Overcrowded Writing Center may have privacy violations | The Triangle

Overcrowded Writing Center may have privacy violations

Photo Credit: Ajon Brodie
Photo Credit: Ajon Brodie

In the basement of MacAlister Hall, the Department of English & Philosophy has set up the Drexel Writing Center, an academic area where students can meet with peer readers and faculty to discuss their progress with their writing skills. Within the same room, there are three cubicles: One of these cubicles serves as space for online collaboration and tutoring with some computers, and the other two serve as office space for 37 adjunct faculty members with only two computers and two phones in each cubicle. The department, along with many others at Drexel’s urban campus, has suffered this overcrowding problem for years.

“You can see they’re open-top cubicles. Between 40 to 50 adjunct professors that share those two little cubicles — most of them you don’t even see, because most of them don’t even use them. Too many people use them. Obviously, that’s not a realistic office,” Scott Warnock, associate professor of English and director of the Writing Center, said. Adjunct professors are crowded into the small space because of lack of space in the offices on the upper level of MacAlister.

Abioseh Porter, the English department head for the past 11 years and a Drexel faculty member since 1986, said that the problem with the space for the Writing Center and the adjunct space has been an issue since he started, citing that the center’s current placement is actually a step up from its previous, smaller location on the fifth floor of MacAlister, where the department is currently located. The office space for the adjunct professors was also moved to the basement from the fifth floor.

“My colleagues — fellow department heads and myself — always are having discussions with our dean about the space issue. I believe that [Dean Donna Murasko] is doing her best to alleviate the space situation, but it’s been difficult because on a practical, pragmatic level the space has just not been there,” Porter said.

Porter went on to talk about identical issues in the other departments, such as culture and communication or chemistry.

“Over the years, we’ve heard all kinds of stories and promises that they’re working hard on providing the space. We’ve been told that they’re looking at several different venues. We’re still waiting to see how these promises will actually come [to] fruition,” he said.

Porter also said there is still a need for better equipment in classrooms and classroom space in general.

Another problem that adjunct professors face is accessing the Writing Center during unconventional office hours because the center is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week. Some adjunct professors meet with their students in other places, such as the Hagerty Library.

According to Warnock, the English and philosophy department went under internal review as a pilot department for the Program Alignment and Review. The review process was set up as a self-study but external reviewers were bought in. These reviewers considered the shared space between the Writing Center and adjunct professors as a potential violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

FERPA is the U.S. legislation that protects a student’s private information such as their school records, grades or reports. The external reviews are not just “all talk,” and overhearing personal conversations is a real possibility, according to junior biology major and peer reader at the Writing Center Unmesha Roy Paladhi.

“It’s very crowded and especially after week three or four, when you have all our appointments booked and you have one [session] per table, it gets really loud,” Roy Paladhi said.

A conference room in the Writing Center is where developing projects happen, and then there are readers who simply spend their time in there during their off hours.

Roy Paladhi also said that peer readers, unlike adjunct faculty, are not allowed to take their meetings outside of the Writing Center. Roy Paladhi admits that not many students complain about the possibility of their conversations being overheard, but attributes students’ initial reluctance to talk about their personal issues in their writing to shyness. Roy Paladhi also said that she has had experiences where she has overheard student’s grades because of shared space with the adjunct professors.

“That’s not appropriate at all. That’s very intimate, and I feel like if they had the option, they wouldn’t want to share that with anyone else,” she said.

The adjunct faculty is most closely related to the First-Year Writing Program, a program directed by Rebecca Ingalls. All freshmen are required to take the ENGL 101, 102 and 103 sequence that teaches the fundamentals of college writing. Surprisingly, she noted, not many students complain about the conditions in the Writing Center and the adjunct offices.

“Many of our teachers follow a [process-centered model], which involves drafting and that requires [that] many of our professors [have] conferences [with the students],” Ingalls said.

Ingalls also said that the adjuncts are required to hold office hours and that those office hours overlap with each other, despite the offices only being able to accommodate a few professors.

However, Ingalls also maintains that the possible FERPA violations are strong concerns. “The University has been pretty good at preserving students’ privacy around their grades. We need to always be sure that the student has signed the FERPA release [before releasing protected information], but in a space like that, when people are overhearing conversations about grades and other issues of privacy, the lines that the policy protects are blurred. It’s not just pedagogical,” she continued.

Ingalls also said that she saw responses to space complaints and that she can see that the administration can do very little to solve them right now, citing the formation of an adjunct task force that responds to issues that the adjunct professors face.

“My hope is that those legal issues don’t outrun the pace at which they’re working on it,” Ingalls said.

“I’m in an English department administrative role, and I really want to advocate for them. We want to provide the best teaching structure, and this is clearly not it,” Warnock said.

Senior Vice Provost for Budget, Planning and Administration Jan Biros as well as Vice President of University Facilities Robert Francis both said that all departments in Drexel are facing similar space allocation issues. According to Biros, new building space is being made for the Nursing program, the School of Public Health, the Chemistry department and Physics department. They both, however, stated that they were not aware of complaints of possible FERPA violations.

“Everyone is well aware of the severity of the [space] problem, and efforts are continuously underway to address it and find favorable solutions. This includes the efforts of many on campus in the planning and design area, the leasing office, and the provost’s office; it is overseen by the Capital Asset Allocation Committee which includes such senior leaders as the provost, the [senior vice president] for finance, and the senior VP for Student [Life] and Administrative Services. This group meets monthly to identify solutions for space issues, whether they be through leases for additional space or involve renovating Drexel-owned space and the associated funding to address them,” Biros wrote in an email.