The Rice Thresher, Vol. 90, No. 1, Ed. 1 Friday, August 23, 2002 Page: 2 of 28
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THE RICE THRESHER OPINION FRIDAY, AUGUST 23,2002
111 the Rice Thresher
After waking up Monday in a new place surrounded by new
people, the new students on campus had to take a test. A test that
determined part of their courseload and impacted their academic
confidence, despite some serious failings of its own.
Some people say the English Composition Exam fails enough
people to fill the spots in English 103; some people say test graders
pass too many people who need help because there are not enough
spots in the course. The issue is not whether the numbers of
students passing are inflated or deflated each year. A bigger prob-
lem is that after talking to graders, it was clear that how severely they
judge these tests is based — to some extent — on how many seats
there will be in English 103 that year.
This is inappropriate for a test that claims to determine a student's
writing ability. While the exam is officially called a composition exam,
it is a competency test judging students' writing skills — any skill-
based test that results in a pass or a fail is evaluating competency.
But this competency exam is too arbitrary to be able to claim true
legitimacy. English Professor Mary Tobin, who administers the
exam with English Professor Linda Driskell, admitted that the test
has inadequacies: "We of course don't claim it is a full picture of
every student's ability to write," Tobin said Wednesday.
And although Tobin said the number of English 103 sections are
based on the number of students who fail, this seems unlikely,
considering the number of sections this year — five, as was last
year's number—was determined before the test was administered.
Furthermore, the test lacks publicized standards about the crite-
ria graders use to evaluate new students' writing. Tobin said graders
pass students who can form an argument, develop it and support it
in their composition. Surely the professors grading it have graded
numerous essays and papers before, but the fact remains that even
these requirements are broad and subjective.
In addition, the English Department is consistently short on
graders, resulting in hastily-graded essays and hurriedly-made
decisions. One of this year's graders told the Thresher that graders
would probably not read through the second page of many exams
and that graders would probably pass "any exam sensible in the first
page or two." This is not the ideal situation in which one should
determine students' writing ability.
There are two broad options for improving the test: Completely
change the exam or work on improving it within the current structure.
To improve the exam using the current evaluation system, the
university could offer incentives to those who grade the exams. The test
administrators could clarify their standards and grading guidelines.
Administrators could work to solicit student and faculty opinions about
ways to more accurately evaluate students' writing abilities.
And one suggestion for changing the test entirely would be to
consider exemptions for high AP or SAT scores.
The reasoning behind a writing requirement is worthwhile. Rice
graduates often lament the low overall quality of their writing. Yet,
a one-time test—graded seemingly haphazardly—isn't the answer.
Test administrator s, graders and students admit that some students
in need of help pass and some good writers fail.
Under current conditions, writing competency judgements are
Scavenging for good
While scavenger hunts often force interaction between groups
hoping to bond and familiarize new students with Houston, they also
have the ability to put new students in a position fraught with peer
pressure and the possibility for embarassment. This year's scavenger
hunts seem to have crossed a line into illegal and improper things for
advisers to do to or with their freshmen. (See Story, Page 1.)
The Rice orientation system is built around a strong support
network for incoming students. Creating situations in which self-
conscious students feel they must go along with the crowd defeats
the purpose of the welcoming college and advising systems.
This year's scavenger hunts caused such problems (tampering
with construction sites and removing pictures from Baker Hall) that
the administration got involved, recommending that the colleges
monitor their own scavenger hunt lists. The administrative interfer-
ence was quick, smooth, and relatively painless — no big punish-
ments and no rude barging in.
But they were just talking about students doing illegal things.
They weren't addressing the students who got pierced or tattooed
within three days of arriving at Rice. After the administration got
involved, the O-Week coordinators began telling advisers to regu-
late their group's activities, but this self-regulation should have been
more firmly in place earlier.
The university lets us get away with a lot during O-Week, and we
should do our part to make sure we keep their trust and keep the
special priveleges by keepng our rule-bending safe and fun.
insert title here...
by katie streit
"i got canadia!"
Early involvement better than complaining later
Orientation Week went fine.
The parking gates are here to stay.
There's nothing really new to be
Now is the perfect time
to get involved.
I know this might sound
crazy, but the best time to
get involved with campus
issues is when there's noth-
ing worth fighting about.
That means right now.
You shouldn't wait until
a hot topic hits the Thresher
or comes up at an SA meet-
ing. By that time, there's not
a whole lot youll be able to
do but complain, and al-
though we all love to do that,
it's really just a huge waste of time.
Maybe that sounds harsh, but
bear with me. If you're involved in
something when there are no big
problems, you'll be in a better posi-
tion to deal with things before they
become a huge issue. You can think
about problems as they develop,
work on them, and made sure noth-
ing goes terribly wrong. Most of the
student body probably won't even
know that you were involved in your
behind-the-scenes actions, but the
university will be better off. That's
better for you and everyone else.
And if things do go wrong, youll
be in a much better position to fix
them if you've already been involved.
Administrators will be more likely to
listen to you if they've
seen you and know that
you've taken prior initia-
tive. It shows that you
actually care enough to
make things better when
no one will know. If you
just sit around and then
complain when some-
thing big happens, you're
only proving that you can
react to problems with-
out making yourself ac-
countable to anyone.
Anybody can do that.
It makes sense that Rice students
are often uninterested in being in-
volved. We've got things pretty good
here. You could easily go four years
and be happy without trying to change
a thing, and I guess that's okay. How-
ever, there are very few people who
think Rice is perfect, and you would
have a hard time finding someone
who doesn't think they can make this
a better place. For that reason, I don't
think there's a single person on cam-
pus who wouldn't benefit from get-
ting involved with something.
Don't worry; I don't have any hid-
den Student Association agenda when
I say this. Although it would be cool if
you came to Senate meetings, this
isn't supposed to be some rah-rah re-
cruiting letter for the SA I don't care
what you get involved with. Get in-
volved with RPC and make sure the
shuttles to formals aren't late. Get in-
volved with RSVP and improve an
already-pretty-good Best Damn Day
of Service Ever. Get involved with
your college, and when some jerk
pulls 19 fire alarms, you can be in a
position to catch him so that your keg
money doesn't go towards fines. Do
whatever you want, but take the time
to find something you like and do it.
Sure, there's always room for stu-
dent reactions when new problems
arise, and I'm not saying that you
shouldn't get up in arms when things
aren't going the way you want. How-
ever, you've got to be willing to work on
issues before problems arise. Get in-
volved now, and you 11 actually be able
to do something to get things fixed.
But hey, if you disagree with me
on this, don't worry. Get on the
Thresher staff and make sure noth-
ing like this runs again.
Matt Haynie is Student Association
president and a Will Rice College
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Unsigned editorials represent the majority opinion of the Thresher'
To the editor:
In the same issue in which Mus-
lim students expressed shock and
disappointment at a Doonesbury
comic strip, Garret Merriam, a phi-
losophy graduate student, attacked
"the holy hood-ornament — God"
("Religious orthodoxy ranges from
'bad' to 'atrocious'" May 17)
I find Mr. Merriam's article an
affront against the God of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, to name a
few religions that organize worship
of God, whether called Jehovah or
Allah or another name. Mr. Merriam
also called believers cowardly, and
I, too, once chose not to believe.
For eight years, starting with my
sophomore year at Rice, I was con-
vinced there was no God. Then I
had a baby, nursed her, read up on
prolactin and discovered that
mother mammals are biochemically
programmed to love their babies all
day and during the night.
As my children, now all National
Merit Scholars and all Rice alumni,
once sang long ago in a little song
they'd made up, "We're floating in a
universe of love." I agree. Mr.
Merriam, you are free not to believe
in God and to be dismayed by some
of the sad shortcomings of orga-
nized religion, and you are free to
write without sufficient restraint
about those who choose not to agree
This is America, after all, where
free will reigns supreme from time
to time. Why should you be so harsh
on the other people who exercise
their free will, for better or worse, to
believe and behave rather differently
from both your standards and their
own, as well?
We all may choose whether to
believe or not. I've looked at life
from both sides now and found con-
vincing arguments and proofs for
however one believes. The question,
really, is "Do you want to believe?"
When I was 28, nursing and
flooded with profound love for my
baby, I gave faith a second chance
and have since seen amazing evi-
dence for trusting a gracious, sensi-
tive, concerned, youthful, scientific,
artistic, humorous and loving God. I
have found far more reasons to be-
lieve than to doubt.
For example, last summer I drove
from Washington, D.C., to a Latin
teachers' conference in Virginia, and
as I drove I made up a song with the
words, "Ancient of Days, full of
beauty and grace, I adore You." I
sang it over and over again. Once at
the conference, and without a car,
finding myself needing a knife with
a metal blade, I prayed and went
looking for one, without success.
When I returned later to my room,
there was a perfectly suitable little
penknife sitting on the bedside table.
Brand: Old Timer.
I hope that some day you will find
a spiritual community that nurtures
you and that you will not doubt your
senses when you feel, as must surely
happen rather frequently, that you
have been the recipient of some
grace, some fortunate coincidence,
God has gentle ways and delights
in subtleties. Good luck, Mr.
Merriam. God bless you.
Karen Parten Villarreal,
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Rustin, Rachel. The Rice Thresher, Vol. 90, No. 1, Ed. 1 Friday, August 23, 2002, newspaper, August 23, 2002; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth443190/m1/2/: accessed October 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Rice University Woodson Research Center.