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Former English professor’s gift funds writing lab

Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Former English professor’s gift funds writing lab

By Rebecca Wyatt, OU Web Writer


In the late 1970s, OU lost what many considered to be a vital resource on campus — a writing center. Now, with a $300,000 gift from Joan Rosen, former OU English professor, and her husband, Robert, a new writing center, called the Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory, is being constructed in Kresge Library and will serve the writing interests of students, community members and area businesses.


“I gave 37 years of my life to Oakland University so, of course, I have a close place in my heart for it,” Rosen said. “I have always been committed to writing and communication and the teaching of writing and communication, this writing center will help to enhance the writing services offered to the community and explore the research topic of writing and communication.


“Private funding is absolutely important if any institution is not only to maintain but better the quality of its academic life.”


Rosen started at OU in 1963 and served as the director of the writing center. At the time, most students were required to participate in Explorations, which encouraged writing across the curriculum. The writing center at that time was a resource for assisting students in writing at a freshman level.


“Then, because there was a desire among students for help in creative writing, we did that too,” Rosen said.


However, due to budget constraints and the services offered by the Academic Skills Center, the writing center closed, but it left a lasting impact with Rosen.


“It was the beginning of my continuing interest in teaching students how to write and teaching teachers how to teach writing,” Rosen said. “Writing and teaching is really important to me because I realize how important it is in the world. Teaching students to write in as many disciplines as we can is fundamental to an education.”


The desire for a writing center has been around for about 20 years and plans for the Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory have been in the works a few years.


“This writing center wouldn’t happen without the generous support of the Rosens. This kind of academic initiative is not possible in this current restrictive budget without private support,” said Ron Sudol, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.


A writing center is something OU is lacking compared to other universities.


“It’s been many, many years since we actually had a writing center, but it’s always been clear there is a need for it,” Rosen said. “There is a need for people with writing skills just as there is a need for people with math skills.”


In the future, Sudol hopes more gifts to the writing center will enable the creation of an endowed professorship for a nationally recognized director.


“We are willing to go about developing this writing center slowly and methodically to make it the best in the nation,” Sudol said.


The writing center isn’t designed to serve as a remediation tool, but rather as a consultation outlet and a service everyone can utilize. The center will support the new general education requirements and the university’s commitment to a distinctive undergraduate experience.


“One element of that distinction is for students to write and communicate effectively no matter what field they go into,” Sudol said.


The Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory, while inspired by that from the past, is taking on new responsibilities including service beyond OU’s campus and research into the topics of writing and communication.


“The goal of the writing center is to create competent writers everywhere, not just as freshmen in college, but throughout the community,” Rosen said.


It is anticipated that by this fall, the Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory will begin serving undergraduate students who need writing consultation in any course involving writing, speaking or presenting. 


“We will continue peer tutoring in collaboration and cooperation with the Academic Skills Center,” Sudol said. “In the writing center, we want to go beyond peer tutoring. There are situations where a student needs to meet with an instructor for extra help.”


The Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory will be staffed with qualified and trained peer and faculty consultants who can assist in a number of different areas.


As the writing center gains momentum in the coming months, consultation services will be expanded to include graduate students, faculty, students and educators in local schools and area businesses.


“We’re not just talking about writing papers, we’re talking about writing reports, briefs, dissertations, summaries. We’ll have online services that will provide access to information and tutorials as well,” Rosen said.


The Office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost will oversee operations of the Joan Rosen Writing Laboratory to assure it is operated as a university-wide program.


Currently, a committee is conducting a search for an interim director and Sudol hopes to conduct a national search for a permanent replacement in the near future. Once the permanent director is found, Sudol said the writing center will begin to offer enhanced services to the community.


“There is a tremendous need in business, industry, commerce and public affairs for assistance in writing,” Sudol said.


With the gift from the Rosens, an office and writing area are being constructed in the northwest corner of Kresge Library, with the goal of offering services this fall.