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Volume 20, Issue 4, Nov 14, 2014

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

I’m happy to report that the proposed new major in English and Creative Writing sailed through consideration by both CLAS’s UEPCC and Faculty Assembly and is now speeding through the Provost’s Office before slowing its progress by arriving at the docket of the Board of Regents, where it has to sit for a month-long comment period before getting considered. If all goes well, it will get considered by the Board of Regents in February 2015. That much committee progress was enough to attract the attention of the Daily Iowan, as can be seen in Friday’s story, available here.

Meanwhile, discussion of the new degree and the prospect of tinkering with or substantially revising our existing major got me thinking about the recent history of our major and trying to put dates to key events. If I share my sleuthing here, it may serve as a modest foundation for our subsequent discussion, and please do correct me if you have a better memory for any of the dates.

I think we last restructured the major to its present form, with the requirement to take one course in each of six areas, two courses in each of three historical periods, and three courses in one area that is thereby designated a concentration, in 2003 or 2004. (How time flies: I admit I still think of it as the “new” major!) My documentary evidence for the date comes from a copy of the final report by the task force on the development of the undergraduate major, chaired by Eric Gidal, which is dated January 2003. The 2004 General Catalog lists the new requirements, whereas the 2002 edition lists the old requirements. (Copies of the General Catalog are available on the Registrar’s website going back to 1970.) One loose end from that revision was the continuing discussion over whether to institute a required large-lecture Introduction to the English Major course, which was subject to three years of further task force deliberations and finally launched in Fall 2007. The major was increased from a minimum of 33 s.h. to 36 s.h. in 2013.

The selective-admission undergraduate Creative Writing Track was approved by the Board of Regents in 2008, again following lengthy discussions, and spurred, in part, by a Provostial initiative to develop the Writing University. I believe that the first group was admitted into the track in Spring 2009. In other recent milestones for our major, I believe that (after initial foot-dragging) we launched Outcomes Assessment in 2006 with a statement of learning objectives and agreement to track seniors’ achievement of those objectives. I think it was before that that our advising model switched from dispersal across all faculty to specialization in the undergraduate office, with a team of graduate students and some faculty led by Anne Stapleton, perhaps from 2005. We moved more recently to the model of a single professional advisor in 2012, with the position first filled by Megan Gioeilli and, since 2014, by Kate Torno.

Of course, the English Department remains a dynamic entity. While we can expect the new major in English and Creative Writing, if and when it gets approval, to continue the reshaping of the department, we can also expect Blaine Greteman as incoming Director of Undergraduate Studies to oversee continuing discussions over the next semester about revising the shape of the existing English major, as well as improving our Outcomes Assessment process. Look forward to continued exciting discussions!


Search Matters

Meanwhile, our search for a nonfiction writer continues apace. Brooks Landon has taken over from John D’Agata as chair of the committee, with warmest thanks to each of them for their excellent work undertaking this important task. Once its selection of candidates has been approved, the committee will be conducting initial interviews at the end of the semester by Skype rather than at the MLA convention. In this they may be part of a growing trend, as David Laurence, Director of the Office for Resarch of the Association of Departments of English within the MLA reports:

“Thank you for completing the questionnaire asking chairs of ADE- and ADFL-member departments about their departments' plans for faculty hiring in 2014-15. Chairs of 241 departments responded.

A prepublication Google doc and report of basic findings is now available to you and others who responded (clicking on the link will open the document). 

Some highlights.

  • 32.2% said they had a search to hire one or more full-time faculty members underway
  • 17.0% said their department will definitely be conducting a search
  • 32.0% said they will not be filling any full-time faculty positions this year
  • 38.8% of departments that had a search underway or definitely will conduct a search plan (n=121) to do screening interviews at the MLA convention
  • 66.1% of the 121 departments plan to do screening interviews by teleconference, videoconference, or telephone
  • 47.9% of the 121 departments that plan to do screening interviews by teleconference, videoconference, or telephone do not plan to do screening interviews at the 2015 MLA Convention
  • 31.9% of the departments that do plan to do screening interviews at the 2015 MLA Convention will also do screening interviews by teleconference, videoconference, or telephone

MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal's column in the Winter 2014 MLA Newsletter considers changes currently occurring in departments job search processes--and how a reconsideration of the convention interview may be called for. The column is posted on the Executive Director's blog on MLA Commons, where it can be read by non-members as well as MLA members. Comments are welcome! (Comments are restricted to MLA members with Commons accounts.)”


Numbers Matter

The Registrar’s Office has now released the Profile of Students for Fall 2014, available on their website, here. This is an initial and early release to get the numbers out, without the full analysis yet in place (which will tell us, inter alia, how popular the English major is in comparison with other majors). The report allows us to see the number of English majors in the third week of Fall 2014 and is good as a stable point of reference for comparison with previous years. This year, the Profile of Students has reintroduced reporting the number of second majors (omitted last year), allowing for a more straightforward complete count than was possible last year. Graduate numbers are less useful to us because, unfortunately, the report has continued a problem from last year by collapsing together Writers’ Workshop and English graduate students. The report also includes numbers of degrees granted, which is probably the most reliable of all the numbers available, but necessarily something of a trailing indicator since it tallies a population that has now moved on.

The published numbers suggest that once again fewer students are choosing to major in English, although the rate of decline is much smaller than last year. Probably the key indicator for us is the total number of English majors, which this year stands at 840, in comparison with 862 majors last year, and 961 majors the year before. That is a decline of 2.5% from last year (in contrast with a decline of over 10% the year before). Before that, our numbers were remarkably stable at about 960 majors (plus or minus 30 or so). While a continued decline in the number of majors is a little unnerving in the current environment of hyper-attentiveness to enrollments, this is not the 30% plus decline that most other Big Ten English Departments have encountered in recent years. The number of degrees we award has dropped more slowly, to 220 from a plateau of about 230 a year for much of the recent past.

The Profile of Students gives added information in a sometimes useful, sometimes awkward manner. For example, it provides information about the number of students who self-identify as belonging to ethnic minorities for first majors but not for second majors. I think all the numbers are most useful when they are used to track historical trends, so encapsulated below is my distilling of a range of relevant information provided in these reports over the last four years, along with the total number of majors going back for ten years.

FALL 2014
840 majors
    697 first majors (241 men, 456 women; 117 ethnic minorities)
    143 second majors (46 men, 97 women)
In 2013-14 we awarded:
    220 BA degrees
    29 minors
    10 MA degrees
    10 Ph.D. degrees
Tenure-track FTE: 39.75

FALL 2013
862 majors
    735 first majors (260 men, 475 women; 112 ethnic minorities)
    127 second majors
In 2012-13 we awarded:
    227 BA degrees
    30 minors
    16 MA degrees
    15 Ph.D. degrees
    Tenure-track FTE: 39.75

FALL 2012
961 majors (350 men, 611 women)
    816 first majors (of whom 123 ethnic minorities)
    145 second majors
105 graduate students (43 men, 62 women), of whom 23 ethnic minorities
31 NWP students (10 men, 21 women) of whom 8 minorities
In 2011-12 we awarded:
    229 BA degrees
    31 minors
    12 MA degrees
    6 Ph.D. degrees
Tenure-track FTE: 42.25

FALL 2011
987 majors (375 men, 612 women)
    827 first majors (of whom 96 ethnic minorities)
    160 second majors
102 graduate students (46 men, 56 women), of whom 24 ethnic minorities
42 NWP students (13 men, 29 women) of whom 8 minorities
In 2010-11 we awarded:
    232 BA degrees
    38 minors
    9 MA degrees
    18 Ph.D. degrees
Tenure-track FTE: 45.5

FALL 2010
977 majors

FALL 2009
936 majors

FALL 2008
940 majors

FALL 2007
990 majors

FALL 2006
992 majors

FALL 2005
1018 majors

FALL 2004
997 majors


Honors Matters

Anne Stapleton and Miriam Thaggert, faculty advisors to the Honors Society, ATI, report:

The Alpha Tau Iota chapter of Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society) is holding a Literary Quiz Night called STUMPED next Tuesday at The Vine, and students are very eager to have faculty, staff, and graduate students participate. The event is a fundraiser, and The Vine has generously agreed to give ATI 20% of the sales that night, so please plan to enjoy dinner, socialize, and participate in the fun!

When: November 18th, 7:00-9:30 p.m. Teams will compete in a literary quiz game from 7:30-8:30 p.m., but come early and stay later for great food and to help ATI out!
Where: The Vine, 331 E. Prentiss St.
Other: The quiz will take place in an alcohol-free zone established for this event

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Anne Stapleton, Miriam Thaggert, or Paul Hossenlopp, President of Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Tau Iota Chapter:


Upcoming Matters

STUMPED: Literary trivia night hosted by ATI, the English Honors Society. Nov 18, 2014 at 7:00pm. The Vine, 330 E. Prentiss St.

English @Work: Careers in Film. Nov 19, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.

Faculty Meeting. Nov 20, 2014 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.