I am writing this at the end of a work day, as if clearly-defined borders could be drawn between working and not working. For some time now I have hesitated to write about this topic, but I think it essential we begin a dialogue about it and also come up with some solutions to the problem.
I am referring to the undeniable fact that we have in academe administrators and faculty who have a difficult time writing grammatically correct sentences, paragraphs that flow, or even more sustained works. These individuals–I am sure you know a few at your own institution–appear to be able to function at a level that obviously is higher than that of persons who must rely on logos (no we are not talking ancient rhetoric here) and photos of vegetables to purchase the right cans of food at the grocery store.
I will not even begin to tackle the ability of faculty and administrators to read; besides, that skill or its absence is much easier to cover up. And that is what we are talking about when it comes to written communication in the workplace: cover-up.
Most of us are guilty of participating in this cover-up. We don’t assign the people who cannot write very well to committees, for example. In making our selection we say things like, “No, let’s not use so and so,” which frequently is code-speak for “this person cannot write.”
In beginning to find a solution we must not resort to tactics of a witch- or warlock hunt of persons who write poorly. Strategies can be employed in which the “non-writers” are selected for committee work and are paired with persons who can mentor informally their colleagues. I have on more than one occasion had persons admit to me they cannot write, that it has been so long since they were in school. Rather than writing the report for that person, I have consulted with that person more or less the way I would with a writing student.
I am sure many of you are thinking, “That’ll be the day, mentoring of colleagues and they will turn into writers. Writers my *#@! They are slowing us down and we get stuck doing all the work!” Yes, that is a perfectly understandable reaction, especially when we consider large workloads and deadlines that look as if they are already in the past.
Should individuals at your institution–remember, we are discussing professionals here, administrators and faculty with advanced degrees–not want to learn how to write, tougher measures could be implemented. Think about it. Don’t we expect administrative assistants, for example, to type at a certain speed? Don’t we expect that personnel in warehouse operations or groundskeepers be able to lift at least fifty pounds? Should we not be able to expect of administrators and faculty with advanced degrees certain written communication skills? Why should they be exempt from being able to perform what is an essential function of the job?
Is it time to implement writing tests for employees? Or should we offer cessation programs, similar to those made available to tobacco users, so that employees can rid themselves of bad grammar and punctuation? Is this subject too hot to handle? Who will handle it? Will it be handled? Or does an advanced-degree diploma with all the rights and privileges include not being expected to be able to write complete sentences or muster a cohesive paragraph? I am certain someone has the answers and it won’t even be necessary to have a college degree to come up with them.