New PWR director Jenkins inherits a program under review

April 20, 2010, 1:04 a.m.

Nicholas Jenkins has been appointed the new director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), succeeding 10-year director Andrea Lunsford.

As director, Jenkins will both run the program and help examine its role in the Stanford curriculum as part of a major study on undergraduate education that began earlier this year.

Jenkins, an English professor and the director of undergraduate studies in the English department, completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Oxford University and specializes in 20th century literature and poetry. He also is a widely published essayist, especially on the subject of poet W. H. Auden.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education John Bravman ’79 M.S. 81 Ph.D. ’85 has hailed Jenkins’ commitment to the program; Lunsford called Jenkins a “pure joy as a colleague.”

Jenkins shared the same measure of enthusiasm in an interview with The Daily.

“Why wouldn’t I want to be involved with a program that tries to lift Stanford undergraduates to a new level of strength in their writing?” he said, adding that he wished he had a similar opportunity during his undergraduate years.

In addition to overseeing PWR and acting as a liaison between the program and the Faculty Senate, Jenkins is expected to work closely with the commission conducting the Study of Undergraduate Education at Stanford (SUES). SUES was tasked by top administrators this year to review, among other things, the general education curriculum, including Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) and PWR.

“I hope to discuss with SUES what PWR requirements do for students, if PWR requirements are doing what they’re supposed to do and what ways they could be done better,” Jenkins said.

Final recommendations from the commission are at least a year and a half away, so any changes made to the PWR program would not come into effect for some time, Jenkins said. While the SUES review may lead to the revision of non-major writing requirements, Jenkins said a writing program would always be key to Stanford’s curriculum.

“Stanford is committed to writing and to a vigorous, flourishing writing program,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins also hopes to find ways in which IHUM and PWR can be mutually supportive and collaborative, despite their different purposes.

Russell Berman, the faculty director of IHUM, also shared Jenkins’ sentiments. Like Jenkins, Berman believes that the skills taught in IHUM and PWR are an essential part of the Stanford curriculum.

“IHUM is about the reading and interpretation, PWR is about writing and communication,” Berman said. “There is no career that Stanford students will follow that does not involve a lot of reading, discussing, writing and interpretation.”

Jenkins will succeed Lunsford, who came to Stanford 10 years ago and created PWR’s existing structure.

“I couldn’t find a programmatic center,” Lunsford said about the old program, then called Writing and Critical Thinking. She said more than half of the freshmen were exempt from that program based on A.P. English scores; lecturers were employed part-time.

Today, Lunsford oversees first- and second-year PWR and the program’s Undergraduate Advisory Board, which she created.

Lunsford said it is time for leadership to change hands, though she continues as an English professor while working on four book projects.

“I’m very old and I should retire, but I’m having so much fun!” she said.

As for Jenkins, his work with PWR is just beginning. Citing his faith in the words of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein — “The limits of language are the limits of my world” — Jenkins said he hopes to help students extend their powers of language.

“I want to help sustain and build a culture of writing at Stanford,” Jenkins said. “It’s always going to be fundamental to the lives of Stanford undergraduates.”

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