Committee Reports to the Members: II. Guidelines for Teachers of Writing
AWP Committee | May 1979
Response to the 1978 Curriculum Survey of AWP members indicates that colleges and universities currently use some or all of the following criteria, in varying degrees of importance, for decisions about hiring, rank, and tenure of Writing teachers:
- the quality of the writer's own work;
- the individual's teaching experience (amount, kind, degree of success);
- publications, awards, prizes, fellowships, and other indices of recognition within the literary community;
- academic degrees in writing and/or literature.
At the same time, the survey asked writing teachers in AWP to rank these factors that may have contributed to their effectiveness as teachers: their own experience as writers, their own teaching experience, graduate training in writing, or graduate training in literature. Three-fourths of those responding cited their own experience as writers, and over half also cited their own experience as teachers. Fewer than one-third checked graduate study in literature or creative writing as an important factor.
It is the recommendation of AWP that decisions regarding the hiring, rank, and tenure of writing teachers be based on the quality of the individual's writing and teaching. It is further urged that academic degrees not be considered a requirement or a major criterion which would over-rule the importance of a writer's achievement in the art. Furthermore, it is recommended that significant creative work be viewed as the equivalent of a terminal degree within the administrative and academic structures of the institution.
Where institutions refuse to waive the requirement for a terminal degree, it is recommended that the Master of Fine Arts be considered the appropriate credential for the teacher of creative writing and contemporary literature. Furthermore, holders of this degree may also be prepared to teach literature survey courses, composition and rhetoric. However, AWP reminds institutions that the degree itself, and programs that issue the degree, vary considerably, and it is recommended that a prospective teacher's individual competences be examined closely.
AWP assumes that the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing includes at least two years of serious study, with a minimum of 45 graduate credit hours; a creative thesis (book-length collection of original work); successful completion of coursework in form and theory, contemporary writers, and/or traditional literature; and a substantial amount of individualized writing study, with criticism and direction of the student's writing by an experienced writer through workshop, tutorial, independent project or thesis preparation.
Finally, AWP believes that writing program faculty, who as writers are best qualified to make assessments of a candidate's work, should be given the responsibility of making such decisions about their peers; barring that, their evaluations of the candidate, and their recommendations, should be given the utmost weight in the review process.
Salary and tenure track
It is the position of AWP that writers be given parity with scholars in salary stipulation, including Senior positions at the top of the salary range, and that the absence of the Ph.D. not be relevant to such negotiations.
It is also important to note that while the system of part-time and visiting writing faculty is often used to increase the breadth of a program's offerings, such a system should not continually exclude writer s from access to full-time positions and the possibility of renewal.
According to the 1978 AWP Survey, the majority of writing faculty members carry a course load of either two or three courses per semester or quarter in graduate writing programs. It should be noted that many institutions define "writing workshop" as equivalent to teaching two courses, in deference to the additional work in conferences, tutorials and thesis supervision that writing students need for the development of their work; whereas other programs list such activities separately and equivalent to one literature course. AWP recommends that the course load for graduate writing teachers be defined in such a way to recognize the importance of individualized attention to students' work, and the increased amount of conference and preparation time which it entails; and, further, that the faculty load not exceed one additional course beyond writing workshop and attendant individual conferences.
The 1978 AWP Survey indicated that most teachers of writing felt they were most effective in the workshop format, and that the majority of workshops have a class size of 11-20. AWP recommends that workshop size not exceed IS, and that 12 be viewed as desirable and most effective.
It is the position of AWP that teaching writers must have access to a liberal policy of leave and sabbatical. As with other arts, the writing teacher will be effective as a teacher only insofar as he or she is active and engaged as a writer, and large, recurring periods of time devoted to the writer's own work are viewed as crucial preparation for continued effective teaching.
AWP believes that writers should have the. major voice in decisions concerning not only the hiring and retention of writing faculty and admission of students to the writing programs, but also the award of the degree and control of the program budget. Such administrative decisions should incorporate judgments of quality, and it is believed that writers in the academy are best qualified to make such judgments.
It is generally felt, among writing program faculties, that a series of readings and/or brief residences is an important dimension to a writing program, offering students an immediate connection to contemporary literature and exposure to a variety of voices and aesthetic approaches. Because such a series is seen as integral to curriculum, writing faculty should have the largest voice in determining the participants in such a series.
Ellen Voigt and Marvin Bell