4.0326 More on UTexas Writing Course: Part II (1/207)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Fri, 27 Jul 90 17:21:36 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0326. Friday, 27 Jul 1990.

Date: Friday, 27 July 1990 6:17am CST
From: John Slatin <EIEB360@UTXVM.BITNET>
Subject: What's Going On At Texas

Short answer: God only knows. Long answer follows.

A number of people have asked for clarification of the circumstances
attending my recent posting, "Bad News about the Texas Writing
Curriculum" (or whatever I called it). What follows is hastily
composed, on-line, and therefore longer-winded and messier than it
probably ought to be; it is also biased. I am an interested party: a
member of the Lower Division English Policy Committee which voted to
authorize development of the new syllabus back in April (that is, we
voted back in April to authorize...), and a member of the ad hoc group
of faculty and graduate students who've spent much of the summer
developing the syllabus. I am therefore annoyed at having my work
suddenly run into a wall. But I will do my best to describe things as
clearly as I know how.

The first thing I need to make clear, I think, is that we teach
approximately 100-120 sections of the first-semester writing course a
year, with each section enrolling roughly 25 students (that's the
maximum allowed). Since 1985, when the 66 Lecturers were fired in a
single coup by then-chairman W.O.S. Sutherland (who approached the
Executive Committee the following day and asked for ratification of his
act; and got it; I am ashamed to say I was on the EC at that time and
voted with him despite my reservations)-- since what's come to be known
as the Texas Massacre, virtually all sections of our required
first-semester writing course have been taught by graduate students with
the title of Assistant Instructor (i.e., they've completed their MAs and
are working toward Ph.D.). That's still the case. Until recently, the
"syllabus" they followed, more or less, was more or less a syllabus
written by myself and a colleague and the then-Freshman English Policy
Committee (the Lower Division Program is a conflation of two formerly
separate ones, Freshman English [Writing] and Sophomore Literature
Policy Committee [guess what]; said conflation having been intended to
subordinate Freshman Writing to Sophomore Literature and thus restore
the Natural Order of Things, i.e., the demise of writing instruction as
a significant aspect of Life In the English Department). The point of
all that is that we had, in effect, no mechanisms for supervision and
evaluation of writing instruction, no real way of maintaining
consistency at any level: material, nature and quality of writing
assignments, grading criteria, grading systems-- nothing. I'm entitled
to say this because I am in part responsible for having created the
situation, or having allowed it to go on, or something. When Brodkey
joined the faculty and assumed the Directorship of the Lower Division
program, she was quite properly horrified at the state of things (she
came to us, as some of you will no doubt know, from the Grad School of
Education at Penn; she has a deep and abiding commitment to
professinalism in instruction and, unlike me, she actually knows
something about what that might mean). What distressed her most was
that we had no common syllabus, and therefore nothing to be consistent
about (she might of course describe this differently).

During the Spring semester (of this past year), the Lower Division Policy
Committee voted to approve the addition of the new DC Heath Anthology of
American Literature to the list of texts available for use by Assistant
Instructors teaching E 316K, the sophomore introduction to literature
course (of which there are 3 flavors right now: Masterworks of British
Lit, Masterworks of American Lit, and Masterworks of World Lit-- "world"
meaning European, in most cases, and "British" and "American" meaning
canonical texts as enshrined in the Norton Anthologies of etc.) While
many of us expressed reservations about the Heath anthology
(particularly concerning the adequacy of the critical apparatus), the
committee voted to approve its adoption as an acceptable alternative to
the Norton, which, along with the almost identical (to the Norton)
Macmillan anthology, would continue to be available to any AI who
preferred it. For those who haven't seen it, the Heath anthology, edited
by Paul Lauter, makes a deliberate effort both to expand the corpus of
American literature by including the work of Native Americans, Hispanics,
African-Americans, and other groups not generally well represented in
conventional literature courses (or in the Norton); the Heath anthology
is designed to emphasize difference and cultural diversity, while the
Norton is designed rather to suggest a common cultural heritage and thus
to de-emphasize the marks of difference. One member of the committee
expressed disappointment with the Heath anthology on the grounds that in
the name of diversity it enshrined a political agenda and
disenfranchised European ethnic groups; as a consequence, he voted
against the adoption.

Several weeks later, Linda Brodkey called a meeting of the Lower Division
English Policy Committee (sorry, I don't have the minutes in front of me
so don't have the exact dates; I'll get them if anyone cares). At that
meeting, she proposed a new syllabus for the existing first-semester
writing course; that syllabus, she said, would center on the theme of
difference. Readings would be drawn from civil rights cases pertaining
to Titles VII and IX, with supplementary material in Paula S.
Rosenberg's collection _Sexism and Racism_ (St. Martin's), a text
designed for sociology courses. There would also be a handbook,
Hairston and Ruszkiewicz's _Scott, Foresman Handbook_, and a packet of
photocpied material that would include material on exploratory discourse
by James Kinneavy as well as material on argumentation adapted from
Stephen Toulmin's work on claims, grounds, and warranting.

Although there had been at least a week's notice about the meeting and
its purpose, one member-- the same one who had voted against the D.C.
Heath adoption-- missed the meeting, later saying that he had thought it
was scheduled for the following day. He sent a memorandum outlining 8
objections to the proposal; the memorandum was circulated to the
committee and, though we had already taken a preliminary vote to approve
development of the proposed new syllabus, Brodkey re-convened the
committee in order to give this member an opportunity to defends his
objections in open forum. He did so, and was joined by a second member.
Another vote was taken, and this time the result was 4-2 in favor of the
proposed new syllabus. I should mention, by the way-- not at all by the
way, really-- that Brodkey had already informed both department chair
Joseph Kruppa and Dean Standish Meacham of her desire to implement this
program, and had received indication of support from them provided that
she had the approval of the Lower Division English Policy Committee.

Where are we now... OK, we have a 4-2 vote from the Lower Division
English Policy Committee authorizing the development of the new syllabus
centering on difference, with readings from the Rothenberg volume
_Racism and Sexism_ plus a packet of photocopied materials, plus the
Hairston/Ruszkiewicz _Handbook_. Several committee members, myself
included, volunteered to participate in developing the syllabus; later
on, an invitation was issued to any graduate student who might be
interested to join in the process. The syllabus writing group was
composed of four faculty members and eight graduate students; we met at
least once a week, beginning in May and continuing until this past
Monday, 23 July.

I should also add that early in May, the Chair called a department
meeting. At that meeting, a majority of members present expressed an
interest in modifying the sophomore literature offerings to reflect the
Eurocentric orientation of the current "World" literature variant, and
finding a way to broaden the representative character of the courses.
Then the meeting was turned over to Brodkey, who outlined the proposed
new syllabus for first-year writing course (the goal here was to inform
both facutly and graduate students about the planned changes in the
syllabus). The associate chair, Wayne Lesser, suggested that the new
syllabus would perhaps be more credible in the eyes of the University
community (rumblings of protest had been heard from outside the
department: the Psychology department was especially incensed that we
would consider using a sociology text in an English course; so were some
sociologists; so were the two members of the Lower Division Committee
who had voted against the syllabus changes and, having lost, had taken
their case to the campus newspaper and other campus and off-campus
organizations)-- the new syllabus, Lesser suggested, might have more
credibility if a number of faculty expressed an interest in teaching it.
I raised my hand to volunteer, and was followed by quite a few
colleagues: I believe 8 of us were scheduled to teach the new syllabus
in the Fall semester, and an approximately equal number had requested to
teach the course in Spring 91. It would be impossible to overemphasize
the unusual character of this situation: faculty members who for years
had resisted any suggestion that faculty ought to be involved in
teaching first-year writing were signing up in large numbers to teach
the new syllabus. And they-- we-- were signing up *because* of the new

Work on the new syllabus continued throughout May, June, and July. So
did opposition. Publicly at least, that opposition was led by Professor
Alan Gribben, an Americanist, an expert on Mark Twain, who had int he
past served as chair of the Graduate Studies Program-- this was during
the "Rhetoric Wars," when the Lecturers were being axed and the
Literature Wing was in the ascendancy. Gribben has been writing
constantly to the campus newspaper and to the Austin paper, contending
that the course represents a form of "thought control" and an attempt by
the radical left to politicize what ought to a course devoted solely to
"writing."He has been joined in his crusade by John Ruszkiewicz (who has
not, however, asked that the Handbook he co-authored with Maxine
Hairston be withdrawn from the required texts for the course) and Maxine
Hairston (whose public opposition has taken the form of adding her
signature to a paid advertisement appearing int he campus newspaper and
signed by 55 other faculty members (there are well over 2200 faculty
members at UT Austin)-- 7 from the English Department, a multitude from
Psychology, and many from various Engineering Departments, all of course
*well* known for the abiding interest in writing instruction).

I omitted to say that in early July (I think it was early July; it may
have been late June; again, I can get dates if anyone wants them),
Brodkey and the syllabus writing group concluded that the Rothenberg
text (_Sexism and Racism_) was unworkable-- not because the opponents of
the course continued to demand its removal, but because it did not fit
into the syllabus as it was evolving by then; in particular, the essays
in Rothenberg's collection didn't provide the kind of contextual
material we thought would be most useful in helping students understand
the issues at stake in the court cases), and Brodkey and Kruppa acted to
withdraw the textbook and rescind the order that had been placed with
St. Martin's Press. Now given the vehemence of the opposition to the
book (I had spent an hour one afternoon trying to calm the Chair of
Psychology, who cornered me at a cocktail reception and seemed headed
for a stroke), one would think the announcement that it had been dropped
would have met with resounding approval from those who had demanded that
it *be* dropped. But the response was instead the now-often-repeated
charge that the syllabus writing group was doing its work in "secrecy,"
and refusing to tell anyone what we were doing.

Now it is true that we had not published either the draft syllabus or the
table of contents for the packet of materials with which the Rothenberg
text was to be replaced: the draft syllabus was still just that, a
draft, not yet coherent in our own minds, not yet ready for publication
(and there's no precedent at this University for asking people to
publish their syllabi); we were still awaiting receipt of various
permissions, sot he contents of the readings packet were still unsettled.

On Monday of this week (that's the 23), the syllabus writing group was
to meet to hammer out the final details of the syllabus and begin
thinking through the orientation program that was to be offered August
20-24 to all those teaching the course. The Department Chairman came to
the meeting and read us the memo from Dean Meacham announcing
postponement of the syllabus.

Tonight, the local PBS affiliate will air a debate (I guess that's what
it is) among Prof. Gribben, speaking for the opposition, and Profs.
Elizabeth Fernea (a member of the Lower Divison Policy COmmittee) and
Ramon Saldivar, an expert on Mexican-American narrative.

This ain't over by a long shot. I apologize for the inordinate length
of this message, and hope it clarifies the circumstances.
John Slatin, UT Austin