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Phase II change said to be working well

By Karen Kaplan

In April 1988, responsibility for administering much of Phase II of the Writing Requirement shifted from the Committee on the Writing Requirement to individual departments. This was done in an effort to improve the quality of the evaluations and to make the requirement more strictly enforced. Nearly two years later, some wonder if these goals have been met.

Leslie C. Perelman, coordinator of the Writing Requirement, believes they have. Seniors who have not fulfilled Phase II by the spring term receive a letter from the Registrar stating that their names will not be placed on the degree list for graduation in June, he noted. The letter will also refer such seniors to Perelman, who will advise them to formally petition the department writing coordinator and the committee to be added to the degree list.

Petitions will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, but anyone who enrolls in a technical writing course, such as Scientific and Engineering Writing (21.780), will be added immediately, Perelman said. He stressed that the committee will be responsive to all students with a valid reason for failing to fulfill the requirement, explaining that "my job is not to prevent students from graduating." This new procedure should greatly reduce the number of seniors who procrastinate and wait to fulfill the requirement until only weeks before graduation, Perelman said.

Another improvement the shift may have produced is in the quality of the evaluations that student papers receive. Phase II is designed to demonstrate a student's competence in professional discourse within his or her own field. In the writing committee's view, professors who read Phase II papers are best able to judge the quality and appropriateness of this kind of writing. Having departments administer the requirement, therefore, makes evaluations more accurate and complete, Perelman said.

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Criteria stringent but varied

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Of course, with the shift of responsibility from a central, school-wide coordinator to the individual departments, procedures for fulfilling Phase II and criteria for "good writing" are bound to vary. "In Phase II, we are dealing with writing within a specific discipline," Perelman explained, so these types of criteria will be different "by definition." "I see nothing wrong with this."

Each department has adopted its own method for fulfilling Phase II. Contrary to some predictions, they are not lax, Perelman claimed. He singled out the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics for doing an "exceptional" job in coordinating its own writing requirement committee. The courses produce many papers suitable for Phase II, he noted.

Anne M. Hunter, an administrator in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has taken on responsibility for Phase II in her department. Although professors and members of the writing program read and evaluate the students' submissions, Hunter is responsible for most of the legwork involved and has made it one of her "top priorities" within the department. "[Phase II] is very, very important because it's one of the things students absolutely have to do to graduate," she said. "It's right up there with the thesis."

Some students dissatisfied

Students, on the other hand, are less enchanted with Phase II. Seniors complain that some departments do not offer enough classes that generate papers which qualify for Phase II. One suggested that thesis papers, at some level, ought to be suitable for Phase II.

Another criticism is that the writing requirement coordinators have not stressed the need to satisfy Phase II. "Our department coordinator told us last week that if we hadn't fulfilled the requirement by now we're basically screwed," one senior reported.

There has also been some concern about a lack of uniformity in the stiffness of grading, with some departments being stricter than others.

Despite its problems, Perelman feels that Phase II is valuable because the writing element of technical careers cannot be overlooked. "Engineers in private companies spend one third of their time writing," he said. Proficiency in this area can help someone become a manager or a project leader, he said.