The administration is hiring a new director of writing who will replace current interim director, John Gillette (‘88).
While the goal is to expand the writing program beyond the current scope of the Writing Resource Center (WRC) and to provide more services to students, many do not understand why Gillette is not in the finalist applicant pool. When students found out he was not being rehired, they collected testimonials about how he has helped improve their writing and made a positive impact on their New College experience. The document currently has 41 individual student testimonials.
“John’s current position has been very much attached to the WRC,” Dean of Studies Robert Zamsky said.
Zamsky added that the new position will have “broader administrative and program-development scope than we’ve envisioned in the past. A search like this doesn’t have to do with John; it has to do with the position. We don’t question his dedication to the students at all. A couple of things we were really looking for was people who have significant experience in building programs. What we have now is better than it used to be but it still doesn’t qualify as a writing program. [Some candidates] have their PhDs whose very subject is the thing we are hoping to expand. We could not have anticipated that.”
Gillette graduated from New College in 1992 with an AOC in English and American literature. He earned his Masters from New Mexico State in rhetoric and composition and two PhDs from the University of Pittsburgh in communication and rhetoric and cultural studies. Since he was hired in 2012, Gillette has revamped the WRC and changed the focus from publishing creative writing journals to tutoring and increased the number of the one-on-one student tutoring appointments drastically. According to WRC records, there were 225 tutoring appointments in the fall of 2011. This past fall there were more than 400.
“None of John’s appointments are included in these numbers.” Alexandra Maass, assistant director of writing and QEP said. “He meets with students on a constant basis. If you sit in here during the day you can count, they are in and out of his office like a parade. Because of that, that he has all these informal meetings with students, we can’t track that.”
Last year Gillette created the thesis distribution list that he uses to keep in contact with all thesising students. “Gillette acted as a supplemental advisor for me, he was there in a way my advisor couldn’t be and helped guide me through the process [of writing a thesis].” Anthony Serifsoy, thesis student and political science and history AOC said. “I was having trouble with time management and he took something that was really stressful and made it something that I’m not worried about and that I’m managing fine now.”
Gillette’s knowledge in speech presentation skills has also aided the admissions office. Last summer he was invited to train student admissions representatives or “STARS” who give tours to all the prospective students. “It really helped them to have some effective presentation skills in order to share what’s so wonderful about New College with these [prospective] students.” Deirdre Carmichael, campus visit coordinator said. “We’ve really appreciated his help here. I’ve really enjoyed working with John, I think he’s been a huge help to our students on campus and to our Writing Resource Center. We would definitely miss having him on campus if he wasn’t to come back next year.”
Gillette has made an impact on students in the classroom, teaching Writing and Rhetoric, tutorials such as the Flash Fiction and sponsoring the Speech Presentation ISP.
“He excites you about the work that you’re doing and the work that’s to come, he makes you want to show up to class,” first-year Andrew Blackowiak said. “The reason that I would want him to have a presence on campus is because he’s been an essential component of my academic progress. Not only [that] but my social progress, my writing, and my confidence.”
For many students who have found it difficult to navigate New College and have struggled with campus resources, Gillette has filled in those gaps and has become a mentor and second adviser.
“I have depression and anxiety so last semester was really difficult and he seemed to be the only person who was willing to take the time to actually work with me,” second-year psychology AOC Laura Arbetman said. “You know, if I had somewhere else to go for that type of support I would but I’ve run out of credits at the CWC, I’m an out of state student and I don’t have a car so I can’t really go out into the community that easily. In this case it’s up to your professors and so far nearly all of [them] have handled it okay or pretty poorly. Except for John, he just really gets it.”
Dean Zamsky has responded to all students who have contacted him about Gillette.
“What I do hope the college as a whole gets out of this feedback is that if students feel like they are only getting those things in the writing center, the college more broadly is letting the students down.” Dean Zamsky said. “Those students should be getting that kind of advice, support, and engagement from their faculty, advisors, and administration. If a student feels like that their hold on the college is so tenuous that one search could break their attachment to the college then there is something wrong. To those students I would say, the first thing they should do is talk to me because part of my job is to assist students with advising and if they feel they are not getting that from their faculty advisors, then I’m here and you know also its important for me to know if students feel like their advisors are not giving them the assistance that they need.”
As to whether student input at this stage in the hiring process will have any sway on the hiring committee’s decision Zamsky said, “We have these three finalists and the committee having made that determination, we can’t really go back and re-adjust the list of finalists, but you know, the pool of applicants is the pool of applicants until the search is closed. So, he [John Gillette] is still an applicant even if he’s not in the first three.”
“I can definitely understand if they wanted to get somebody to build a writing program here but we don’t want to see John Gillette go because he is a very valuable staff member,” first-year political science AOC Allen Serell said. “Sure, get a new writing person in. Also, please keep John.”