Can New Director Fix Expos?

Writing Program Looks to Sommers After Difficult Era

Next month, Richard C. Marius will turn over leadership of the Expository Writing program to his accociate director, Nancy Sommers.

For some teachers in Harvard's required first-year writing course, the change will come as relief. Marius was roundly criticized for being erratic and even verbally abusive and many said the department was ruled by fear.

"There is a lack of an enabling hierarchy," Pat C. Hoy II, a former senior preceptor in the program, said last fall in a quote that was repeated frequently around the program.

But teachers say the departure of Marious is just the first step in reforming a department that an overwhelming number of former and current Expos teachers say is failing to live up to its potential.

Marius may be gone, but the way in which he structured the program remains.

The focus of many teachers' and students ire is a rule limiting all teachers, who work on renewable one-year contracts, to teach a maximum of four years in the program.

"If I were a teacher, I would complain," a source in the Faculty administration said last fall. "It's not a very good system."

Take, for example, former Expos teacher George Packer. He was loved by his students, and last spring scored 4.93 out of 5 on the student evaluations published by the Committee on Undergraduate Education.

"He was instrumental in the class," says Elizabeth Bayley '96, who was in Packer's section. "He asked the right questions and gave the right advice."

But just as he was hitting his teaching stride, Packer had to leave.

"I don't think students are served by a four year rule," William C. Rice, a second-year Expos teacher, said in an interview last fall. "I think students are served by people who are vital and deeply engaged in their work. If there's a four-year rule, people will wind up going out on the job market before their time is up."

Abolishing the four-year rule teachers say, is the key to fixing Expos's problems. It would improve morale, make it easier to recruit a more ethnically diverse group of teachers and improve the overall quality of teaching.

But both Sommers and the program's administration have continued to back the rule, for reasons that appear to be more legal than pedagogical. A strict rule that applies to all teachers, sources say, is seen as a way to protect Expos from complaints of discrimination.

Administrators have floated various justifications for the policy, the most popular being that a four-year limit is needed to keep the teaching staff fresh and happy. But teachers say they'd be happier with a more flexible limit.

Still, it's students who are hurt most by the structure of Expos, and even professors and administrators admit it.

Asked last fall if he could name one way students were served by the four-year limit, Robinson Professor of Celtic Languages and Literatures Patrick K. Ford '66, a member of the standing faculty committee on Expos, thought for a moment.

"No," he said.