Ken Ledbetter, recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, 1983


Dr. Kenneth Ledbetter is an associate professor in the Department of English. He has been teaching at Waterloo since 1966. Professor Ledbetter is a specialist in American literature and has himself written a number of short stories and a novel. Professor Ledbetter has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in literature, and, to quote a former chairman of the Department of English – “could invariably be counted on to turn in a consistently excellent performance in the classroom.” Professor Ledbetter also served for many years as an associate dean of arts dealing with various special projects such as the University enrichment program for selected Waterloo County high school students, and the development of the arts co-op programme. But these are not the reasons why Ken Ledbetter is standing up here today. Professor Ledbetter was nominated for the Distinguished Teacher Award because of his enormous contribution to the teaching of writing skills, both at the University of Waterloo and in other educational institutions, including many Ontario high schools. Many of us will remember that in the early seventies a serious concern surfaced in this province about the poor writing skills of high school graduates. There was a strong feeling at Waterloo, and elsewhere, that many of the students entering the university were going to be hampered severely in their studies and in their subsequent careers by their inability to write good English. With the strong encouragement of the University’s president at that time, Dr. B. C. Matthews, Waterloo proceeded to do something about it. The person who spearheaded the university effort was professor Ledbetter. Ken would be the first to admit that he could not have accomplished anything without a great deal of co-operation and help from his faculty colleagues, from graduate students in English, and from many members of staff. Nevertheless, his leadership, his organizing skills, and his extraordinarily hard work were essential to Waterloo’s success. What has been done? A great deal. Briefly, in 1977 the University set up the English Language Proficiency Examination for incoming students, and a writing clinic to help those who don’t pass it. This requirement now extends to five of the six faculties, and all faculties require evidence of acceptable writing skills for graduation. Moreover, Ken Ledbetter organized an annual conference on “Writing Skills in Ontario” which brought together high school teachers of English, faculty from the community colleges and university professors to discuss what could be done to improve the writing skills of students at all levels. Over the five years from 1977 to 1982, these conferences have resulted in improved standards of writing. The failure rate in the proficiency examination has fallen from 47% to only 16%, and the writing clinic is now much smaller than it had once been. No list of Ken Ledbetter’s contributions could be complete without mention of English 109. This introductory university level course in basic writing skills, taught to hundreds of students at a time, has contributed much to the improved standards of writing. Professor Ledbetter’s lectures in that course are best described as unorthodox, reflecting the philosophy that “you sometimes have to hit a mule with a two-by-four to attract its attention.” His contribution behind the scenes, in training the dozens of teaching assistants who work with the students in lab sessions and mark their essays, is less visible but just as important.