Last week, the Expository Writing Program received a $2 million pat on the back from the Sosland Foundation. Interest from the gift will endow the directorship of the program and fund the Sosland Prize to reward outstanding first-year writing. While we welcome the gift, we think that the money could have been better spent.
During her tenure as director of the Expository Writing Program, Nancy Sommers has done a commendable job improving the program. While the Sosland gift rewards Sommers' innovation, the staff wonders if undergraduate writing is served best by the decision to endow the directorship. The first Sosland Prize--$500 and a copy of Dante's Inferno--represents only a small fraction of the family's gift to Harvard. If the Sosland's $2 million gift were deposited in a modest savings account, the money awarded to students each year would be recouped in fewer than five days.
Rather than using remainings funds to subsidize the directorship, the bulk of the interest should be used to expand programs that have proven effective in encouraging excellence in writing. One example is the magazine Expose, which showcases examples of outstanding work done in expository writing classes. First-years generate more than 6,400 essays in expository writing, but only 10 to 15 pieces are recognized in the yearly issue of Expose. The Sosland gift could be used to increase the size of Expose or to fund publication each semester. Income from the endowment could also be used to establish additional writing awards to recognize outstanding undergraduate work.
By endowing the directorship, Morton I. Sosland '46 said that his family hopes to ensure that future directors of the program will continue Sommers' legacy of excellence. Sommers assumed the directorship last year; we doubt that she will be going anywhere soon. Couldn't the money be put to better use, perhaps by rewarding writing instructors who share Sommers' commitment to excellence?
Currently there is no system within the program to reward outstanding teaching. In addition, instructors are limited to five-year stints in the program. We propose raising the salaries of preceptors to attract talented people and extending the number of years good preceptors can teach. We also propose a sliding pay scale to reward seniority, providing additional incentive for excellence in teaching.
The Sosland gift has enormous potential to improve undergraduate writing at Harvard; we hope that use of the funds maximizes the benefits to students.