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Communications program proposed to Faculty Senate

By Nicole Zhao     11/9/11 6:00pm

Writing at Rice may receive a remodel in the near future. A faculty working group presented a proposal for a new communications program at the Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 2.

Faculty Senator Helena Michie and her fellow group members proposed their outline for the creation of a comprehensive program in written, oral and visual communication at the meeting, though the Senate postponed voting on the proposal until its next meeting on Nov. 30.

A separate Faculty Senate working group formed in 2010 to assess the state of writing instruction at Rice and recommended an external review be conducted. Three communication experts visited Rice in the spring of 2011 and made recommendations for the creation of a communications program. In the early fall 2011, the current faculty working group formed to write a final proposal for the program. The current group is chaired by Michie, an English professor, and consists of five other professors across several disciplines, a graduate student representative and an undergraduate student representative.

The committee's proposed Program in Writing and Communication has three components. One is a varied offering of topic-oriented, communication-intensive First-Year Writing Seminars, Michie said. Instead of taking the current composition exam and subsequent COMM class, incoming students would be required to take an FWS, which would count toward distribution credit. Unlike current COMM classes, the seminars will focus on specific topics and range in academic fields from engineering to music. Tenure-track faculty, contingent faculty and advanced graduate students will voluntarily teach the courses.

"Writing at Rice is seen as a remedial activity," Michie said. "We on the committee feel that everyone, regardless of skill level, can learn to write better."

If the proposed PWC is created, the working group plans to have it operational by fall 2012.

A second component of the proposed program is the establishment of a Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication, with its own director and website. The center will allocate space for one-on-one meetings between instructors and undergraduates seeking help; rooms for workshops for faculty, undergraduates and graduates; space for video and digital equipment; and offices for its staff. The center would also offer English as a Second Language support for graduate students.

"We imagine the center to be a vibrant and visible place whose programming would respond to the needs of undergraduates, graduates and faculty members," Michie said.

The working group suggested renovating and using space on the second floor of Fondren Library for the proposed center. The group hopes to appoint an interim director and a staff member for the center and have it operating by fall 2012. The group would like to appoint a permanent director of the center, house the center in a larger space and employ 10 to 12 staff members by 2015.

The third component of the PWC will be a "communications in the discipline" component that would not formally be established until 2015.

This component will be a required upper-level curricular element involving field-specific communications instruction. It will be offered in every discipline to undergraduate and graduate students and will be developed over the next few years.

English professor and member of the working group Terrence Doody said having a centralized resource for communications is crucial for Rice.

"Rice has to say very emphatically, ‘Our students must know how to write, and we must teach them how to do so,' and we don't," Doody said.

Michie agreed, saying there is a lack of formal instruction and institutional support for writing at Rice.

"Every profession requires communication skills, and we are not teaching them in a systematic way," she said.

Estevan Delgado, the undergraduate student representative, said the program will be beneficial to the university.

"Merging writing with the communications aspect, in particular, is what would make the writing program unique to Rice," Delgado, a Duncan College junior and Student Association Senator, said.

Martel sophomore Jon Hua said the program would help him greatly if implemented.

"I'm a pre-law student. With law, the ability to communicate effectively and think logically can set you apart from everybody else," Hua said. "Requiring everybody to become educated in the essential skill of communication is a great idea."

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