Senate group to examine composition program change

Academic Senate Chair Jeff Gibeling will ask a Senate committee to explore the possibility of moving UC Davis' writing composition program out of the university's English department.

Under several suggestions made by Senate members, the interdisciplinary program would stand as a separate department or unit, as do programs at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Cruz, according to UC Davis composition program head Gary Sue Goodman.

"The English Department would be able to grow its own faculty without diminishing composition program lecturers," said Kent Ono, associate professor of American and Asian American studies.

Gibeling made the recommendation Monday afternoon at the end of almost two hours of discussion at a special Academic Senate meeting examining the role of lecturers at UC Davis. The meeting was requested through a petition distributed by the Davis Faculty Association, an independent dues-paying organization representing about 200 faculty members. The petition was signed by 51 Academic Senate members.

The faculty members feel that Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies Dean Elizabeth Langland's decision to restrict the number of English department lecturers hired in order to increase the number of tenure-track faculty members may have infringed on the Senate's "primacy in curricular issues."

Since the 1980s, once lecturers - who teach composition, language and other general education classes on campus - had taught for six years, they were eligible for consideration for a three-year contract. They would then undergo a rigorous review of their work, and those who received excellent feedback were then considered for longer term employment. This year Langland's decision affects four lecturers in HArCS whose contracts will not be renewed at the end of the year.

"Not extending these contracts will affect …the ability of various units to deliver instruction, and actions that affect instructional quality and delivery should be reviewed by the Academic Senate," the petition letter read.

Langland noted that HArCS currently employs 161 lecturers, 52 of whom hold three-year contracts, with 24 of the 52 employed by the English department.

"I don't anticipate a change there," she said. "We've made an ongoing, continuing commitment to a large number of lecturers."

The crowd of about 70 Senate faculty members, lecturers and a few students who gathered at the University Club Monday spoke almost universally in support of retaining the lecturers. Many lecturers, faculty members said, offered special expertise in helping students develop professional writing skills. Lecturers, too, they said, often develop a closer rapport with students than busy tenured faculty members do.

"I would kill for reviews like these," said English professor Peter Hays, who has served on committees evaluating lecturers' performance. "They are superb teachers."

Other audience members questioned whether post-doctoral fellows, at UC Davis on two-year posts, would have the same campus loyalty as lecturers do. And others questioned the ethics of not providing long-term contracts to those who expected their meritorious service would earn continued appointments.

"You ask legitimate questions," said Langland, who attended the meeting with fellow deans from the College of Letters and Science, Peter Rock and Steven Sheffrin. "Will the changes affect the quality of the instruction? Yes, I expect the changes to improve the curriculum."

The additional junior faculty members and post-doctoral fellows she hopes to hire are technologically savvy and enthusiastic about teaching, Langland said.

"I have tried to ease the transition as much as possible for the few lecturers affected by the changes I have initiated, but I have to think about the future of our programs, the future of UC Davis," she said after the meeting. "UC standards are not being upheld by investing so heavily in lecturers at the expense of ladder faculty."

Law professor Martha West said she appreciated Langland's commitment to increasing the size of the ladder-rank faculty at UC Davis. That would offer women the chance to compete for more Senate positions, she said, noting that women comprise 60 percent of the lecturers on campus but only 23 percent of ladder-rank faculty. "The lecturer ranks have become a ghetto for women," West said.

John Vohs, communications lecturer and former director of the Teaching Resource Center, warned that the Senate faculty "is backing away from its commitment to undergraduate education" and would be "hugely embarrassed when the curtain is pulled away" to reveal that lecturers are "the continuity, the soul of the whole thing."

He encouraged the Senate to resume its consideration of the Zender Report, which advocates ways to strengthen the campus's writing program. "Make it move," Vohs said. "It's not that complicated."

Gibeling said he hopes the Committee on Educational Policy can begin discussing the composition issues by the end of the academic year. "The issue is how to make sure the Senate retains some control of the composition program, wherever it goes."

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