Bring Back the Writing Center

Joseph Severini and Elena E. Zeman

The idea that NJCU’s Writing Center (WC) still exists and has been transitioned into The Hub is, in our opinion, deceiving. The transition has left behind some of the best aspects of the WC and all of the services that it provided. The administration’s standpoint is that The Hub promotes the same quality of writing and tutoring services as the WC did. However, this is misleading: The Hub has failed to incorporate the most important thing in their “transition” – professional tutors.

Of the WC’s six professional tutors (with an education level equal to, or higher than, a master’s degree) only one transitioned to The Hub and obtained a position as a professional writing tutor after the WC’s closure. As reported in our last issue (Volume XXXII, Issue 3) there are about 19 writing tutors at The Hub, the majority of whom are recent NJCU graduates or undergraduates still pursuing their degrees.

It is important for us to note here that our argument is not meant to be an attack on the student tutors at The Hub. We applaud their efforts as writing tutors and for being an asset for students to utilize. This editorial is a way for us, as English majors, to express to the school’s administration that they have done a true educational disservice to students by closing the WC’s doors.

Dr. Michael Basile, an associate professor of the English Department said, “Many of the student tutors at The Hub I have had the privilege of teaching in my classes. The student tutors I haven’t taught I count as my loss. So the comments I am about to make about The Hub  and OWL  [the WC was previously known as the Open Writing Lab, or OWL] should in no way be construed as a criticism of the students, all of whom are dedicated and conscientious. As former senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.’ HUB is not the former writing center merely renamed and geographically relocated. Here’s why. The WC was expertly run by Ann Wallace, a member of the English Department who was explicitly hired for that task.”

Basile continued, “Her primary area of scholarly expertise is Rhetoric and Composition, an area in which she regularly publishes. In contrast, those who run The HUB have no such credentials. Many of the WC tutors were instructors with years of experience teaching composition. Most had MAs, some Ph.Ds. Indeed, among the tutors the cumulative number of years in composition classrooms probably exceeded 40. How could even our very fine undergraduate student tutors match that invaluable experience? In short, they cannot. No students could. To the administration I would say: if you are dedicated to serving our general student population, a population in greater need of academic support than ever before, reinstitute the WC. Today.”

The Hub: A Poor Excuse for the Writing Center’s Absence

Ultimately, we want to become the best writers that we can be and believe we can only do that with tutors who have the highest level of experience, education and training. We don’t see how the administration can argue that someone who has yet to even attain their bachelor’s degree in English can teach us skills more valuable than someone with a master’s or Ph.D. in the subject. We feel as though the administration is expressing through the WC’s closure that we don’t deserve professional tutoring or that our peer tutors have the ability to teach us all of the skills that we need. After receiving tutoring from professionals at the WC, we learned valuable skills that helped us become better writers. When I, Joseph, was tutored by one of my peers last year it felt disengaged, and not up to par with the help I needed and would have gotten from a professional tutor or one of my professors. It felt as if they were simply editing my paper and not teaching me any other skills. Many students have agreed with our standpoint and expressed their disapproval with the administration’s closing of the WC. We have yet to hear from a student that believes The Hub has provided them with the same quality of tutoring that the WC did.

Dr. Alina Gharabegian, chairperson of the Department of English and an associate professor said, “Anecdotally, my own students’ accounts of what happens in tutoring sessions at The Hub is that tutors essentially function in the capacity of editors—basically ‘checking’ students’ papers for errors. From what I understand of students’ complaints, they do not receive help in reading comprehension, essay organization, brainstorming, pre-writing—all important aspects of the thinking and composing process. Tutors do not seem to work with students on the substantial global issues of writing, focusing, instead, merely on local issues, which ultimately does not teach students very much.”

In our opinion, without more training and higher degrees the undergraduate tutors are eventually going to reach a barrier when it comes to their skills. Only time and years of experience can change that.

How is it that two-year community colleges have writing centers, yet NJCU, a four-year institution that offers higher education doesn’t? Not only do these two-year schools have writing centers, but many of them, like Brookdale Community College for example, require that their tutors have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to be a tutor. In writing centers at schools like this, undergraduates are often limited to receptionist positions.

Even if NJCU does not want to follow along with other schools and bring back the WC, The Hub’s tutors should be mandated to go through more of an advanced training, similar to what was required for WC’s tutors. Dr. Gharabegian said, “The quality of tutoring is no longer standardized or regulated by virtue of formalized training that ensures tutors have a theoretical background and practice in tutoring students, professionally. English 400 – a course mandated for all [undergraduate] tutors who taught in the old Writing Center – guaranteed a certain standard or quality of training that was tremendously beneficial to both the tutors and the students they tutored. Without it, there is no telling what kind of help students are receiving in any given tutoring session, if the tutor does not have professional, theoretical training in writing instruction. The Hub’s administrative staff has not agreed to work with the English department to help their tutors undergo this training.”

It is truly unfortunate that the administration has not stepped in to ensure that the English department has a say in the training The Hub’s tutors must undertake. It is absurd for the school’s administration to make the claim that the WC has been transitioned into The Hub when they have failed to ensure that there has been a collaboration with the English department.

It is our opinion that the administration should really take into consideration what we and the faculty have expressed. We believe the administration has done a disservice to the status of the university. If they truly believe it was merely a transition and that the quality of tutorship provided at The Hub is anywhere comparable to that which was offered at the WC, then their endeavors to provide outstanding education are flawed. If the administration is sincerely devoted to providing their students with a high-quality education, they will bring back the Writing Center.

This article was originally featured in Volume XXXII, Issue 4.