Expos Out of Control Under Marius

Writers' Block

The teachers were restless.

It was a Wednesday afternoon in March 1989, and the entire Expository Writing teaching staff had just listened to teachers Elizabeth Muther and Susan E. Carlisle drone on for nearly an hour about their plan for "theme courses." And now Nancy Sommers was making an announcement.

"Beginning next fall, the classroom period for Expos will be extended to an hour and a half," Sommers, associate director of Expos, told the room. "Plan your syllabi accordingly."

The teachers were furious. Once again, teachers had not been consulted about a fundamental change in Expos, a required course for all first-years.

No voices were raised, but many questions were hostile. They questioned why no one had bothered to get teachers' opinions on the initiative. Some openly expressed outrage about the administration of the department. From her corner seat, an Expos teacher named Michelle A. Souda wryly asked if the change meant instructors would be paid more.

Sommers, standing at the front of the room, answered the questions curtly and looked shocked. Richard C. Marius, the director of the program, sat nearby and stewed. He looked sick, and he would later spend time in Stillman Infirmary for a "stomach problem," believed to be an ulcer.

Sometime during that meeting, or maybe in the first few hours after it, Marius made a decision: He would tolerate no more dissent.

Marius called three of his most vocal critics and best teachers--Sanford Kreisberg, Monica Raymond and Joe Finder--into his office the next day, one by one, and threatened their jobs. Marius says he simply brought the teachers in to "talk about their anger." Raymond, angry at Marius' tactics, submitted her resignation.

"It was a matter of principle," says Raymond, who still lives in Cambridge. "I didn't think I could teach people free writing and free expression in a place where I could not take advantage of free expression myself."

The same day Marius called in the three teachers, he put out a memorandum withdrawing the proposal to expand class time and saying that "we do not punish people for not worshipping us." Teachers considered the memo bizarre and dishonest given his treatment of Kreisberg, Raymond and Finder.

"Nancy is not the Tsarina of Expos seeking to conquer your green provinces and devour your fat cattle," Marius wrote in the memo.

Kreisberg and Finder would leave within six months, but getting rid of the current troblemakers was only a temporary solution. Something more permanent was needed. In a telephone conversation one night that March, Marius and Sommers decided on a method: They would reduce the eight-year limit on teachers' jobs in Expos to four. And there would be no grandfathering for teachers already hired under the eight-year rule.

Over at University Hall, administrators looked at the emerging chaos at Expos, and panicked. A year later, the standing faculty committee on Expos would approve the four-year change. One administration source familiar with the situation now calls that decision both a "mistake" and an "overreaction."

With the decision, Marius and Sommers broke literally dozens of verbal and written promises to teachers--who were never formally told about the change. And Marius and Sommers created a policy that, teacherssay, has hurt Expos instructors personally andprofessionally.

More importantly, the four-year rule that grewout of a few days in March 1989 has had negativeconsequences for the quality of teaching thatfirst-year students see in their Expos classes.