Students, faculty protest recently announced changes to Thompson Writing Program

Students, faculty and members of supporting organizations gathered at the front of the Duke University Chapel to protest recent changes to the Thompson Writing Program Sunday. 

The demonstration, organized by the Duke Faculty Union, began at 3:30 p.m., eventually swelling to over 100 protesters at the chapel steps. 

The DFU planned the protest after a Thursday email from Denise Comer, director and professor of the practice of TWP, to faculty in the program, announcing sweeping changes to the TWP. The email, obtained by The Chronicle, stated that there would be a shift from an approach which emphasizes writing in the disciplines to one which focuses on rhetoric and composition. 

“This initiative marks a strategic change in direction for TWP, requiring faculty who are scholars in writing and oral communication instruction – an expertise gained through a Ph.D. with specialization in Rhetoric and Composition,” Comer wrote. “Our current model of teaching writing through a disciplinary context has served us well for the last 20 years, but the program needs to evolve in order to maintain excellence and truly prepare current and future Duke students to lead, discover, and engage.”

Currently, Duke is ranked second in “Writing in the Disciplines,” according to U.S. News and World Report

The changes would replace unionized faculty, critics say.

Protesters raised signs reading, “$12.7 Endowment + Increased Class Size = Faculty Job Loss” and “Silent night, Holy night, Stand with us, Join the Fight.” 

Other signs reflected the sentiment that the program changes are union busting, including “What’s the real Duke Difference? Union busting!” and “Learn from your past with Harlan County… Stop Union Busting!” in reference to the Kentucky county’s series of skirmishes in the 1930s between coal-mining unions and Duke Power. 

Demonstrators also chanted to the sound of drum beats: “Hey Duke, you’re no good. Treat your teachers like you should!”, “Ho ho ho, union busting’s got to go,” and “What’s disgusting? Union busting!” 

Flyers were handed out encouraging attendees to sign a petition in support of TWP faculty and send emails to Trinity Dean Valerie Ashby and Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education.

TWP lecturing fellows who attended the protest explained why they staged the protest.  

“The Thompson Writing Program faculty are dedicated to their jobs, most especially the teaching of Writing 101,” said Lecturing Fellow of TWP Michael Dimpfl. “We're here today to make sure the University not only recognizes and acknowledges our value but gives us the renewable contracts that we deserve.”

First-year students present at the demonstration expressed their support for their experiences in Writing 101. 

“I feel like our writing program is cool and unique and I don’t think there’s any valid reason for changing it,” said first-year Jordan Reaves, who is currently taking the “Dolly Parton for President?” Writing 101 course.

“You got to engage a lot with the content, engage a lot with material, talk to the students about it. It’s just been a really interesting experience,” Reaves said. 

Other students suggested that program changes would affect students’ engagement in learning. 

“There’s already apprehension sometimes to taking writing courses because it feels like, ‘That’s not something I truly need,’” said Trinity Johnson, a sophomore who received word of the protest from her former Writing 101 instructor. “With all the different subjects [offered as Writing 101 classes], it’s less traditional. It can be in something that you actually care about.”

Non-TWP faculty members joined in solidarity with the DFU. 

“I'm here in solidarity with members of the Duke Faculty Union from the Thompson Writing Program, who deserve a fair break, and to support my colleagues in the Thompson Writing Program, who deserve their break and renewability of their contracts,” said Nancy Kalow, lecturing fellow of documentary studies. 

Jim Roberts, a member of the leadership committee at the Elon University Faculty Union, was also present at the protest. 

“Adjunct faculty has a systemic problem nationally, that schools around the country routinely pay them less and cut their benefits, if they have any benefits at all,” Roberts said. 

Adway S. Wadekar profile
Adway S. Wadekar | News Editor

Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity junior and former news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

Audrey Wang profile
Audrey Wang | Data Editor

Audrey Wang is a Trinity senior and data editor of The Chronicle's 120th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 119.


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