As I write this, my final “Thoughts from the Chair” column, I have under two months to go before I step away from four years of directing the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric1 and begin a year-long sabbatical. I leave confident that the Institute will be in good hands with Christiane Donahue taking over as Director.
The “Heading Home” portion of the title is apt, because I expect to spend most of my sabbatical at home. My wife, Nicole, started a two-year term as a Lebanon city councilor in March. She needs to attend various meetings every week, and so leaving the area for any length of time is out of the question—unless I leave without her, and that notion is a non-starter. How will I spend my time? For several months, I will—get this—write! My three coauthors and I have signed a contract with our publisher to produce the third edition of Introduction to Algorithms, and I have visions of spending the summer out on my porch, typing away on my MacBook. Along with adding new material, I plan to make a pass through the entire book (1200 pages in the second edition) and put to use what I have learned about writing in the last four years. In particular, I will wordsmith each sentence and paragraph to apply the lessons of Joseph Williams’s Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace. If there’s such a thing as graceful prose about algorithms, I want to write it.
Of course, I am tempted in my final column to look back on what we have accomplished in our first four years. And so I shall.
Before listing specifics, however, I want to thank the faculty members, administrators, and staff who have worked in and with the Institute. Their commitment to teaching writing is behind everything that we have achieved and will achieve.
Writing & Rhetoric at Dartmouth
By Ayah Ahmed ’11, Hee Won Shin ’05, and Jiawen Ye ’08
A good deal of our energy goes into the first-year writing courses. Thanks to Executive Director Karen Gocsik’s oversight of Writing 2-3, I have been able to focus on Writing 5 and the First-Year Seminars. We have made great progress in both. Writing 5 now offers a variety of topics, ranging from the traditional literature-based sections to themes of love, happiness, and the U. S. Supreme Court (that’s three different sections in case you were wondering what love, happiness, and the Supreme Court have to do with each other). Our diverse staff of Writing 5 instructors sports backgrounds in theology, anthropology, health care, and law.
Turning to First-Year Seminars, now they all focus on writing. We approve seminars only when the instructor has discussed how writing instruction will be incorporated into the seminar, beyond just assigning writing; described how research will be a component of the seminar; and explained how the seminar will meet our guideline of at least 6000 words of writing per student. Not meaning to shortchange Writing 2-3, I’ll point out that it remains highly popular among our students, with very strong student evaluations across the board. We created a formal arrangement with the MALS program in which all of our Writing 2-3 TAs are MALS students and MALS provides stipends. With support from the office of the Dean of the Faculty and the MALS program, we have created more sections of first-year writing courses. Since 2004, we have added one section of Writing 2-3 and six sections of Writing 5.
We also provide peer support services—tutoring and writing assistants assigned to courses—coordinated by our Director of Student Writing Support, Stephanie Boone. The old Composition Center in the attic of Sanborn has morphed into RWIT—the Student Center for Research, Writing, and Information Technology—now housed in 183 Berry Library, a wonderful space located near the reference desk. We work closely with the Library to provide research support, and we often find that when students come to RWIT with questions about writing the underlying issue is actually research. Our RWIT tutors are trained to help students compose new media projects, such as PowerPoint presentations and iMovie productions. In the last couple of years, we have collaborated with Career Services to help students with cover letters and résumés, and we have started a pilot program with foreign language departments to assist students writing in French and Spanish.
Our courses are not limited to first-year writing. We have offered four upper-level writing courses—Writing with Media, Composition: Theory and Practice, Writing and Speaking Public Policy, and The Art of Science Writing—and we will offer one new writing course in the coming year—The Written Judicial Opinion. We worked with the Class of 1962 to create the Class of 1962 Writing and Rhetoric Program Fund, which will support Writing Across the Curriculum. A Speech instructor, Josh Compton, will join us this fall, and he will teach three speech courses—Public Speaking (once in each term), Persuasive Public Speaking, and Speechwriting. Demonstrating Dartmouth’s commitment to communication, we expect to hire a second Speech instructor in the coming year.
I could have listed even more accomplishments, such as moving into our permanent space in the 200B suite of Baker Library, creating the newsletter that you are reading right now, and supporting events both in courses and for the public. But I am getting dizzy just trying to come up with the full array of our changes and innovations in the past four years.
1We were called the Writing Program from our inception in 2004 until the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric was christened earlier this year. The Institute encompasses all of our operations, and the curricular component of the Institute is now the Writing and Rhetoric Program. I’ll use the term “Institute” in the remainder of this column, but you should take it to mean “Writing Program” for the pre-Institute period.