Staff Editorial: Clearer standards needed for writing-intensive classes

Each student at Lawrence is required to take at least one class that is designated as either speaking-or writing-intensive. In regard to the writing-intensive designation, specifically, many students have expressed confusion about or frustration with the fact that some classes which seem like they should be considered writing-intensive are not, while others which do not seem like they would be considered writing-intensive are. For example, the vast majority of English classes, in which students often write either long or numerous papers—or both—do not qualify for a writing-intensive credit. This leaves many students who perhaps feel as though they should have already fulfilled their writing-intensive requirement still without it.

In an email to The Lawrentian’s staff, Associate Dean of the Faculty Bob Williams explained what sets a designated writing-intensive class apart from those that require a large amount of writing, but do not qualify for the specialized credit: “For writing-intensive courses, the course is expected to be small (20 or fewer students), to provide explicit instruction in writing, and to provide in-process feedback on drafts of papers. The course should also focus on argumentation, revision, and disciplinary conventions —this last one is why it’s important to offer S and/or W courses in different fields.” He also mentioned that it is up to the individual instructor to decide whether or not their course should fulfill the writing-intensive credit or any of the other General Education Requirements (GER) credits (dimensions of diversity, global diversity, speaking-intensive, etc.). If an instructor wishes for their class to fulfill any of these requirements, they must fill out a form to be reviewed by the Instruction Committee.

While there are a multitude of writing-intensive classes across various disciplines, there remain plenty of areas of study with very few or none at all. Consequently, students may have to venture into areas they would not have explored otherwise in order to receive this credit. While this may be seen by some as a positive and intended outcome of a liberal arts education, it may also be construed as unfair that some students are able to get their writing or speaking-intensive credit from a course within their area of study—one that they would have taken anyway to fulfill their major requirements for graduation—while others are not. Therefore, it is fair to say that there should be an equal distribution of these writing and speaking-intensive classes among all majors—or at least a greater number of these classes in areas that have few or none. Perhaps this would require an intervention by the Instruction Committee to ensure a balanced offering of GER designated courses, as instructors currently must take it upon themselves to request designations; or perhaps we, as students, simply must be more insistent that our instructors offer a wider variety of GER designated courses.

Currently, the choice of writing-intensive classes is a puzzling mix of classes from various majors. One of the only English classes that qualifies—and the only one that is frequently offered—is Literary Analysis, which, according to students who have taken it, has much in common with many other English classes, in terms of a focus on writing and revising. Meanwhile, classes like Aquatic Ecology also qualify, presumably because of their comparatively lengthier-prose lab reports, yet students who have taken these classes have said that, after reading the requirements for the writing-intensive designation, it does not always seem as though that qualification is deserved. Student testimonies like these make the writing-intensive designation seem rather arbitrary. Perhaps, then, either the requirements for a class to be designated as writing-intensive must become more lax to match the manner in which they are enforced, or these classes which have been designated as writing-intensive must be held to the higher standards which they supposedly meet.