story | Alysha Chandra, Editor and Ambika Madan, Staff Writer
photo | Yale-NUS Public Affairs
Ed: A previous version of the article stated that an increased support for academic writing and the end of Director Robin Hemley and Deputy Director Heidi Stalla’s terms were among the changes recommended in the Writers’ Centre review announcement email. We have removed the word ‘recommended’ as this applies to the increased support for academic writing, while the decision(s) regarding the Director and Deputy Director’s terms was made by the Dean of Faculty. We apologize for any confusion caused.
Change is in the air for the Writers’ Centre, following a recent review that stirred controversy in the student body. The changes, namely the ends of Director Robin Hemley and Deputy Director Heidi Stalla’s terms at the center and an increased support for academic writing, were announced by an email from Dean of Faculty Joanne Roberts over recess week. Since then, the changes and the way they were communicated to students have been cited as a source of concern by students, including those involved in last week’s sit-in.
The review was conducted by Associate Dean of Faculty (Faculty Development) Naoko Shimazu and external consultants Richard Deming (Yale University) and Joseph Bizup (Boston University). The review panel consulted students and faculty. The changes based on their recommendations were decided upon by the academic committee, which includes the Division Directors (Professor Rajeev Patke, Professor Steve Pointing and Professor John Driffill), Director of the Common Curriculum Professor Terry Nardin, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs) Steven Bernasek and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Professor Khoo Hoon Eng.
There will be increased support for academic writing and for students who speak English as a second language (ESL) at the center, as well as more programs to engage with faculty to develop programming to support writing in the common curriculum and all the disciplines. According to Ms. Roberts, this is the result of findings in the review that suggested the current pedagogy of the Writers’ Centre is not what academic research and best practice might suggest for students with more significant writing challenges and that it has not developed the diversity of programs needed to support our increasingly diverse community. Ms. Roberts stressed that creative writing will remain in the center, saying that there is “no intention to reduce the importance of creative writing on campus”.
As Mr. Hemley and Ms. Stalla’s terms at the Writers’ Centre are ending, Professor Steven Green will become the interim director for the next academic year. Karen Gosselink, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Writing and Academic Strategies at Yale will come down to consult on a 50% contract in the next academic year, which means that she will work 50% of the time for the next academic year, spending some time remotely in New Haven. Ms. Gosselink, who Ms. Roberts confirms is an expert in writing pedagogy, will also visit Yale-NUS in April to meet with students and faculty.
Ms. Roberts later explained that although Ms. Stalla had previously led the ESL program at NYU Abu Dhabi, she made the decision to end Ms. Stalla’s term as Deputy Director as she did not want Ms. Stalla to have too much administrative work since she was on track to obtaining tenure. Ms. Roberts said, “This is an important responsibility we have as an institution—to insulate our pre-tenure faculty from overly onerous admin work, so they can focus on the work that matters for promotion and tenure—teaching and research”. In an email interview with The Octant, Ms. Stalla wrote, “I am still working through the recent changes; they were not expected”. She wrote that it was still unclear what her role in the Center would be going forward, but she “hopes writing as a critical and creative process will continue to thrive.”
The review also called for establishing creative writing as a named track within the Arts and Humanities major, with Mr. Hemley heading this track. Ms. Roberts also said that Mr. Hemley will still control part of the Writers’ Centre budget, as well as a curricular budget within the Arts and Humanities major. However, she mentioned that the Writers’ Centre will use some of its funds to support non-creative writing activities as well. Mr. Hemley says that he has met with Mr. Green and will likely meet more in the future to discuss the Centre.
Ms. Roberts also said that she has had discussions with the existing writing fellows, Lawrence Ypil and Carissa Foo, about extending their contracts, which were initially planned to end in 2019. The college is also advertising for more writing fellows, and while this call is centered on recruiting more diverse group of lecturers who can provide support across the majors, they are considering including creative writers in the team as well. Mr. Hemley said, “[The Writers’ Centre] also tried to hire lecturers in the past in the social sciences but for various reasons, these didn’t work out. We had three creative writers in part because they were able to do double duty as tutors and teachers of creative writing.” The college doubled the funds allocated to Writers’ Centre peer tutors after receiving the report, and is open to further increases in the program. Ms. Roberts said that she hopes to get peer tutors from a more diverse group of majors than before.
Before Ms. Roberts sent out the email, rumors began circulating throughout the student body, starting with a post made on Feb. 26 in a student Facebook group saying that the “creative end of the Writer’s Centre was being jettisoned,” its “heads were reassigned to other positions”, and that it was being repurposed into an “academic consultation centre”. A petition calling for a town hall was made on the same day, citing “wide structural changes” at the Writers’ Centre and the lack of “official correspondence” regarding the changes among other issues.
Ms. Roberts was in New Haven at the time and sent out a one-page email to students briefly outlining the changes in response to the student outcry. Subsequently, a two hour long discussion session with students was held on March 7, further clarifying the rationale behind the changes being made and the role of creative writing in the college.
Ms. Roberts has since said that there are “many things she regrets about the rollout” and that she should have met with students before they received the white paper over email. For the review of the Arts and Humanities major, which took place at around the same time as the Writers’ Centre review, Ms. Roberts has said that she is planning a meeting with Arts and Humanities majors to explain the results of the review and get their feedback before making a school-wide announcement. This meeting will be held soon.
Ms. Roberts said, “This review and its recommendations in no way diminishes what has been achieved in the last five years. We have a dynamic community of writers. We need to continue the initiatives that are working so beautifully in order to nurture the community that has been built and to consider how to make the centre more inclusive and its mission more expansive as we move forward. How we achieve these lofty goals is an important conversation that is beginning now and I invite faculty and student engagement.”