From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
Busy times, what with shaping up the new English and Creative Writing major (with special thanks thus far to Doris Witt and the extraordinarily active expanded undergraduate steering committee of John D’Agata, Loren Glass, Blaine Greteman, Jeff Porter, Robyn Schiff, Anne Stapleton, Harry Stecopoulos, Bonnie Sunstein, Miriam Thaggert, Kate Torno), which will be coming for further department discussion on Nov. 6, accelerated by a recent tightening of the timetable for approving new degree programs; the continuing push to increase departmental involvement in admissions; the exciting sequence of upcoming promotion reviews; the continuing search in nonfiction writing; not to mention the quotidian excitements of closing out the tenth week of the semester (so soon!).
In one added, and rather odd, experience of the week, DEOs were invited to an emergency meeting held by President Mason, the point of which seemed to be to declare that she hadn’t meant it when she signed a letter in support of the latest performance-based funding formula (available here). This was hardly a surprise, since the point of the letter appears to be to give a veneer of solidarity, presumably to have a better chance of arguing for the fill-in funding of $12.9 million in next year’s budget. Mason clarified that she doesn’t like the funding formula, but that it has been passed by the Board of Regents, and that her tactic is to try to persuade the state legislators to eliminate it, if possible, or to make good the UI’s budget, if not. She further revealed that her back-up strategy is to grow enrollments in the university to make us less dependent on state funding. No surprises there.
In pondering new opportunities for the English Department, a visit by Sadek Mohammed, Professor of English and Dean of the College of Arts at the University of Baghdad, presented some unusual possibilities. Professor Mohammed, who is currently a visiting writer at the IWP (see his profile here), described an English Department in Baghdad that is in some ways robust (more than a thousand majors in a very traditional four-year program), but in some ways sorely in need of contact with American universities. He described, in particular, a need for help with curriculum reform and with bolstering their teaching of American literature, which is currently rather thin, as well as a desire for collaboration at many levels. After a couple of conversations, Sadek and I signed a friendship statement between the two departments (available here) which, while, I believe, not creating any commitments, will, I hope, enable continued conversations about pursuing collaborations, if anyone has such an interest and any good ideas.
The English Department has been doing its bit to boost enrollments here at Iowa, including our participation in last Saturday’s You @UI recruitment event. By all accounts, the coffee-themed recruitment event in the Gerber Lounge was a roasting success. Thanks to Bluford Adams, John D’Agata, Mark Isham, Kathy Lavezzo, Laura Rigal, Robyn Schiff, Tom Simmons, Harry Stecopoulos, along with graduate students Raquel Baker, Liz Lundberg, and Spenser Santos, for turning up on a Saturday morning to give three groups of a dozen plus prospective students and their families a sense of the human touch involved in studying in the humanities. Thanks, too, to Loren Glass, Blaine Greteman, and the PROD committee for helping to devise the programming and to Hannah Rounds for supporting the set up. And special thanks to Kate Torno and Doris Witt for taking the lead on the event and making it such a worthwhile and successful group endeavor.
We know that the degree we offer provides real benefit in skills, knowledge, understanding, and informed global citizenship. It also carries clear fiscal benefits, too. Humanities Indicators, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reports that in 2012 the annual median earnings of terminal bachelor’s degree holders in the humanities were $51,000, while the median for workers with less than a bachelor’s was $35,000. Humanities majors who go on to an advanced degree had median earnings of $71,000 (and I, for one, was surprised to see that “44% of humanities majors with full-time employment possess at least one advanced degree”). For more information, see here. A different report, published by the Wall Street Journal, shows the starting median salary for an English major to be $38,000, and a mid-career median salary of $64,700. See that here.
But really, of course, students flock to the English major for the love of reading, the pleasures of writing, and the desire for knowledge. Happy post-midterm in all your classes!
Patricia Foster has essays in the fall issue of Antioch Review and Florida Review and essays forthcoming in Southern Humanities Review and Steerforth Press. Two of her essays – “Contingencies” (Antioch Review) and “In Transit” (The Sun) were named Notable Essays in Best American Essays, 2014.
Congratulations to Blaine Greteman, whose “Shakeosphere” project helped NPR’s All Things Considered learn the history of the word “boo,” in a story aired on NPR on Halloween. More info here.
Peter Nazareth shares a 2008 story about the British pop singer, Cliff Richard, recently back in the news, here.
Anne Stapleton’s Waverley Extravaganza continues to reverberate, as witness the comments of Alan Riach, the Ida Beam Visiting Professor from Glasgow: "...your colleagues in the English department and your students all made an impact on me, friendly, bright, curious, smart, well-informed and wanting more, in all the best possible ways. If I do make it back someday, I'd happily deliver again in any way that seemed apt, in that context and venue - all good and grand. And the Waverley day - what a blast. Or hoot. Or jamboree do. I can't quite get over the fact that it all went so well, took a good two hours, had such a big and appreciative audience and got such enjoyment activated and such brilliant people performing...."
The latest Dickens newsletter features Annmarie Steffes and Miriam Janechek, recent UI participants in the 2014 Dickens Universe. See here for the story.
Bravo to Zachary King for bringing a burst of publicity to the GEL elective course Heroes and Villains in a story in this week’s Iowa City Press-Citizen. See here.
With thanks to Miriam Thaggert and, especially, Anne Stapleton, faculty advisors (and host) for the ATI Fall 2014 ceremony, 15 undergraduates were inducted into the local branch of the English Honors Society:
Doc/Undoc: Documentado/Undocumented. Nov 05, 2014 at 1:00pm. Rooms 1103-1105, Main Library.
Faculty Meeting. Nov 06, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Colloquium with Harry Stecopoulos titled “Telling America’s Story to the World: The Literature of U.S. Diplomacy.” Nov 11, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting. Nov 13, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Reading by NWP Visitor Hilton Als. Nov 13, 2014 at 7:00pm. Prairie Lights.