Robert Cummings enjoys writing and teaching writing. Yet, helping others teach writing remains his most rewarding challenge.
As founding director of the Center for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi, Cummings helms the most important unit in a five-year Quality Enhancement Plan aimed at improving student writing in all disciplines. His duties include expanding and enhancing the existing writing program, creating a funding program for faculty members and adopting technologies to encourage and support student writers.
Since starting the center last July, Cummings – who earned his master’s degree from UM and a doctorate at the University of Georgia – has met with faculty from across the community to completely rework the freshman English sequence. So far, curriculum committees are adopting new textbooks, creating a library of writing assignments, writing a best practices guide and rethinking every aspect of those courses so that they support new program outcomes beginning this fall.
“We’re also spending some time hiring an associate director and four core instructors with training in composition and rhetoric,” Cummings said. “We’re looking to adopt a new online portfolio package, revise our placement procedures, enhance our training and support of current teachers, develop standardized peer review and support faculty who want to enhance their students’ writing experiences.”
Cummings’ supervisors praise his achievements and voice high expectations for his success.
“Dr. Cummings is providing strong leadership as we move to fulfill our goal of improving writing at the University of Mississippi,” said Glenn Hopkins, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “With his guidance, we will improve our freshman composition courses and begin thinking about writing across the curriculum initiative.”
“Even though he is a young scholar, Bob Cummings has a well-established reputation in the field of composition and rhetoric,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and QEP coordinator. “Since he arrived, Bob has met with hundreds of people on campus. He spent his first several months listening and learning. I really appreciate his collaborative leadership style, which perfectly matches the philosophy of our QEP.”
The CWR significantly enhances the types of support offered to both students and faculty for the teaching and learning of writing skills, said Maurice Eftink, dean of the Graduate School. “Being an effective writer is a fundamental skill for learning in all fields and for the job marketplace,” he said.
An assistant professor of English who joined the UM faculty in 2008, Cummings teaches composition, composition pedagogy, and courses exploring rhetoric and technology. He previously taught at Columbus State University and the University of Georgia. A prolific author, his most recent projects include “Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia” (Vanderbilt University Press, 2009) and “Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom” (University of Michigan Press, 2008). Cummings has also published multiple journal articles and book chapters on the topics of electronic rhetoric and the teaching of writing.
To meet reaccreditation requirements of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the university organized a Quality Enhancement Plan task force in fall 2006 to identify a student learning outcome that could be improved. After much research and discussion, and with guidance from students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni, the task force settled on student writing.
To better meet students’ needs, the center will move with the Writing Center – housed in the J.D. Williams Library, Suite 310 – to new facilities on campus. The CWR operates as a separate academic unit with Cummings as its director and with oversight from the liberal arts dean. Several existing classes are to be moved under the center, including freshman English composition courses, applied writing and the liberal arts first-year seminar course.
For more information on QEP, go to https://www.olemiss.edu/qep.