Departments to teach writing

by Stacy Jo

Students entering the University next year will face more intense writing instruction within their fields of study than in past years.
Although current students will not be affected by the new requirements, freshmen entering the University in fall 1999 will be required to enroll in four “writing-intensive” courses beyond the first-year composition requirement. The English and rhetoric departments and General College currently provide all writing instruction; that responsibility will next year be dispersed throughout all University departments.
“The idea is to make (the courses) inescapable as well as desirable,” said Joel Weinsheimer, English professor and chairman of the Council on Liberal Education.
Specialized composition courses — such as Writing in the Humanities and Writing about Science — will be removed from the curriculum. Instead, instructors within each major who wish to teach writing-intensive courses will integrate writing components of their particular field into their own courses.
Thus far, organizers have approved 400 proposals from faculty members for courses meeting the writing-intensive requirement. The project changes course content, but doesn’t add any new courses to the curriculum.
Writing-intensive courses are designated by three criteria: the course requires students to turn in 10-15 pages of finished writing; the student must revise one piece of writing after the instructor has commented on it; and the final course grade must be determined substantially by the writing aspect of the course.
Of the four writing-intensive courses students must complete, two must be upper-division classes and one must be a course within the student’s major.
The jump from two required writing courses to five courses denotes some of the most ambitious writing requirements of any higher education institution in the country, said Lillian Bridwell-Bowles, English professor and director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing.
The plan attempts to eliminate the walls that divide writing from fields of study. Under the current system, writing experts teach students to write about areas they do not specialize in. For example, a composition instructor might teach students how to write about scientific fields. With the new plan, instructors who are experts in particular fields will teach writing within that area of study.
“These courses should be taught by people who know more about (a field’s) kind of writing,” Bridwell-Bowles said. “Composition instructors have done an admirable job, but we need to get writing into the whole of the curriculum.”
Weinsheimer said students are more likely to learn writing from instructors who work in the fields they are writing about. The new writing courses will also be more in tune to students’ interests, Bridwell-Bowles said.
Many faculty members, both inside and outside of the College of Liberal Arts, have responded favorably to the new requirements. The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing has been offering workshops and grants to prepare faculty members for teaching writing-intensive courses.