An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth

Editor’s note: This past semester, I had the good fortune to work in Budapest, Hungary for a semester, at my institution’s European campus. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and greatly appreciated networking with colleagues in the city. At the end of my trip, I invited the director of Central European University’s writing center, Agnes Toth, to sit down and tell me more about her graduate Center for Academic Writing.

As you may know, this past year, CEU has made international headlines, due to an unprecedented level of government scrutiny. Their accreditation structure—and, in particular, their funding ties to billionaire philanthropist, George Soros—resulted in a series of legislative moves that threw their future in Hungary into question. While discussions and negotiations are ongoing, I wanted to find out more about the work of their writing center, from Agnes—and how the university’s uncertain future was impacting the day-to-day work of her team.

WLN blog: Hi Agnes! Thanks for meeting with me today. I’d love to learn more about you and your center. Can you tell me a bit about CEU, and what did you do before working at CEU?

CEU is a graduate-level university accredited both in the US and Hungary, which offers English-language, 1/2-year Masters and doctoral programs in the social sciences, law, management and public policy. CEU currently has about 1400 students from over 110 countries, which makes it the second most international university in the world, according to The Times of Higher Education.

CEU’s Center for Academic Writing (CAW) was established at the beginning of the 1990s. Its primary mission is to ensure high standards of written academic English throughout the university by helping students become proficient, independent writers who can function effectively in CEU’s and the wider academic and policy community even after graduation and by supporting and working with faculty to assist their students. To date, CAW is the only European writing program to have ever received the “Writing Program Certificate of Excellence” award by the CCCC.

I have my masters in English language and literature. I also have postgraduate degrees in Translation Studies and Business Coaching.

WLN blog: I’d love to learn more about your center. CEU is a graduate school, that serves only graduate students. Can you tell me about your classes and your writing center?

Our center is a combination of a writing center and a writing program. We teach mandatory academic writing courses and offer consultations to students in all departments. We also collaborate closely with department heads and professors to tailor our course content towards students’ writing needs.

Our staff is entirely made up of professional writing instructors; all are considered part of faculty,  We teach native and nonnative speakers together. Most of our courses are in the fall and winter terms. We teach twelve sessions in academic writing in the fall, focusing on cultural differences in thinking and writing, the research paper and another, discipline-specific genre we choose in collaboration with professors.

Increasingly our writing instructors work with departments to develop guides/expectations. There are big differences between policy and research writing, for example. All students are asked to write something in multiple genres. Developed with different professors.

In winter, when students start working on their thesis, we offer classes on how to write thesis proposals, departmental thesis requirements, and then the thesis itself.

Our center is basically mandatory for all students. We don’t need to advertise our consultation services hardly at all! Students are required to come once or twice early in the semester. From that point on it’s optional. What may make us different from other writing centers is that we ask students to send their papers in ahead of time. We do utilize WCOnline, but only do online appointments for students that are doing thesis research abroad

Now we are very busy consulting with students in the spring term. Some students work through the whole thesis in one concentrated push, others just bring in sections.

For us, marketing/selling ourselves is more about proposing things to management! Such as last year’s initiatives for PhD students. We work with them mostly in consultations, currently, often over years, but want to do more. My team wants to provide special writing training for the PhD students, so we worked with the programs to tailor things to their needs.

Continue reading “An Interview with Central European University’s Agnes Toth”

Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program

Carol Mohrbacher

Carol Mohrbacher is a Professor of English and former Writing Center Director (the Write Place) at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Carol, using her many years of experience, advice and input from colleagues, as well as research in writing center practice, theory, and pedagogy, planned, developed, and launched a new Writing Center Administration graduate certificate in the Fall of this year. Below is our e-mail interview with Carol.

WLN Blog: What was the progenitor of your idea to set up this program?
Carol: About seven or eight years ago, it occurred to me that I was supervising too many independent studies on the topic of writing center administration and tutor training. Some of our writing center alums who had completed these independent studies were finding jobs as writing center professionals. In 2009, there was a call from our Provost for the development of ideas that might appeal to the local and state community. Funding would be involved. So, never one to overlook an opportunity for funding, I proposed a course on writing center administration. The proposal almost immediately fell into a black hole, as the Provost moved on to another position at another institution, and the initiative disappeared—a situation that anyone who has been in academia for any length of time will recognize.

In 2012-13, a few years and more independent studies—and two Provosts—later, a new Provost called for innovative certificate programs. Simultaneously, administration pushed for more online offerings. I saw this as an opportunity to develop a valuable program—something that would contribute to the international writing center community, as well as to my own institution. My efforts in 2009 had resulted in a syllabus, and a sort of plan for future topics courses in writing center administration. I decided to build off of that early nugget.

WLN Blog: What were the processes and obstacles to developing and implementing the program?
Carol: The first thing I needed was some direction on what a certificate program looked like. No one seemed to know, so I did my research, looking at programs in IT and Education. One note: generally, this kind of project is the result of group or committee efforts. I was on my own, except for the feedback and editing help of my friend, Tim Fountaine.

What I did not expect were the many levels of scrutiny and research that would be required of me from groups and individuals at all levels—the English Department, College of Liberal Arts, SCSU administration, IT, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities administrative body. Two years later, after 14 levels (I counted them) of permissions and approvals, and after much research and one survey that resulted in 260+ respondents, the program was a go.

The next step was to create the courses that I had proposed and outlined for the various committees and individuals. This semester, I have begun teaching the first 2 courses—Writing Center Theories and Practice, and Issues in Writing Center Administration. So far, so good. I have students from 7 states. They are MA and PhD students and writing center professionals from various institutions from high school to R-1 universities. The engagement and enthusiasm are infectious. I am having a great time working with them.

The final two 2-credit courses for this 10-credit certificate program will be offered at the beginning of summer semester in a 5-week session. They are titled, “Staffing and Training” and “Cases Studies in Writing Center Administration.” Continue reading “Two Provosts Later: Establishing a Writing Center Administration Graduate Certificate Program”