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.

Disrupting General Education

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) is holding another “institute” next summer on “General Education and Assessment.”  All the usual caveats associated with anything in higher education that uses the word “assessment” apply, but it’s almost certainly the sort of thing that some folks at some institutions will think is a great way to spend $8,000 or so.  Don’t say we were not warned!

That said, the following document was attached to the web page describing the program, apparently a handout from last year’s institute.  It includes some crisply written scenarios for provoking discussion about gen ed.  The ideas mentioned capture the broad diversity of American higher  education institutions well.  They might be too broad to be optimally useful for a given institution, but could provide a model for cooking up some that would be.

Here’s LINK in case frames don’t work.