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Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Over my three years at UC San Diego, I have yet to find a proper adjective to describe the remedial writing courses forced upon undergraduates. Insulting, detrimental, and disenchanting all come to mind, but none truly describes the abhorrent system managed by the bureaucrats at each of the colleges, or at least those who facilitate the Making of the Modern World program at Eleanor Roosevelt College. While I hope this program was originally conceived by academics—and the courses are still taught by professors often overqualified to cram thousands of years of history into a 10 week course—the focus of the seminars, the writing program, simply could not be more mismanaged.

Upon entering UCSD, one selects a ‘college’—basically a terribly conceived version of Cambridge’s college system which attempts to break our massive university into smaller units. Unfortunately this ended up as an unfortunate bastardization of the Cambridge model, with only 6 colleges for over 20,000 undergraduates, providing all of the bureaucratic overlaps and none of the intimacy or self-selecting groups of students interested in similar subjects. With over 4,000 students in each college, the cookie-cutter writing programs beat students into submission, churning out students who must conform to a single writing style. Epitomized by the checklist given to Teaching Assistance which they must use to grade essays, students produce work which merely adheres to a checklist. Either the administrators in charge of the Making of the Modern World program feel teaching assistants are too incompetent to grade undergraduate essays or too overworked to do so—in each case blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the program’s facilitators. Pedantic weekly assignments only add to the belief that the program underestimates and talks down to students. One handout offered ‘reminders’ to students, including the following:

“Make sure your paper has a title”

“Double-Check that the question you pose is phrased as a question. Underline your thesis”

“Attach photocopies of the title pages (or first page of a scholarly article) of your sources, as well as pages from which you quote or paraphrase”

“Put all your materials in a folder of some sort”

At least responding to alumni donation requests will be enjoyable.