Faculty set sights on UNST writings requirements

A committee is working on a proposal to add new writing standards for students that would have university advisers help some incoming freshmen choose a course meant to help boost their writing aptitude.

Correction Appended

A committee is working on a proposal to add new writing standards for students that would have university advisers help some incoming freshmen choose a course meant to help boost their writing aptitude.

The University Writing Committee (UWC) has been working on the proposal that would place students with low ACT or SAT scores in writing classes, according to committee chair and PSU director of writing Hildy Miller. She said students currently select a Freshman Inquiry course, or FRINQ, to fulfill their general education requirements, as part of what she called a self-placement system.

If the proposal were adopted, it would augment the current system by having students with low-test scores take a writing course based on their writing abilities. She said the proposal is not the result of a particular problem, but that the UWC has been working on it as an ongoing project. The proposal has not yet been submitted for the approval of groups such as the Faculty Senate, she said, and that it is still too early to comment on its future.

Ryan Klute, student mentor and student government member, said he formed a six-member committee earlier this year to draft a proposal requesting changes to the FRINQ program. He said the proposal calls for FRINQ professors to recommend a writing course that students would be required to take after their first term in order to graduate.

Klute said he may not submit the mentor committee’s proposal if the UWC proposal is enacted. He said he feels the two proposals would achieve the same goal. If the mentor committee’s proposal were submitted, it would first go through Ann Marie Fallon, FRINQ coordinator and professor. Fallon refused to comment on the status of either proposal.

Faculty response to possible UNST changes

Faculty members have said they recognize concerns about FRINQ writing curricula. Elisabeth Ceppi, chair of the English Department, said she feels the problem with teaching writing in FRINQ is that writing is not inherently a part of the program.

“No matter how talented the University Studies professor may be, they necessarily lack the experience to weigh in as writing professors,” Ceppi said.

Miller said the mentor committee proposal is not related to the UWC proposal and that the latter proposal is not a response to any faults or failures of the FRINQ writing standards. Regular concerns about student writing abilities have existed since PSU implemented University Studies 14 years ago, she said.

“Complaints about student writing is always a concern. Learning to write is a developmental process, and it’s not something that has a blanket answer,” Miller said, adding that the UWC proposal would “only affect a small number of incoming freshmen.”

A survey is being distributed this year to all undergraduate students to determine attitudes about writing education at PSU, Miller said, and the survey results may be published as early as next year.

Mentors and students discuss writing within UNST

Jason Baidenmann, a mentor for a FRINQ course called “Power and Imagination,” said he has seen students struggle with the writing process, and that he and professor Alisha Cohen refer those students to the PSU Writing Center. Baidenmann said he believes more basic writing courses should be required, though he and fellow University Studies mentors already do work to keep students’ writing up to par.

“When I see a student struggling with their writing work, I push them in the direction of the Writing Center, tell them to consider taking an actual writing course, talk to our professor, anything to help a student so new to the university from losing their footing because of FRINQ,” said Nicole Bonneau, a mentor for the “Ways of Knowing” course. “Some changes might need to happen, but I think the community sense of FRINQ is what makes it succeed, including that students choose their own courses.”

Elise Jacks, who took the “On Democracy” FRINQ course last year with professor Christopher Carey, said she feels a professor makes all the difference in how successful students’ writing is in University Studies.

“He [Carey] was amazing, and he really motivated students to do the writing. He would stay after class and make himself available, though I have had friends say FRINQ was worthless because the professor wasn’t engaging,” Jacks said. “I would trust a professor who has a writing background to place me, but I’d need to know that professor is actually aware of my abilities.”

Sophomore Lolly Allsop had another University Studies experience.

“My FRINQ professor basically ignored me. My mentor didn’t ever discuss the specifics of writing with our peer group,” Allsop said. “I hated it. I always felt behind. I was told a lot, ‘Here’s a subject. Now write it in MLA,’ and that was it. I feel better knowing I’m in control of my writing classes, not someone who has zero interest in me.”

This article has been altered to reflect the following corrections:

Correction: March 5, 2008The Vanguard incorrectly reported how incoming freshmen with low scores on SAT or ACT tests would select the writing classes they plan to take at Portland State in the March 5 article, “Faculty set sights on UNST writing requirements.” If the idea mentioned in the story were enacted, PSU advisors would help students choose which English or Linguistics classes would best suit their writing abilities, according to Hildy Miller, director of writing at PSU. Faculty will not choose the classes for the students, Miller said.

The same article incorrectly implied that the university will only survey Freshmen Inquiry students to determine students’ attitudes and experiences pertaining to writing at PSU. The survey will question all undergraduate students.

The article also incorrectly implied that the University Studies program is not involved in the University Writing Committee. Faculty from disciplines and departments throughout the university, including University Studies, participate in the University Writing Committee and have been involved in all discussions and proposals pertaining to the committee. The writing committee is similar to the many other committees at PSU, having worked on assessing issues pertaining to writing at Portland State for many years.

The article incorrectly implied that there is currently no writing placement system for students. The proposal would augment the current system, not create a new one or replace the current system.

The same article misspelled the name of the Freshman Inquiry mentor who works with professor Alisha Cohen. He is Jason Baidenmann, not Baydenmann.