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Ohio State writing center budget cut causes conflict

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An Ohio State office faced a $100,000 budget cut this summer that led to at least one person being fired and a program being cut.

The College of Arts and Sciences’ Center for the Study and Teaching of Writing budget was cut to $800,000 from roughly $900,000 over the summer amid budget concerns, Arts and Humanities Dean Mark Shanda said.

Shanda told The Lantern Tuesday the CSTW was also restructured to put more focus on student services like the writing center, while ending its outreach programs in the community, such as working with high schoolers and other youths to instill writing skills from a younger age. The center’s minor in professional writing was also moved to the English department, Shanda said.

CSTW’s Communication Technology Consultant program, which focused on helping instructors, staff and students learn communication and technology skills, and the outreach program were both ended.

The initial cause for the restructuring was an external review of CSTW in 2011, he said, which said the writing center was significantly undersized compared to similar universities and suggested it be expanded. Shanda said that review also determined other programs “were straying too far from the core mission of CSTW” and should either be cut or moved to other areas of the university.

While CSTW did have some involvement in the restructuring, CSTW Director Dickie Selfe said the changes were “firmly recommended” by outside forces. A memo from Shanda obtained by The Columbus Dispatch suggested Shanda recommended the cuts.

Selfe said the 2011 review was entirely positive.

“They said we were doing an amazing job with the number of people we have. I had no inclination that other programs were going to be cut and I didn’t hear any talk about it until the budget shortfall came up,” he said.

Selfe said the remaining programs benefitted from the restructuring, especially the writing center and the Writing Across Curriculum program. The writing center has expanded, and now has locations in Smith Hall, William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library and Park-Stradley Hall, Shanda said.

Shanda said he has been working with the provost and hopes to recover $150,000 for CSTW from the international student fee, ultimately increasing the center’s budget.

The need for cuts was exacerbated by an $8 million budget deficit in Arts and Sciences, primarily because of the undergraduate tuition freeze and a mandatory 2 percent salary increase for university employees. Despite a university budget expansion of $14 million, Arts and Sciences is receiving less funding because students are taking fewer classes within the college, as reported by The Columbus Dispatch.

Despite Shanda’s insistence that CSTW’s restructuring brings the center more in line with its goal of helping students, others said valuable programs have been lost.

Doug Dangler, who was CSTW’s associate director until July 28, lamented the loss of programs such as Writer’s Talk, a popular media project he hosted that featured student interviews of authors. Dangler said there was at least one program director who lost her job as the result of the restructuring, but was uncertain if his own position change was the result of that restructuring. Dangler accepted a different position, eLearning program manager, within Arts and Sciences after his time in CSTW.

Chad Weiss was a student employee for Writer’s Talk before graduating after Spring Semester, and said the program was successful, giving students the chance to interview big names like poet Sharon Olds and author R.L. Stine.

Another student employee, Kate Barnett, helped develop an in-class tutor program within CSTW before graduating in the spring of 2013, and said she was disappointed that programs like hers were cut.

“All the work that we put into that program was essentially for nothing,” she said. “We were under a lot of pressure to prove we were effective, and I thought we did that.”

Jaya Pillai, a second-year in English, is afraid the cuts to CSTW might have negative consequences.

“Writing is one of my strong suits, but for many people it’s not. So the university is cutting a resource that could help a lot of people who need it,” she said.

Shanda said the university hopes CSTW’s outreach program, which worked with high schools and libraries, can be recovered by other organizations, but expressed some doubt.

“I don’t know if we can recover every outreach connection we’ve had, and that’s hard, because outreach is part of what we’re called to do, but between the options of working with high school students and OSU students, we had to prioritize our students in difficult financial times,” he said.

CSTW is only one of many Art and Sciences programs that faced deep cuts over the summer, according to the Dispatch. OSU Arts Initiative, the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design, the Diversity and Identity Studies Collective at OSU and the Foreign Language Center also faced significant cuts.

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