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Volume 19, Issue 12, Jun 16, 2014

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

I’m just back from the Association of Departments of English conference, meeting this year at Galveston, TX, where chairs of English from across the country go to go groan and compare notes. The meeting strongly reinforced the thesis of my own presentation: that all conditions are local and yet English Departments everywhere face similar pressures and so would benefit from pooling our attempts at solutions. Indeed, while the specific details of how the Iowa legislature is cutting back our funding earned a few sympathy points for approaching the cruel and unusual, the broad story of diminished state appropriations was close to universal, and everyone was talking ramped up expectations around undergraduate students.

The pressure we have begun feeling to take a more active role in recruiting undergraduate students turns out to be near universal in every kind of institution, public or private, large or small. Other recurring talk centered on working harder to retain them, steer them towards gainful employment, and to document our successes in those regards. There was much talk of deploying English faculty energy as part of the first-year experience to create a pipeline to the major. Many departments were starting up career practicum courses (bravo, Doris, for getting us in ahead on that one). There was much talk of internships, with some institutions building them in as an expected part of the English degree. There was lots of talk about better tracking those who graduate, both through stories recorded on the website and through more organized surveys of alums. The stats on placement nationally look pretty good, with only 6% of 2010 graduating English majors unemployed, average starting salary of about $40K and average mid-career salaries of $71K. By most measures, an English degree really does pay for itself, and by most accounts, it is becoming ever more important for us to articulate that.

Writing was a big part of the conversation. Many institutions have found that Creative Writing is a winner for attracting students and reacted with the reange of possible enticements: creative writing minors, or tracks, or majors. Most seemed to be trying to harness creative writing energies and yoke them to traditional literary analysis. Howard University reported trying to build creative writing into their two-semester Gateway sequence. Others were relating this to an expository writing wing that often seemed to feel embattled. A few were also trying to build in some digital experience. Florida State has taken a lead here, where they are advertising their degree in Editing, Writing, and Media as “a new English major for a new century” and packing in students by the hundreds. Others were finding problems with bringing about any creative writing/literary study crossover, and impressed by the examples of conversation and collaboration going on in our department.

Outcomes assessment was another topic where the discussion sounded familiar. This is the topic of a recent MLA report available here. In broad terms, most institutions had been resistant, but are now finding Assessment to be our friend in allowing us all to articulate, reinforce, and also document, what it is we are doing. My favorite was somebody’s throwaway line that “Life Satisfaction” was a legitimate aim of the English major and could be a listed and measured Outcome. Lots of talk of surveying alums to learn about career outcomes and cultivate contacts. I expect our discussions next year of undergraduate curriculum and assessment affairs led by Doris (DUS for next fall) and Blaine (DUS for next spring) will be informed by consciousness of these national trends.

An even more recent MLA report reflects on graduate programs in English and World Languages, seen here. This proved somewhat controversial in its enthusiastic embrace of Alt-Ac over shrinking intakes. Job statistics as so far available suggest a continuing flatness in tenure-track positions and continuing growth in non-tt positions. In talk about training graduates, it turned out that just about every Ph.D. granting department already has or is in the process of developing something very like our Digital Humanities certificate – nice to know we are in the right crowd, if perhaps not the leaders on that one! In general, though, the energy of chairs this year seemed to be far more devoted to undergraduate concerns, to such an extent that I look forward to working with Alvin (as next year’s DGS) and John (as next year’s director of NWP) on maintaining graduate student morale in such an environment.

Returning to the local pressures playing out in Iowa, you will have seen that the Regents accepted a slightly-modified version of the reallocation plan rewarding in-state undergraduate enrollments that will see $10Ms reallocated away from UI. Nice to see the upbeat message of our President (her e-mail to faculty, also available on the university website), who presumably sees ways of filling in that revenue loss once we really know the framework. You will also have seen the first report of the efficiency task force (available on a link from the front page of the university website here) and the rather endearing press response of “what, that’s it?” If you read closely the main item under academic programs, besides building utilization (are they going to ask us to teach at 7:30 a.m.?) are the hints that they are going to push online learning. Back at ADE, that is one area where many of the regional campuses have significantly more experience than us. I was hearing how online courses work pretty well as part of the mix if taught to the same size groups as brick and mortar classes, often by the regular faculty teaching them on load. That option adds flexibility, and was getting a positive response from faculty, but hardly sounds like a cash cow. 

Finally, let me wish you all a happy, fulfilling, and rejuvinating summer (with thanks to Loren for serving as summer chair) and look forward to continued discussions on all the above in the next academic year. And if the talk of crisis begins to get you down, let me particularly recommend Blaine’s recent analysis in an opinion piece in The New Republic, available here, for a great account of how it has always been so.


Faculty Matters

Mark Isham has been recognized by the Graduating Class of 2014, President Mason, Provost Butler, and Vice President Tom Rocklin as making a positive difference in University of Iowa student lives. Students nominated Mark Isham for the fourth year in a row. Recognition was published in The Daily Iowan on April 24, 2014.

Mark Isham traveled with Faculty Engagement Corps (May 21-23, 2014), sponsored by the Office of the Provost of the University of Iowa, to Dyersville, Guttenberg, Dubuque, LeClaire, Davenport, and Muscatine, Iowa to meet with ethanol plant managers, grade school and high school administrators and teachers, city planners and officials, energy and water quality researchers, and community health professionals. He visited the Field of Dreams, the Mississippi Lock and Dams, the Figge Museum, Clayton Ridge Community Schools, urban renewal projects, the Buffalo Bill Museum, Antique Archaeology, Wide River Winery, Mississippi River Distillery, and Carver Mississippi River Environmental Research Stations. The Faculty Engagement Tour is open to all University of Faculty each spring and travels to different parts of Iowa each year as a way of educating faculty about Iowa. If they wish, faculty have the chance to create outreach opportunities for themselves in Iowa Communities.


Obermann Matters

English faculty will be active leaders and participants in many of the exciting discussion groups taking place at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies next year. Congratulations to Jen Buckley, who will be co-leading the “Performance Studies” working group; Corey Creekmur, who will be leading the “Comics Studies” working group; Eric Gidal, who will be leading the “Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Interdisciplinary Working Group”; and Blaine Greteman, who will be co-leading the “Humanities for the 21st Century” working group. Meanwhile, Barbara Eckstein will serve as co-director of the 2015 Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement in the Academy, while Mary Lou Emery and Michael Hill will be pursuing their research as Obermann Fellows-in-Residence for Fall 2014. Good to see so many English faculty taking a lead in engagement with the humanities on campus!


Research Awards

I am delighted to report that three English faculty were selected for Internal Funding Initiatives coming from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development (the old AHIs).

Jennifer Buckley’s project, “Action, Scene, and Voice: Twenty-first Century Dialogues with Edward Gordon Craig,” which she is undertaking in collaboration with Annie Holt, executive director of a New York opera company and a graduate student in Theater at Columbia University, received support to fund initial construction of a website, built using the dynamic new platform Scalar, that will serve as a digital collection to bring together scholarship and performance studies focused on a single figure, Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966).

Miriam Thaggert’s project, “Riding Jane Crow: Gender and the Railroads in African American Culture,” received funding for research travel to the Newberry Library and to the Library of Congress to undertake archival research for a book monograph.

Stephen Voyce’s project, “Fluxus Digital Collection,” an ambitious major archival project, which he is undertaking with support from the Digital Studio for the Public Arts & Humanities (DSPAH), Digital Research & Publishing (DRP), and UI Special Collections, received funding for web programming and to acquire data visualization software and film equipment.

Bravo, all three. In the new world of IFI funding, this opportunity comes round three times in the year, and I would encourage those with proposals that were not selected to resubmit them.


Placement Matters

Catina Bacote (MFA ’14; Patricia Foster, dir.) has accepted a position as a 2014-2015 Provost’s Postgraduate Visiting Writer at the University of Iowa.

Barret Baumgart (MFA ’14; John D’Agata, dir.) has been hired as an adjunct assistant professor by the Division of Continuing Education to teach online creative writing courses for the University of Iowa.

Amy Bernhard (MFA ’14; Patricia Foster, dir.) has been hired as an adjunct assistant professor of creative nonfiction in the Magid Writing Center.

Tom Blake (Ph.D. '14; Kathy Lavezzo, dir.) has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor in English at the University of Iowa.

Daniel Boscaljon (Ph.D. '14; Ed Folsom and David Wittenberg, co-dir.) has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor in English at the University of Iowa.

Blake Bronson-Bartlett (Ph.D. '14; Ed Folsom, dir.) has accepted a visiting lecturer position at Dortmund Teaching Exchange Program, Dortmund, Germany.

Kelly Franklin (Ph.D. '14; Ed Folsom, dir.) has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position at Hillsdale College, MI.

Jacob Horn (Ph.D. '14; Corey Creekmur, dir.) has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in English and Writing Center Coordinator at the University of Connecticut.

Bryan Mangano (Ph.D. '13; Eric Gidal, dir.) has accepted a one-year position as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the English Department at Coe College

Jennifer McGovern (Ph.D. '14; Kathleen Diffley, dir.) has accepted a full-time position in the Writing Center at Grinnell College, IA.

Jose Orduna (MFA ’13; Jeff Porter, dir.) has been hired as an adjunct assistant professor of creative nonfiction in the Magid Writing Center.

Taryne Taylor (Ph.D. '14; Florence Boos, dir.) has accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position at Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville, FL. 

Johanna Tomlinson (Ph.D. '14; Teresa Mangum, dir.) has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professor in English at the University of Iowa.

Inara Verzemnieks (MFA ’13; John D’Agata, dir.) has accepted a position as visiting assistant professor on the creative writing faculty at Oregon State University. 

Angela Watkins (Ph.D. '14; Mary Lou Emery, dir.) has accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position at Wiley College, Marshall, TX.