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Welcome to the SUNY COW!

SUNY COW 2014 Registration Deadline Extension

Good Morning,


Today, we’re announcing an extension of the registration deadline for the SUNY COW Conference this September.  The original date for “on-time” registration was August 1.  But, seeing as how many of us are on break and busy with family and fun, we thought it would be good to push that date back a bit.

 The new deadline is August 31, 2014.  Anyone who registered between the 1st and today and paid the “late” rate will be receiving a refund for the difference.

 If you have any questions about registration, feel free to drop me a line at

 Have a great weekend!


Christian Heisler

 Assistant Professor of English
Onondaga Community College
Mahwinney 310 R


SUNY COW 2014 Website Launch

Hello everyone,

Today the 2014 SUNY COW Conference Committee launched our conference website. We had some technical glitches with our proposal form, so we took matters into our own hands and created a site specifically for the conference.

Right now, both the registration and proposal submission forms are up and running. As we get closer to the conference date, we will update the site with information about our speakers, the conference program, and local lodging for those coming from out of town.

We hope that having a “one-stop shop” for everything SUNY COW 2014 will provide an easy and intuitive experience for everyone interested in the conference. 

If you encounter any difficulties on the site or have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email at

Thank you and we look forward to seeing you in September!


Christian Heisler


Assistant Professor of English

Onondaga Community College

Mahwinney 310 R


SUNY COW 2014 – Call For Proposals

Transitions:  The Changing Landscape of Higher Education

When and Where:  September 26-27, 2014  Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, NY

Conference Website

Writing is a process of transition, from invention to drafting to revision and then back again.  Every day we urge our students to move their writing from one stage to the next, to make the transition from thoughts and ideas to words on the page, from hastily scribbled notes to well-reasoned paragraphs and papers.

But transitions are not unique to writing; they’re everywhere in our lives and the lives of our students: the transition from high school to college-level writing, from product to process, even from pen and paper to computer and tablet screen.  We must also consider the transitions being made behind-the-scenes in higher education, from online and blended courses, to seamless transfer, to designer curriculums.  Every day these transitions, both subtle and dramatic, affect our classrooms, our institutions, and our students.

This year’s theme asks us, as writers, writing teachers, and tutors, to reflect on this shifting landscape and to share thoughts on these changes and strategies for navigating these transitions.

Presentations may consider, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • How can writing teachers adapt their pedagogy to an increasingly diverse student body?
  • What transitions do students undergo as they move from high school to college, from 2-year to 4-year colleges?  What effects do these transitions have on our writing classrooms, from developmental coursework to credit bearing coursework?
  • How do rapidly advancing technologies affect our teaching and writing?  What role do social media, smart phones, or blended courses have on how we assign, compose, and respond to writing?
  • How do we design curriculum and writing programs that respond to administrative calls for increased transferability?
  • What are the impacts of recent national or statewide mandates, such as the common core curriculum or completion requirements, on local campuses?
  • How can we address linguistic diversity in our classrooms, not just in terms of ESOL students, but also for students who struggle with the transition to academic discourse?
  • How might a focus on community or workplace writing change our assumptions about composition?

Presenters may propose individual sessions of 20 minutes or complete sessions of 75 minutes.  In addition to traditional panel presentations, we encourage presentations in alternative formats including roundtables, workshops, discussions, and other formats that increase audience participation.  We would also like to encourage undergraduate participation and will reserve one break-out room for undergraduate research.

Please submit proposals by April 22, 2014.

MOOCs, the Teaching of Writing, and Academic Labor

Writing program administrators often joke that class sizes in first-year writing courses have more to do with US News and World Report – which defines “small” classes in its college rankings as those enrolling fewer than 20 students – than with all the impassioned arguments and eloquent resolutions of the field’s scholars and professional organizations on class size and workload over the years.  And indeed, many institutions did lower the caps in their first-year writing courses to 19 as college and university ranking indexes became really visible and influential in the 1990s, pretty much on cue.

But the truth is that central administrators never actually needed either rankings or resolutions to convince them that Writing should be taught in small classes:  it’s just common sense.  Indeed, the caps in Writing courses on most campuses were always pretty close to 20 to begin with, even before the college rankings services came up with their definition of “small” courses, which is why they were natural candidates for lowering to 19.  SUNY Oswego’s cap on ENG 102 when I began teaching here in the early 90s was 23, and when the Writing Across the Curriculum Program was set up in the middle 90s, one of its key features was “small group instruction (25 or fewer students) – a configuration that promotes frequent student/teacher interaction and peer discussion.”  Student writers improve predictably when they’re given access to faculty mentors – experienced and reflective academic writers who can help them develop ideas, think about why those ideas matter, read drafts carefully, make constructive suggestions, and provide genuinely formative feedback that makes them better, more self-conscious writers in the future.  Close work with informed, sensitive readers, that is, has always been very plainly in the best interests of student writers.  A no-brainer.

This, however, is not the educational model being promoted over the last year or so in MOOCs, massive open online courses.  MOOCs are courses offered for free online and designed to be taken by thousands of students in a single session.  Readings and assignments are posted, course leaders appear in regular video discussions, video hangouts are arranged with small groups of students with representative questions, and students are encouraged to share written work with one another.

But from the perspective of a writing teacher, MOOCs offer something much more like an enhanced library service – the provision of a really wonderful, rich resource – than a teaching service.  For one thing, MOOC instructors never actually read student work, even to evaluate it summatively – much less to offer the sort of supportive readerly feedback and suggestions for revision that really help writers improve.  Instead, students enrolled in MOOCs typically get feedback on their work from whatever fellow students are interested in offering it, which experience suggests is usually a pretty small number.  Of course, peer revision workshops provide a very useful developmental experience under the right circumstances, one practiced in face-to-face courses with some frequency, but it’s no replacement for close work with a mentor.  And though most MOOCs are not now offered for credit, at least one MOOC provider has promised to deliver automated grading software emulating the patterns and preferences of given readers to facilitate evaluation on a mass scale – so that, theoretically, grades could be awarded without anyone ever actually reading a word of a student’s work.  It’s no wonder UUP President Fred Kowal has expressed “alarm” about the University’s apparent “goal to use MOOCS to add 100,000 students without increasing faculty.”

This is why the SUNY Council on Writing, a faculty group representing teachers of Writing across the SUNY system, recently passed a resolution against using MOOCs to satisfy the Writing component of SUNY’s Basic Communication requirement and has begun to circulate it across the system for signatures.  I should be clear that to date no one has proposed that MOOCs be used in satisfaction of this requirement:  SUNY has only recently begun to think through how it will use the contract it signed late last spring with MOOCs provider Coursera.  But the Council wanted to make it clear as these discussions proceed that this is not a model that works for first-year Writing courses.

As the Coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum here at Oswego, I’d argue strongly that MOOCs are similarly unsuited for all courses deemed writing-intensive.  These courses depend directly, as the WAC Guidelines ratified in 1998 by the Faculty Assembly point out, on the close attention of faculty-mentors to the work of student writers.  Neither peer response alone nor (certainly) automated grading software will invite students into the real discussions of scholars or offer them counsel about the nuances involved in writing and thinking like an Anthropologist, Art Historian, or Economist.

Proponents tout the democratic potential of MOOCs, which on the face of it might seem consistent with the aims of a public university:  these are free courses for anyone who’s interested, often led by accomplished scholars.  And indeed this sort of access is a wonderful, exciting, even groundbreaking prospect – as is the opportunity for so many networked voices to be joined in a collective give-and-take over ideas.  But the danger is that the possibility of working closely with faculty-mentors will be restricted to an ever smaller core of students with the means to attend an elite college or university – and hence the establishment of a much more clearly and deeply entrenched two-tier system in higher education.  Students at public universities deserve more than either pro forma or automated responses to their work.  They deserve what’s always been the promise of higher education:  authentic exchanges with real people who’ve given their lives over to the serious study of ideas.  (Originally published in the SUNY Oswego UUP newsletter)


Michael Murphy is Assistant Professor of English and Coordinator of Writing Across the Curriculum Program, as well as Vice-President of the SUNY Council on Writing.  The Council’s resolution on MOOCs can be viewed at <>.  All SUNY teachers of Writing, including those who teach writing-intensive courses across campus, are invited to sign.  

Petition: Resolution on Massive Open Online Courses and the Teaching of Writing

Dear colleagues,

the SUNY Council on Writing has produced this petition.  It has been signed by all the board members, other SUNY faculty who contributed to the document, and many others.  Please take a moment to read it and consider signing it so we can reach our goal.  Thank you!

“Resolution on Massive Open Online Courses and the Teaching of Writing”

Position Statement on Labor Practices

SUNY Council on Writing

Position Statement on Labor Practices

Committee on Labor Practices:  Michael Murphy, Oswego; Cynthia Davidson, Stony Brook; Wilbur Farley, Stony Brook; Kelly Kinney, Binghamton; Tina Good, Suffolk CC

March 29, 2012


Labor practices deeply affect the general quality of college writing instruction.  Too often, college writing is taught by part-time faculty carrying heavy course loads on multiple campuses without the possibility of tenure or meaningful support for professional development.  Increasingly, too, graduate assistants who are struggling to finish their degrees become long-term part-timers as traditional full-time professorial lines continue to disappear.  The great majority of these faculty members, working without the possibility of promotion or advancement, are paid substandard salaries calculated on a per-section basis.  This arrangement makes the retention of qualified faculty difficult, driving away the most experienced, accomplished, effective teachers.   Many wonderful part-time faculty members and graduate assistants commit themselves to their work at great personal expense, and the academy owes much to their selflessness and expertise, as do the campuses on which they work.  Still, these practices discourage good teaching.  Moreover, the heavy reliance on non-tenure track faculty places an increasingly disproportionate administrative burden on the tenure-line and full-time faculty.


Acknowledging the pressing urgency of this situation and the clearly established relationship between effective teaching and healthy working conditions for faculty, the SUNY Council on Writing hereby proposes:


1.  That, in accordance with the Report of the UUP Task Force on Contingent Employees,,  all SUNY campuses begin using a prorated version of the minimum negotiated salary for Full-Time Lecturers within UUP as a general minimum for part-time salaries.  According to rates negotiated for Fall 2012, this would mean that part-time faculty would make a minimum of $4,713 per section.

2.  That these positions be converted to full-time with the possibility of meaningful advancement across a career.  A stable body of well-prepared, available full-time faculty provide better instruction for students.  Faculty should be part-time only when fluctuations in enrollment require it.

3.  That ultimately provisions for tenure-like arrangements (“security of employment” and “continuous employment” lines, etc.) be made available for full-time instructor lines.

4.  That Composition and Rhetoric be represented with much greater frequency in hiring for new professorial lines, recognizing that on many campuses tenure lines for faculty in Composition and Rhetoric are grossly outnumbered by those in other divisions in English and the Humanities.

5.  That graduate assistants be assigned no more than one section and twenty students in any given semester, following the standards of the National Council of Teachers of English.


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