Center for Writing and Speaking
The Writing Workshop, 1987-1996. In 1986 English department chair Linda Hubert wanted to expand the department’s efforts to help students write better and began exploring the possibility of establishing a writing center. The following year, Buttrick 306 was designated the Writing Workshop, and two students began tutoring other students in writing for English and other courses. Hubert wrote a successful grant to the Kellogg Foundation for computers and furnishings, and with the help of Myrtle Lewin, director of academic computing, planned the facility and ordered the equipment.
The following year (1988-1989), the Writing Workshop evolved into a more formal system of tutoring under the direction of Christine Cozzens. Three (later seven) tutors carried out the tutoring. Weekly staff or training meetings acquainted the tutors with the principles of tutoring and teaching writing. Faculty members from various departments came to the meetings to talk about how to improve student writing. From the beginning of the program, tutoring in writing was available for all students without cost for coursework in all departments, and an effort was made to develop tutoring as a valuable service for writers at all levels. From just a few hundred appointments each semester, the Writing Workshop grew rapidly in popularity and effectiveness. In 2010-2012 the expanded Center for Writing and Speaking logged about 6400 appointments.
The Center for Writing and Speaking, 1996-2011. In 1995-1996, a group composed of Dean Sarah Blanshei, Associate Dean Ruth Bettandorff, the chair of the English department Christopher Ames, and the director of the Writing Workshop Christine Cozzens discussed expansion of the program. Blanshei wanted to expand writing across the curriculum at the college; Cozzens and Ames saw the tutors as the most significant agents of writing across the curriculum because they already worked with students and faculty in all disciplines. In addition, the projected growth of the college and the expectation of a large first-year class that year had underscored the need for more tutoring hours. Several studies of student opinions about the college suggested that in general students sought “more meaningful work” for financial aid and other on-campus jobs. Expanding the tutoring program seemed to be a reasonable and useful response to many of these issues.
Meanwhile, the increased attention to oral presentation in most courses raised the need for more formal attention to training students in public speaking and other oral presentation skills. At a later meeting also including members of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the idea of training oral presentation tutors or “speaking” tutors emerged. Dudley Sanders (Department of Theatre and Dance) drew up an initial proposal, and further discussion united the two programs, which share the common goal of developing students’ communications skills—in the Center for Writing and Speaking.
The Center for Writing and Speaking became the new name for the English Department’s Writing Workshop joined with the newly devised Speaking Center, with collaboration from the Department of Theatre and Dance in training and guiding the speaking tutors. Today, the two programs are spoken of separately as the Writing Center and the Speaking Center but are united for administrative, philosophical, and practical purposes. Cozzens continues in her role as the director of the newly named and expanded center with Professor David Lawrence directing the Speaking Center. The two programs share an underlying philosophy and concern for the broad spectrum of students’ communication skills, use similar tutoring practices, meet together regularly as a whole staff, and in January of 2001 were united in a common, especially designed space on the ground floor of the renovated McCain Library.
In the fall of 1996, the Speaking Center opened in Buttrick 207, a classroom equipped with audio and video recording and playback equipment. Pamela Turner was the first coordinator of the Speaking Center. In the first year of the new speaking program, Turner and her staff modeled many of their practices on those already established by the Writing Center but sought also to determine the unique practices and establish the special identity of a center devoted to oral presentation skills. After a succession of coordinators, Veronica Henson-Phillips took over the position in the fall of 1998. Wendy Atkins-Sayre succeeded her, overseeing an important shift towards a more rhetoric-based rather than performance-based approach to tutoring, Wendy initiated a successful program of faculty development regarding using speaking assignments in class. Dave Lawrence, the next Speaking Center director, took this program and the center to a new level of expertise and effectiveness, bringing expertise in digital communications to the Center for Writing and Speaking.
The expansion in 1996 also included new outreach programs for the CWS: the Partners Program creates tutoring pairs for the semester or the year, aimed at students who want to work regularly and consistently on writing or speaking (international or ESOL students, senior thesis writers, students with learning disabilities, creative writers, etc.); the Course Tutors Program puts a tutor in a course as the dedicated writing or speaking tutor for that course to support student learning and to work with the instructor to strengthen the teaching of writing or speaking. Both the Speaking Center and the Writing Center reach out to all students and seek to make the CWS a comfortable, helpful, stimulating place for all to learn. Workshops and other special events bring students to the center for a variety of purposes; these activities celebrate and deepen our shared understanding of writing and speaking. Walk-in hours on Monday nights (and sometimes at other times) give students the opportunity to come to the CWS for short visits with the hope that a successful experience will encourage them to be regular visitors. The physical space of the CWS is open for all students to use as a place to do their work as along as tutoring writing and speaking take precedence when it gets crowded. Tutors in both centers carry out research on topics related to tutoring and teaching writing and speaking; they attended regional and national conferences to learn and to present their research.
Tutors in both centers go to see each other for tutoring in writing and speaking. This important feature is part of the CWS’s training program, reinforces the idea that we are all always learning, and helps each tutor remember what it is like to be a tutee.
2012 and Forward. In 2011 drastic college-wide budget cuts made transformation of the CWS necessary. Most damaging of the cuts the CWS experienced was the replacement of its tutor salary budget with an all-work study plan, meaning that henceforward only students with work study (less than forty percent of the student population) may be hired as tutors using the college budget, a dramatic change from the past when a dedicated salary budget allowed the hiring of the best candidates, regardless of their work study status. To make sure that the quality of tutoring would remain high, from 2012 forward, designated funds (donations to the CWS) will be used to supplement the salary budget so that at least some non-work study tutors can be hired each year.
Other changes dismantled the salary structure that allowed us to hire a fulltime speaking center director, who also taught public speaking and advised faculty on speaking related assignments and activities. To address these new circumstances, the CWS administrators and tutors agreed that moving to a system where all tutors tutor writing and speaking would be the best solution. There will no longer be separate writing and speaking centers, but on center for writing and speaking. College graduates today need to be versed in both writing and speaking, so it seems logical to raise the standard for tutor hiring to include excellence and ability to learn in both writing and speaking and to encourage the linking of writing and speaking across the curriculum. In the spring of 2012, a new hiring plan went into effect that asked candidates to demonstrate both writing and speaking skills and to reflect on the broad spectrum of communication theory, skills, and activities during their interview. In addition, to support the oral presentation or speaking aspect of the CWS and to make sure it remains a vibrant part of our tutoring and activities, we created the position of Patricia Collins Butler Fellow using funds donated by our late benefactor, who argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. The Butler Fellow will teach the public speaking courses (Theatre 117) and be the adviser and trainer for the CWS on matters related to oral presentations, rhetorical theory, and more. This position, designed for an advanced PhD student, will give the recipient valuable experience being part of the staff of a peer tutoring center that covers writing and speaking and will thus prepare her or him for a competitive job market.