As director of college writing programs, Flaxman oversees the undergraduate writing requirement, which has been on the books for decades but has only recently been enforced, at the insistence of Dean of the College Paul Armstrong.

BAM What is the writing requirement?
Flaxman Faculty can check a column on the grade sheet marking a student as writing-deficient. Students with one check get a letter from me urging them to work on their writing. If they get a second check, they work out a binding plan with me. When the contract is fulfilled, either by passing a Writing Fellows course, having the head of the Writing Center sign off, or passing an English course in expository writing, I remove the check.

BAM What happens if a student doesnít comply?
Flaxman The student will be refused registration for the next semester. Thatís a pretty severe penalty that so far we have not had to enact.

BAM How many students are affected?
Flaxman Last semester seventy-one students got one check and five students got a second check. That does not mean that the rest of the students are writing beautifully, but rather that faculty do not always use the checks.

BAM Why donít they?
Flaxman The requirement says that students must demonstrate competence in writing in order to graduate. Itís not clear what competence is. Also, many faculty donít feel itís their obligation to teach writing.

BAM How do students react to receiving a check?
Flaxman Many are almost relieved that somebody is paying attention. Only one person has been hostile or resistant.