Professor Moussu Speaks Out on Centre for Writers Changes Sought by Faculty of Arts (Open Letter)

Dear colleagues,

I would like to address two important points about the announced changes regarding the C4W: first, how it affects my career, and second, how it affects tutors in the C4W.

First, my career: I would like you to imagine a UofA Biologist, who works in her lab and conducts research projects with her research assistants and her participants. She teaches courses related to her research, gets grants for her research, mentors her graduate students through their studies, hires and train the best research assistants, recruits participants according to best practices and research ethics, presents and discusses her results at national and international conferences (often with her students), and publishes her results in peer reviewed journals (sometimes as co-author with her students). Every year, she writes an annual report about her work, gets evaluated by her peers at the UofA, and gets excellent feedback—one year, she even got tenure!

And then one day, she is told that she can no longer work in her lab. She can go inside her lab and watch what happens, but she can’t be the Principal Investigator anymore, can’t work with her research assistants, can’t recruit or interact with participants, and can’t decide what is or isn’t being done in the lab.

This is exactly what has happened to me and to my “lab.” Writing centre research takes places in the writing centre itself and is about the DAILY LIFE of the writing centre, about all its aspects, including recruiting, teaching, supervising, evaluating, and mentoring tutors, organizing events and activities (like the LNAP), programming workshops and writing groups, assessing the effectiveness of our work, collaborating with other units (such as International Student Services and the Bridging Program), developing new ways to support native and non-native writers of English, involving tutors and students in research, providing professional development to tutors, etc. Writing centre scholarship needs to be conducted from the INSIDE, not from the outside. Therefore, my research opportunities have effectively been ripped away from me—I, a tenured faculty member in a research university, an internationally recognized writing centre scholar with advanced expertise in second language writing, am no longer allowed to conduct my own research. Other people with other areas of expertise (e.g., TESL or Education) may be able to conduct discrete research projects in the C4W in the future, but WRITING CENTRE RESEARCH can no longer be conducted, and I have therefore lost my ability to do the academic work for which I was hired.

Second, tutors in the C4W: the current “tutoring program” of the C4W includes encouraging my undergraduate and graduate tutors—who come from various departments and faculties across campus—to conduct research projects on their own and collaboratively with me, to write articles that link writing to their own disciplines, to develop and lead workshops and writing groups, to support UofA’s bridging program students, to become involved in professional organizations, and to present at writing centre conferences. I have taken my tutors to several national and international conferences where they have presented their projects and ideas, received leadership awards, learned from experts from around the world, and been able to add these experiences to their lives as undergraduate and graduate students and future professionals (and their CVs). I have successfully applied for grants for my writing centre work (at the UofA, nationally, and internationally) and included my tutors in my research projects, invited world-renowned guest speakers to the UofA for my tutors, and just last week, organized a national conference on writing centre work that involved a great number of my current and past tutors. Two of my graduate tutors are now serving on the Canadian Writing Centres Association executive board.

The proposed new “tutoring program” under Student Services will not allow for any of this to continue to happen. Instead of being perceived as and mentored to become future professionals and scholars, tutors will simply be perceived as employees. As one quick example, no tutoring sessions were scheduled for two days last week in order to allow C4W tutors to attend the national writing centre conference being held in Calgary. Although I remain Director of the C4W until June 30th, the decision not to schedule tutoring sessions on those two days was sharply criticized by those who already perceive the tutors only as employees providing a student service.

In addition, the tutoring course that I developed at the undergraduate and graduate levels and have very successfully taught for the last seven years will no longer be taught by someone who is an expert in writing centre scholarship, Second Language Writing, Writing in the Disciplines, and Composition/Writing Studies theories. As a result, future tutors will no longer receive the training and knowledge of theories and best practices that they need to help UofA students adequately, ethically, and efficiently in the future C4W. These two courses went through governance in the Faculty of Arts with supporting materials that made clear that they were to be taught by the current Director of the C4W. In addition, the tutors assigned to Bridging Program sections of WRS 101 (in a collaborative project that helped WRS 101 win an international award) will no longer receive intensive training and supervision from me in working with ESL student writers.

I don’t usually toot my own horn, but I believe I have done a darn good job in the last seven years. This university should be proud of what this writing centre has become under my leadership and of all the work my tutors and I have accomplished for the UofA students and faculty members, as well as the national and international field of writing centre theory and practice. And you just can’t separate a highly qualified and internationally respected leader from her team and then claim that the C4W will improve, let alone even remain the same.

Thank you.

Lucie Moussu

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One Response to Professor Moussu Speaks Out on Centre for Writers Changes Sought by Faculty of Arts (Open Letter)

  1. Anne Savage says:

    Thanks for explaining this carefully. I sympathize, and wrote earlier to protest these changes. I’m interested in any further follow-up discussion.
    Anne Savage, Department of English & Cultural Studies, McMaster University

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