Take "writing across the curriculum" seriously and reduce messy GE subsidies

Imagine an institution in which the English department offers each year 13 or so sections of a “rhetoric and composition” course enrolling about 200 students for a 1.25 semester credits. These credits are covered exclusively by adjuncts. Suppose this represents about 18% of the department’s total credit production and it is produced by about 12% of its FTE. Having guaranteed enrollment and deploying only adjunct labor to teach it might amount to a “GE subsidy” that is messy in that it might allow departments to appear artificially more efficient.

The institution currently believes it is experiencing an “under deployment” of its tenured and tenure track faculty. This is perceived to be especially true in a few departments.

The institution has for many years flirted with variations on “writing across the curriculum,” but has never seriously implemented a program based on that idea for beginning students.

Proposal: all introductory rhetoric and composition classes will be taught by tenured and tenure track faculty in departments across the college. The college will make the fact that “freshman comp” is taught exclusively by full time faculty one pillar of its brand.


  • Since instructors will inevitably draw on their own discipline and the majors they teach in, the first year comp course will effect broad liberal arts exposure for all first year students, can serve as a second gateway to possible majors in addition to intro courses. 
  • Having instructors of these courses spend a little time together will yield the elusive cross-program collaboration that will almost certainly have healthy knock-on effects. 
  • The program undercuts the tendency of students to think of writing as something associated with English courses but not others. 
  • Majors could permit inclusion of the writing class as an elective reducing the need to staff electives. 

The FTE deployment will be managed and incentivized by a fair algorithm that favorably adjusts departmental credit hour production expectations to account for the size limits on composition classes.

NOTE: technically, this move INCREASES the cost of staffing first year composition since TTT faculty are more expensive. But if the perception that these faculty are currently under-utilized, then this can be a cost effective solution.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at MinervaProject.com. I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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