From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
What interesting food for thought has been provided by this semester’s pedagogical luncheon series (thanks, Doris, for organizing and presiding). Even with the topics ranging as widely as writing, branding our courses, and teaching in the digital age, certain common links emerged. And those discussions nicely seasoned the faculty discussions about the Introduction to the Major course and provided some ingredients for our discussion of our hiring plan. In all these different forums, we have been considering how to capture the attention of students formed in the digital era and how to make them more savvy as critical writers, critical readers, and critical thinkers.
Discussions of the significance of the new technologies abound, of course, and often in relation to the very things we value in our professional lives – reading and writing, thinking and learning. One idea that caught my fancy in a recent Op-Ed piece was how the new social media have made a sea-change in most people’s relation to writing. The author argued that while intellectuals have long been busy expressing ourselves in writing, most people in America simply stopped writing for pleasure or for self-expression after they left college. The new social media have changed all of that. Now a vast portion of the population chooses to write for fun. Is this part of the reason that so many students want to study writing, I wonder? And does it suggest a breakdown of barriers between creative writing and expository writing?
We are not the only ones attending to this shift in an institutional context. A minor thread running through the listserv for chairs of English has discussed the proliferation of undergraduate programs in creative writing (tracks, certificates, degrees), often created by English Departments otherwise seeing falling enrollments. Discussion has centered on how to better integrate the traditional virtues of an English major (historical reading, research, critical writing) with the desires and expectations of students drawn to creative writing (self-expression, workshopping, writing for pleasure). Our own work in this regard, the undergraduate creative writing track, assumes that students benefit from a combination of creative writing courses and more traditional English major courses, as I am sure they do. They may also benefit from more targeted crossover courses, however, and in this regard our advanced topics courses in the Creative Writing Track (8WS:170) might be at the vanguard of a new trend. Here colleagues are crafting a single course that combines attentiveness to the historical and analytical with exercises in creative writing. Congratulations, Jeff, Alvin, Patricia, and Doris on teaching such courses this year, and thanks to Robyn and Jeff for overseeing their formation!
How best to integrate and coordinate writing in its many forms into our courses is surely an appropriate topic for continuing discussions (pedagogical p.m. panels, perhaps, for the spring semester?). Meanwhile, turning our pedagogical visions into the reality of a slate of courses for 2014-15 is the current work of the curriculum committee, ably supported by Justin Denman; thanks, all!
Even as we feel pressure to deliver tuition to more students, so there is a possibility that fewer students are choosing to turn to an English major. Both those constraints are being felt in higher education across the United States, according to comments of chairs of English gathered by the Association of Departments of English. The numerical evidence is less conclusive. ADE statistics showed numbers of English majors approximately stable across the last decade, with hints of a decline in the latest data. At the UI, we may be seeing something very similar.
There are many ways of tracking our student engagement in our own statistically-saturated institution. Our internal count of enrollments per faculty across a five-year window are gathered as part of the curriculum process and available to all faculty on the shared (L: ) drive. To chart trends, it is crucial to compare like with like. For this purpose, I have found the Statistical Profile of Students, published by the Office of the Registrar, and available on the Infobank website most useful. This gives the official count of students after the end of the second week of each semester, with a record stretching back to 1966. This is the record that establishes the relative longtime stability of the English major over the past decade. If you simply add together those declaring English as their first or second major from these reports our numbers look pretty consistent. Here is the data for the last ten years, with added detail for the last two:
While the number of majors has swelled and declined a little, the broad number has been fairly consistent. It has never mattered to us whether these students declared English as their first or their second major, which is a mere administrative chance. All those students follow the same requirements, require the same advising, and probably show the same commitment.
However, the way in which the numbers are gathered has now changed, so that this administrative triviality suddenly becomes significant for tracking trends. Full institution of MAUI has led to some improvements in the way that student data gets presented. My personal favorite is the inclusion of subtitles on student transcripts, which has made grade reports so much more informative. Another shift has allowed students to declare any number of majors, certificates, or minors, which is useful for keeping track of our ever-more-credentialed students and advising them. One unintended consequence of that shift, though, is that the category of second major no longer exists, skewing the statistical profile. We are still getting credit for all the students we teach, and their areas of study are going to be counted, but the change in designation makes comparison with last year rather difficult.
With that caveat in mind, the English undergraduate numbers reported for Fall 2013 are 735 first majors (260 men, 475 women) of whom 112 are members of ethnic minorities. While the true number of majors is significantly higher (one report of “areas of study” suggests 1187 such students), this number of first majors is the number we can compare with the last two years (when we had 816 and 827 first majors). A drop of about 10% from last year is rather significant, assuming it is not simply a result of the different ways of gathering the data. I will continue working with the various databases and the Office of the Registrar to attempt to come up with some better data, which I hope to report in the next Reading Matters. In the meanwhile, though, we should be attentive to a probable drop in the number of English majors in our various discussions about how best to deliver the outstanding teaching for which Iowa English is so well known.
Blaine Greteman has written a piece on Raymond Carver, Curious George, William Empson, and the way we measure literary complexity, for The New Republic available here.
MLA annual elections are open, and Lena Hill is a candidate for a seat in the Delegate Assembly. If elected, Lena will serve as a special-interest delegate for Women in the Profession. You can vote until Tuesday, Dec. 10th here.
An anonymous source from the recent MMLA conference in Milwaukee reports about Kathleen Diffley’s organizing of eight panels for the Civil War section:
Barb Pooley reports: “It is with great pleasure that I would like to announce that we have filled the Administrative Services Coordinator – English office front desk position! Hannah Rounds who graduated from the University of Iowa in 2010 with an English major accepted our offer of employment and will begin November 25th. Hannah has worked at Willowwind School for the last 2 years in a variety of roles.
We are very excited for her to begin her career at the University of Iowa. Thanks to the search committee - Jon Wilcox, Doris Witt, Cherie Hansen-Rieskamp and Justin Denman - for all their work on this search.”
Thanks to Barb for chairing the search committee. And do feel free to introduce yourself to Hannah as you return to EPB after the Thanksgiving Break.
Fourth Wall Films reports: UI’s Dr. Horace Porter Featured in Documentary on Iowa Actress/Activist Jean Seberg. Film premieres Nov. 15-17 in controversial star's hometown.
Marshalltown’s Orpheum Theater Center is rolling out the red carpet and warming up a searchlight for the world premiere of Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg, a new documentary by Emmy® nominated filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films, and Garry McGee of McMarr, Ltd. A premiere party and the feature-length film will open the three-day Jean Seberg International Film Festival on November 15, 2013, celebrating what would have been Seberg’s 75th birthday in the theater where her first film Saint Joan had its North America premiere 56 years ago. University of Iowa’s Dr. Horace Porter is among those scholars featured extensively in the film.
Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg is the first documentary film to focus on the private side of the famous Marshalltown native. Movie Star will also examine Seberg’s very public American and international film career, civil rights era activism, and her mysterious, untimely death in Paris. The film features exclusive on-camera interviews with Jean’s family, friends and colleagues, film historians and civil rights scholars, including Porter and former Black Panther Party leader Elaine Brown; as well as never-before-seen private photographs, home movie footage and rare movie and behind-the-scenes film clips.
Professor Horace Porter, Professor of English and Chair of American Studies and Chair of African American Studies at the University of Iowa and author of Stealing the Fire: The Art and Protest of James Baldwin, Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America, and The Making of a Black Scholar, sat for an in-depth on-camera interview for the documentary.
“I find her fascinating and remarkable,” said Porter during his interview. “Jean Seberg was right there in the mix and right there as a sympathizer. She was someone who was very much dedicated to improving the quality of life of those who had been discriminated against.”
Seberg made her acting debut in Otto Preminger’s Saint Joan and starred in Hollywood films Lilith, Paint Your Wagon, and the Academy-Award winning Airport, among others. She is best known for her performance in director Jean-Luc Godard’s groundbreaking French New Wave film Breathless, rereleased on its 50-year anniversary to rave reviews and a new generation of Jean Seberg fans.
“The documentary strips away the Hollywood gossip, the national media hype, and the F.B.I. propaganda to find a young woman of conscience embroiled in the important issues of her day, while also carving out a unique and important international film career,” said producer Kelly Rundle.
Dr. Porter will give a special symposium on Seberg’s civil rights activism during the film festival on Saturday, November 16, 4 p.m.-5 p.m. The symposium is free to the public.
For details about Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg premiere weekend screenings, the Jean Seberg International Film Festival’s free symposiums, and special showings of Seberg’s films, visit Orpheum Theater Center or call 641-844-5909 for more details. The IVCCD Orpheum Theater Center is located at 220 E. Main Street, Marshalltown, Iowa.
Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg will continue screening at film festivals and in art theaters throughout the U.S. and Europe. The documentary will be released nationally on DVD, with broadcasts on Midwestern PBS stations following in late 2014. For more information about Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg, visit the official website.
Movie Star: The Secret Lives of Jean Seberg was funded in part with grants from Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Iowa Arts Council. The Historical Society of Marshall County served as the fiscal sponsor for the documentary project. Any views, findings, recommendations or conclusions expressed in the film and program do not necessarily represent those of these organizations.
Undergraduate Research Fellowship Matters
Applications for the Spring 2014 John and Elsie Mae Ferentz Undergraduate Fellowships for Research are now being accepted and are due Monday, Dec. 2. Up to six $1,000 Ferentz Fellowships will be awarded by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).
Made possible by a gift to the UI Foundation from Kirk and Mary Ferentz in honor of Kirk’s parents, the awards are given to provide support and encouragement to undergraduate students who conduct research under the guidance of a tenured or tenure-track faculty member in CLAS. To be eligible, students must participate in or complete an honors research project, a guided independent-study project, a capstone course, or the Bachelor of Fine Arts degree during the semester of the award.
“A strong liberal arts program is a critical component of the strong reputation that the University of Iowa enjoys,” Kirk Ferentz says. “Mary and I are honored to be a part of helping students within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.”
A description of the John and Elsie Mae Ferentz Research Fellowships for Undergraduates program, with complete award criteria and a link to the online application, is available at this website.
Truman Capote Award presentation (to Marina Warner). November 14, 2013 at 4:00pm. Senate Chamber, Old Capitol.
DCG Meeting (full professors only). November 21, 2013 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Colloquium with Ed Folsom titled "'That towering bulge of pure white': Whitman, Melville, the Capitol Dome, and Black America." December 3, 2013 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Matt Lavin, “January-June: The Alt-Ac Job Search.” December 6, 2013 at 12:00pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.