 was about to be unstaffable. The curricular changes combined with staffing realities made our next steps very clear. We no longer face the question of whether to eliminate English 101. We face the question of when. And the when is now.

Table 4: General Education Requirements, 2006 vs 2012

Original Gen Ed Writing Curriculum (to 2006) 2009-2012 Gen Ed Writing Curriculum
1styr ENGL 121/131 ENGL 101* + FSEM
(*WI course for some)
2ndyr Optional WI courses in many majors
3rdyr JSEM
4thyr Senior project/capstone Senior project/capstone

Stage Three: Stetson Looking Ahead

Stage Three will see full implementation of a writing-enriched curriculum. Its key elements will include phasing out of the official first year writing course, ENGL 101 Writing & Rhetoric, which is, at this writing, still the way most students satisfy the University Writing requirement. This third stage will also see the JSEM courses and their WI pedagogy more fully developed to match the coordinated writing-to-learn instruction in the FSEM courses. Finally, this stage will see Stetson’s move to a curriculum practiced by many of our aspirational and peer schools: the embedded writing requirement.

Phasing out ENGL 101 is a pedagogical, curricular, and staffing necessity. Fairly substantial pedagogical inconsistency was revealed when a WPA consultant-evaluator team visited in Spring 2012. After their observation of the wide ranging “signature” of writing instruction on Stetson’s campus, which they praised for the enthusiasm with which faculty from across the campus were talking about student writing, they reported that the site of weakest connection to consistent writing instruction appeared to be ENGL 101 itself. The report also provided twenty-nine specific suggestions for managing this sprawling writing program more efficiently and for relieving the burden on my shoulders as solo WPA: First on their list of recommendations was the formation of a University-wide group to administer writing instruction. I’m reminded of Susan McLeod’s reasoning, in her 2008 Plenary Address to the International Writing Across the Curriculum conference, for inviting an evaluative team to campus

…so that experts would tell administrators the same thing the WAC director had been telling them (but because the experts were being paid, they would be believed). We need [outside] assessment so that we can prove as empirically as possible that what we are doing is effective and also so that we can find the holes in our program that need to be plugged.

The WPA Consultant/Evaluator team certainly found problems that needed remediation. After examining the many sections of ENGL 101 and talking with faculty about how they taught the course, the team identified lack of consistency, both across sections and to course principles, as a root problem. They met with faculty who described their ENGL 101 courses as focusing on disparate topics, including diversity, happiness, or food; employing a writing-about-writing-studies approach; emphasizing personal or narrative writing; and harking back to current-traditional modes. Pedagogical concerns thus reinforced an ongoing curricular question that had not been sufficiently resolved by the earlier revision of ENGL 101: what is the nature and function of ENGL 101 on Stetson’s campus? After the extensive developments I have outlined above, the Gen Ed writing experience is reasonably grounded, with key pieces in place that lead to an incremental gain at measurable, markable points. ENGL 101’s curricular and pedagogical functions seem productively addressed by the FSEM, and what is missing in FSEM—sustained and/or consistent attention to writing to the point that we might reframe it as a First Year Writing Seminar—is simple enough to remedy by means of increased support from the Writing Center or by initiating a Writing Fellows program, which is already in the early stages of discussion.

Therefore, pedagogical and curricular examination, particularly in the face of Stetson’s Gen Ed core, showed that ENGL 101 was awkwardly placed and unevenly delivered. ENGL 101’s pedagogical problems could be resolved, but doing so would require more faculty willing to adhere to a valid set of core principles than has been achievable thus far. In any case, logistical reality trumps any pedagogical or curricular rationale for phasing out the course. Stetson’s first year English courses still accommodate between 775-800 students per academic year. As of this writing, the writing faculty in the Department number between 14 and 17: four lecturers teaching three sections per term; between three and seven adjuncts, each teaching one or two sections a term; and seven tenure-line faculty, teaching one or two sections per year for a total of 44-48 sections per academic year. However, the successful enrollment growth plan initiated by the University president indicates that when Stetson reaches its target of 3,000 undergraduate students—an increase of roughly 33%--the English Department would need to increase the number of FYE sections by the same percentage. This staffing demand is daunting, even in the short term. As I write this profile, Fall 2013’s 23 sections of first year writing in English are, with only one exception, staffed by contingent faculty. In Spring 2014, tenure stream faculty are scheduled to teach only seven of an expected 32 sections. This degree of reliance on adjunct staffing is unhealthy, unethical, unsustainable, and wholly atypical of small liberal arts colleges and universities. The groundwork for the transition to a WI curriculum—firmly in place—fortunately provides an alternative.

Jill M. Gladstein and Dara Rossman Regaignon point out that nearly 85% of surveyed small liberal arts colleges operate with an embedded writing requirement, typically spread across a number of writing-intensive courses and typically beginning with a first year seminar (or first year writing seminar) experience (97). Further, the majority of small colleges and universities Stetson considers “peer or aspirational institutions” have a writing requirement consisting of multiple pieces. For instance, among dozens of others, Swarthmore College, Moravian College, Elon University, Carleton College, Middlebury College, and Furman University require a combination of FSEM-like courses and WI-like courses.{6} Early meetings with Stetson University administrators and Gen Ed faculty leaders suggest that the University will most likely adopt a requirement of five or six WI courses. The current faculty-driven conversation revolves around the nature and programming of those courses.

Two plans seem to be trending in faculty discussions. In the first model, students would take two WI courses in Gen Ed, two in their respective majors, and two as part of their electives. Because Stetson already requires two WI Gen Ed courses and because many of our WI courses are discipline-based, we appear to be closer to this option, so that one advantage to adopting it is the relative ease with which implementation could happen. This plan would infuse writing throughout the curriculum such that it would not be considered a General Education requirement as much as it would be an inherent element of our university curriculum. Such a plan would also ensure that undergraduates complete their degrees with the requisite writing skills necessary for success in their chosen fields. However, a potential obstacle is the need for greater faculty involvement in ensuring that their disciplines articulate a clear-cut writing curriculum for the major. Faculty will also need to be convinced that thinking through how their majors develop essential disciplinary writing abilities is both worthwhile and useful. Finally, while many of the majors Stetson offers do teach students to write in the field, some programs—e.g., the creative arts, vocal performance, and accounting—may not see a need for “disciplinary writing” as other fields might define it. Such anomalies would have to be taken into account when considering how students in those areas could meet the University requirement.

In the second model, shown below as the natural progression of General Education writing, students would take two WI courses in each of the first, second, and third years, with their writing instruction at Stetson culminating in the senior project courses. This plan would keep writing an overt part of General Education and would not necessarily count WID or other methods courses as part of the writing expectations.

Table 5: Second Potential Model

Original Gen Ed Writing Curriculum Transitional Gen Ed Writing Curriculum Embedded Gen Ed Writing Curriculum
1styr ENGL 101 ENGL 101 + FSEM FSEM + WI
2ndyr WI + WI
3rdyr JSEM JSEM + WI
4thyr Senior project/capstone Senior project/capstone Senior project/capstone

This second model offers the advantage of simplicity: Stetson faculty would need only to offer a greater number of additional WI courses, without regard for the courses being discipline-specific. The challenge would be in developing enough WI courses and distributing them evenly across the campus, to ensure that students could meet the requirement. One clear implication of this model, however, is that writing in the discipline would not be prioritized any more than it is currently. The Fall 2009 Gen Ed Writing Assessment used a rubric that included “adherence to disciplinary genres and conventions”; only 62% of sampled seniors met or exceeded expectations for mastery level of this criterion. Again, assessment results would suggest that expanded, not less, attention would better prepare students.

Whichever model Stetson adopts, writing instruction will move out of the English Department. As I reread Fulwiler’s set of factors affecting the development of a University’s writing curriculum, particularly the relationship Stetson will define between disciplinary and non-disciplinary writing, I find the potentials for new contact zones to be, frankly, pretty provocative.

What I Wish I’d Known

In the course of half a dozen years, the Writing Program at Stetson mushroomed from a two-course, first year English expectation to a framework supporting a multi-leveled, cross-disciplinary, writing intensive General Education curriculum. My role as WPA went from coordinating writing only in the English Department FYE courses—and occasionally consulting about student writing—to being visible in a campus-wide position, advocating a writing to learn pedagogy, introducing the term “writing intensive,” coordinating campus-wide efforts at writing assessment, and being called “the writing guru” by nearly everyone. Despite (or because of) this unofficial title, I wish I had handled some things very differently. I should have begun much earlier to develop a base of support and to form groups to help in administering the Program. Those groups are forming now, but I spent ten years doing the work myself. The right time would have been when the General Education revision discussions began, and I left it almost too late to prevent the burnout that easily develops as a result of the isolation.

I would also have thought more carefully about the consequences for me personally as the Writing Program changed from FYE to something more like WAC or WEC. Rather than reacting to what curricular and institutional changes were coming at me, I could have mindfully planned. Had I done that, I would have seen, I think, that the changes in the Writing Program would close some professional doors to me while opening others. For example, with two course reassignments per year, I currently teach four courses a year, of which three are ENGL 101. When that course goes away, my classroom presence will inevitably dwindle, and as a consequence, my self- identity as a writing teacher will also change. I’m not sure I would have chosen this path had I known what I’d be leaving behind: teaching my favorite students, college freshmen. Still, a new path lies ahead: a WEC program needs a coordinator, and I am the likely candidate. Another potential, too, exists; with the increased administrative and faculty development responsibilities inherent in a writing-rich University curriculum, the best structure for the Stetson WPA may be a two course/year teaching load or even less, and my “students” will be my colleagues.

In terms of the process Stetson has undergone, I think arguing for the no-exemption policy that led to the creation of the portfolio placement process may have been an error. It provided me with valuable data about the abilities of students who transfer to Stetson, and it allowed me to recruit a number of faculty from across the campus to engage in small group discussion of student writing, writing-intensive course expectations, and teaching strategies. It certainly generated better placement results than the ACT/SAT scores. But oversight and follow through is the single most time-consuming and frustrating part of my position, requiring constant monitoring, coordination with the Registrar’s office and Admissions, and reminders to students and their advisors. In short, because of the outsized workload the portfolio placement process generated, I regret it; despite its yield of better placement results for students and the useful conversations the process stimulated, I could have used that time in developing a directed self placement mechanism instead. Such a process would be far less time intensive and would have eliminated a troublesome transitional step toward fully integrating writing instruction in our curriculum.

Finally, I wish I had thought more carefully about the often dramatic differences between state schools and small private schools. I understood the different tensions that exist. Questions of budget, accountability, size of the student population, number and kind of faculty are relatively easy to answer. But from the “boots on the ground” perspective, the concerns of big schools are not the same as those of small private schools. Talking with WPAs at other small, private schools turned the tide for me at Stetson. It is this type of exchange, I think, that can most benefit WPAs, no matter the kind of school: We need not do this work alone, and in fact we must not.


  1. This program transformation is indebted to the Homer and Dolly Hand Faculty Development Award I received in 2011 and to the Stetson University Faculty Summer Grant awarded to me in 2010. I am deeply appreciative of this support, without which my scholarship and research into WPA practices would have been considerably more stressful. (Return to text.)
  2. I should note that these courses are not, strictly speaking, “owned” by the Writing Program, but the Writing Program supports the efforts of those courses and their faculty, who have come to be considered “faculty in the Writing Program.” (Return to text.)
  3. See Furman University’s, for example: (Return to text.)
  4. See for additional information about the Exemplar Award. (Return to text.)
  5. A tactical error on my part was to give myself more work by accepting responsibility for deciding which courses should be given the designation of WI. Because I was widely perceived as the only person on campus with the requisite understanding of writing intensive pedagogy, I was willing, in the short term, to wear that mantle; my strategic plan going forward, however, has been to draw in those faculty teaching WI courses in the design, development, approval, and assessment of those courses, which will ultimately include FSEM and JSEM (courses that are currently developed and approved only by FSEM and JSEM faculty groups). (Return to text.)
  6. Swarthmore: “Complete at least three W courses or W seminars, and those three must include work in at least two divisions; students are advised to complete two Ws in the first 2 years” (; Moravian: “Completion of at least one writing-intensive course per major in the student's major program…; double majors are required to complete one writing-intensive course per major” (; Middlebury College, Vermont: “Within their first two years, all matriculated students must complete a First Year Seminar and at least one other writing-intensive class…. All academic departments participate in the College Writing Program, offering ‘writing intensive’ courses within the major and in the First-Year Seminar Program” (; Washington and Lee University: “Over three quarters of W&L, first-year students fulfill the composition requirement (FDR FW) by taking Writing Seminar for First-Years—WRIT 100— during the first year of study” ( (Return to text.)

Works Cited

American Association of Colleges and Universities. Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP). Web. 15 August 2006.

Brammer, Charlotte, Nicole Amare, and Kim Sydow Campbell. Culture Shock: Teaching Writing Within Interdisciplinary Contact Zones. Across the Disciplines 5 (2008). Web. 18 July 2011.

Condon, William, and Carol Rutz. A Taxonomy of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs: Evolving to Serve Broader Agendas. College Composition and Communication 64.2 (December 2012): 357-382. Print.

Farris, Christine, and Raymond Smith. Writing-Intensive Courses: Tools for Curricular Change. Writing Across the Curriculum: A Guide to Developing Programs. Eds. Susan H. McLeod and Margot Soven. Newbury Park: Sage, 1992. 52-62. Print.

Fulwiler, Toby. Evaluating Writing Across the Curriculum Programs. Strengthening Programs for Writing Across the Curriculum. Ed. Susan H. McLeod. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1988. 61-75. Print.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michele Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center: A Community of Practice. Logan: Utah State UP, 2006. Print.

Gladstein, Jill, and Dara Regaignon. Writing Program Administration at Small Liberal Arts Colleges. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2012. Print.

Grego, Rhonda, and Nancy S. Thompson. Teaching/Writing in Third Spaces: The Studio Approach. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007. Print.

Hansen, Kristine, and Joyce Adams. Teaching Writing in the Social Sciences: A Comparison and Critique of Three Models. Across the Disciplines 7 (2010). Web. 19 July 2011.

McLeod, Susan. The Future of WAC - Plenary Address, Ninth International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference, May 2008 (Austin, Texas). Across the Disciplines 5 (2008). Web. 7 July 2013.

---. The Pedagogy of Writing Across the Curriculum. A Guide to Composition Pedagogies. Eds. Gary Tate and Amy Rupiper. New York: Oxford, 2001. 149-164. Print.

Pratt, Mary Louise. Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession 91 (1991): 33-40. Print.

Stetson University. Catalog. 2013. Web. 8 August 2012.

Stetson University. Assessment of Writing Program. Web. 8 August 2012.

Townsend, Martha. Writing Intensive Courses and WAC. WAC for the New Millennium. Eds Susan McLeod, Eric Miraglia, Margot Soven, Christopher Thaiss. Illinois: NCTE, 2001. 233-258. Print.

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