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Former Writing Centre faculty speak at committee meeting

UFV governance recently learned what many student groups already know about campus involvement: mass emails and blog posts do not attract students, particularly during exam period.

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By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: May 6, 2015

Gloria Borrows (far right), a Writing Centre faculty member, fielded questions for almost half an hour at an open meeting of the APPC.

Gloria Borrows (far right), a Writing Centre faculty member, fielded questions for almost half an hour at an open meeting of the APPC.

UFV governance recently learned what many student groups already know about campus involvement: mass emails and blog posts do not attract students, particularly during exam period. The Academic Planning and Priorities committee (APPC) set up a special meeting, the third to mainly focus on the Writing Centre to Academic Success Centre (ASC) change, with an emphasis on hearing presentations from students. The reasoning was students are the ones most effected by the change, while only one to two student representatives are usually present at committee, Senate, and Board of Governors meetings.

Upon hearing the idea two weeks previously, some members worried there would be too many presentations to handle. The Writing Centre change has prompted more student comment than usual, including a protest on the Abbotsford campus. “What if 30 speakers show up?” one member suggested. But at the meeting, held almost a week after the last day of exams, the summer session days away, four names appeared on the speakers list: two students, one SUS representative, and Gloria Borrows, who worked in the Writing Centre.

Borrows recounted the most prominent development since UFV governance decided to evaluate the initial ASC proposal: the removal of Writing Centre faculty and staff, which has been followed by the beginning of training for ASC tutors.

“The Writing Centre has been effectively dismantled,” she said. “Four of the former faculty have been re-assigned to other areas and are busy with duties. One of us has received a layoff notice, and another who worked part-time in the Writing Centre, a brilliant gentleman, we can no longer offer part-time work to.”

Borrows did not prepare a lengthy statement, saying that due to the changes already taking place, this call for community consultation, while welcome, is not enough.

“I don’t think we can effectively and meaningfully determine [the best approach] without a much more thorough process of consultation and discussion,” she said.

This meeting was part of a consultation process, but one guided by a Board of Governors motion that asks for a narrow scope, tying the decision to the university’s Education Plan and Strategic Enrollment Plan. One argument that those documents do not cover is the pedagogical approach that Borrows says the Writing Centre, more than the ASC, upheld.

“Without the support and trust of faculty, any effort to support student writing is not only likely to fail, but to devolve to a model that sees students as somehow deficient in their writing and as disconnected from meaningful disciplinary engagement,” she said.

Both SUS president Thomas Davies, who spoke from an audience chair, and director of teaching and learning Maureen Wideman repeated UFV’s wording that the change will expand the service.

“The SUS board was unanimously behind this transition to an ASC because of the much broader range of support it provides,” Davies said, referring to SUS’s expression of position on the change following a presentation from UFV administration.

After confirming with acting APPC chair Peter Geller that there will also be an accredited instructor at the ASC, Davies said the retention of faculty and staff positions, some of which have yet to be filled, means the ASC will maintain the Writing Centre’s way of helping students as it adds peer tutoring service.

“That was one of the points that was important to us, and is one of the reasons we were okay with this decision,” Davies said.

After thanking ESL instructor Sandra Smith for beginning work in the Academic Success Centre, Wideman described how professionals will potentially be in contact with students.

“Students that require extra help will be assessed and a learning plan developed,” she said. “It won’t be as good as having five 20-year writing veterans. It won’t be as good as that, but we will try to be as good as we can.”

Dana Landry, who also worked in the Writing Centre, commented on how preliminary training will not prepare student tutors for many of the demands of helping students with their work.

“It [takes] a long time, and part of that is also the emotional and professional sophistication of helping people with writing,” she said. “Writing is a very, very deep personal activity. It took a lot of learning in terms of managing people’s emotions … I simply don’t feel students are necessarily prepared for it — I’m not saying students can’t do it, but it’s learned through mentoring [and] it’s learned through working with other faculty members.”

Program development co-ordinator Sylvie Murray asked Borrows how UFV’s Writing Centre compared to other institutions.

“I would say that UFV’s Writing Centre was somewhat unique in having faculty who did the one-on-one consultations with students,” Borrows said. “That used to be more common; it has become less common over time.”

Student writing services differ among BC universities. At SFU’s Student Learning Commons, staff and writing facilitators hold either a master’s degree or a PhD. UBC’s Writing Centre is instructor-focused, offering writing-specific courses. Tutoring is facilitated by the AMS, the UBC student society. Kwantlen, comparable to UFV in size, has a Learning Centre with tutors and 11 staff members. UNBC’s Academic Success Centre runs with a staff of three and a mix of undergraduate and graduate tutors.

Two other student presentations preceded Borrows. Rebekah Bergen presented with Natasha Smith, representing the “Save UFV” group that organized the student protest. While questions from committee members queried how informed the average petition-signer would have been about the ASC, Bergen said students were generally aware, and that the amount of interest in the future of the Writing Centre was uncommon at UFV. “The amount of signatures that we have in our petition is over double the amount of students that decided to vote in the last Student Union election, which I think speaks to its legitimacy as a representation of student opinion,” Bergen said.

Fourth-year student Owen Coulter also presented. “How do you expect academic excellence when fourth-year students are replacing employees who have 20 years of experience, a wealth of knowledge, and master’s degrees?” he said. However, Coulter’s presentation contained inaccuracies about how appointments at the ASC would work, as well as the financial reasoning of university administration. Geller, who chaired the meeting, reminded Coulter that presentations are not intended to act as provocations. “The purpose here isn’t to make rebuttals and prove points; we’re trying to have some further information for APPC,” Geller said, after which Coulter walked out of the room.

The main takeaway for most APPC members is the documents now made available to the committee from administration, including a statement from VP students Jody Gordon. An APPC sub-committee, composed of Michelle Rhodes, Farideh Kheradmand, Melissa Walter, Sylvie Murray, Colleen Gingerich, and Peter Geller will organize and synthesize the material so that it applies directly to the motions that APPC has been directed to use as the basis for their recommendation. That recommendation will be decided on at the next meeting of the committee, on May 13.

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