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Gift of $10.5 million focuses on writing

09/15/2006

Roger and Joyce Howe of Cincinnati have given a $10.5 million gift to the Miami University campaign For Love and Honor designed to make Miami the nation's best university at teaching undergraduates how to write.

The importance of good writing has long been recognized by Howe, retired chairman and CEO of U.S. Precision Lens and former chair of Miami's board of trustees, and his wife Joyce, an artist. The couple, both of whom are 1957 Miami graduates, have a history of supporting efforts to enhance writing, including a previous $1.8 million gift that established the Roger and Joyce Howe Professorship in Written Communication.

Their latest gift "addresses an important issue at the heart of the university, our ability to prepare students to write well. This magnificent initiative will measurably improve the writing skills of virtually every Miami student and assure that every student appreciates that being a strong writer brings many valuable personal and professional benefits," said Miami President David Hodge.

Roger Howe noted that while most employers today are extremely impressed by today's generation of young people, the one criticism he hears consistently is that too many college graduates cannot write clearly.

"Almost without exception the successful people I have observed over the years, regardless of their professions, have been clear and persuasive writers. The ability to write well seems to be a common thread for future achievement. That is why we think the goals of this initiative are so important to all Miami students," said Howe.

Hodge agreed that even though few in academia dispute the centrality of writing, there is growing concern about the capabilities of college graduates to write clearly. For example, the National Commission on Writing reported in 2004 that American corporations spend an estimated $3.1 billion annually to remedy deficiencies in their employees' writing, "an alarming fact that should call universities to action," the Miami president said.

The gift will be used to make writing an even more central aspect of the college experience by creating the Roger and Joyce Howe Center for Writing Excellence, explained Provost Jeffrey Herbst.

"The extraordinary generosity of the Howes challenges us to change the culture of writing at Miami," said Herbst. "We will aim to ensure that all students, by the time they graduate, are able to communicate effectively irrespective of their field. This wonderful gift has allowed us to have the highest possible ambitions for our students."

Hersbt said the Howe Center will help faculty both improve writing of undergraduates and better use writing in the learning process by:
• Stimulating and supporting writing initiatives throughout the university. Miami, which has long stressed the importance of writing, has a number of existing programs.
• Encouraging and aiding academic departments to incorporate writing assignments into courses and seminars;
• Assisting faculty members in the preparation of and evaluation of writing assignments;
• Providing individualized writing assistance to all undergraduates.

The Howe Center will be a place where students can come for suggestions and advice on their writing or to share their efforts with other students. All students who aspire to improve their writing will be served, from the most gifted student writers to those struggling to master basic skills.

Hodge said that the work by Dr. Kate Ronald, who has held the Howe Professorship in Written Communication since it was established by a gift in 1992, shows that a writing initiative that provides support for both faculty and students can bring about results.

"The support by Roger and Joyce Howe allows Miami to stimulate and coordinate efforts to teach writing and aspire to become the best university in the country devoted to the teaching of writing," said Hodge.

When the Howe Center opens in 2007 it will be administered by the provost's office as befits a universitywide initiative of such magnitude, said Jayne Whitehead, vice president for university advancement. A major symposium on how to teach college students to write better in all disciplines is planned as part of the opening ceremony.

Assessment of progress in enhancing students' writing skills will be ongoing and will include surveys of alumni and employers as to how well Miami prepared them for the writing they do after graduation.

Miami's Love and Honor campaign is a $500 million multi-year fundraising initiative designed to support scholarships, academic programs, facilities and other projects.

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