From (Under) The Chair’s Desk
My apologies for a somewhat tardy Reading Matters (week 4 already?!). This semester has been rushing by in a blur, what with the excitements of the search, the curriculum, and the budget, not to mention the usual round of teaching and research and meetings.
At one of those meetings, President Mason recently gave a state of the university speech to faculty senate. She assured us that the university is “well positioned for growth” and that she is fully expecting those 500 new additional undergraduates per year, declaring that applications are currently up by 10%. She proudly reminded us of the two new dorms that have been built or planned and added that she understood there would also be a need for more faculty and staff. When pressed on where the budget for new faculty was likely to come from, she stressed how the savings from the TIER efficiency study are supposed to be re-invested in the institution that generates them. I was happy to hear her explicitly say that “it is time to increase the tenure track faculty,” which sounds good if obvious to me, although my confidence was muted by the follow-up that she hoped this would be a priority for her successor. Surprisingly lacking from her speech were concerns about the budget, perhaps suggesting optimism about the current budget round in Des Moines, even though nothing there seems at all settled yet.
That TIER efficiency continues its slightly torturous process. The business cases have now been completed and these will lead to a number of shared services around HR and ITS, which, we were assured, will mostly be achieved through conceptual sharing rather than the moving of staff. The three academic components of the review got stalled, you will remember due to the resignation of the subcontracted consultant (KH). At this stage, the review of academic space has gone ahead under the inspirationally-named consultants, Ad Astra. President Mason announced their discovery that we do not have a problem of insufficient teaching facilities, which suggests a report that I’m keen to see, since EPB continues to be packed to the gills between 9:30 and 3:30 every day and we are forced to teach at unpopular times for want of a classroom. The two further studies of academic operations will center on distance learning and time to graduation of undergraduates across the three regents’ institutions, with the Board announcing today that they have selected Pappas Consulting Group to take on the task. For more, see here.
In other news, while the timeline of the search committee to select the new President remains unclear, its composition is now established, including seven faculty members. The individuals selected for those positions should be announced soon. Town hall meetings about the process will take place on Monday, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 20, at 3:30 p.m. See, further, here.
Meanwhile, our own business for the Board of Regents, the proposal for a new degree in English and Creative Writing, failed to make it to their February agenda. Apparently, the proposal got delayed at the Council of Provosts, who need to give it approval before it moves to the Board, and whose relevant meeting was cancelled due to one of this winter’s snowstorms. With such a strong proposal, I remain confident that the new degree will surely receive approval, perhaps even approbation, but I now have no idea about the likely time-line of that process.
In an environment that is highly attentive to student credit hours generated by any department, the good news is that our just-released tally for the spring is well-nigh identical to that for last year (10,401 SCH in Spring 2015, compared with 10,381 in Spring 2014). As previously reported, the number of English majors at the benchmark moment of the third week of fall registration was 840 (which compares with 862 majors in Fall 2013, and 961 majors in Fall 2012). The Profile of Students has now been fully released (available at the Registrar’s website, here) and the finalized report contains some additional comparisons and interpretations that are interesting for this department.
English continues to be one of the most popular programs of study, but it is now in fifth place in the university, behind Psychology, Human Physiology, Health and Human Physiology, and Communication Studies. (While, the numbers used to establish the comparison between majors are false since they rely on only first majors, not the total number of majors, it is likely that each department is misstated by approximately the same amount, and so the comparisons are probably good.) The change from third position reflects, I think, the growth of two majors shaped to provide a better degree experience for students who once identified simply as pre-med. English comes third in graduate programs of study, but only with the Writers’ Workshop numbers collapsed into the English Department numbers. English is also in the top ten of majors declared as an interest by incoming freshmen, where we are eighth on the list, which explains some of our continuing work with recruitment.
While those are interesting numbers, more nuance can be given to the data by using some of the information now available in MAUI. In an age of dual majors, it is possible, for example, to see the most popular second majors that are undertaken by students who have declared themselves English majors. The chart below presents this information at the end of the fall semester. The precise number of declared English majors changes by the day, and at that moment there were 825. The most popular pairing proves to be with Journalism and Mass Communication (51), followed (at roughly equal numbers) by Art and Art History (34), Cinema (33), and Theatre Arts (32). The biggest single overlap is with students who have declared an Honors designation (188). Next biggest are those who have declared an interest in Secondary Education (85), a number considerably larger than those who have satisfied the requirements and been selected for admission in the English Education program (35). The two degrees that I expected to top the chart come somewhat further down, with 26 joint majoring in Psychology and 19 in Communication Studies, the latter beaten out by History (20). The complete chart is available here.
The MAUI tool also allows us to track our minors. Striking here is the small number of students who declare an English minor (79 total). Their chosen majors approximately match the pairing of our majors, with Journalism and Mass Communication once again top with 9, followed by Psychology with 8. The complete chart is available here.
Among the many interesting discoveries coming from this data is the healthy overlap with Theatre Arts. (32 double majors between the two programs is all the more striking since their total majors are 188.) This shared group, along with our obviously overlapping interests in drama and performance, has encouraged Blaine to make a meeting with faculty from Theatre Arts the focus of one of the upcoming Pastries and Pedagogy meetings (coming up on April 29).
Warm thanks to Kate Torno and our four student ambassadors for taking the lead in much of our recruitment efforts this semester. Now that we have the recruitment committee in place (thanks to Linda Bolton, Lori Branch, Brooks Landon, Tom Simmons, Harry Stecopoulos), it seems that we are able to take visits by prospective students in our stride. The added element this semester are a series of three Accepted Student Visit Days, which will provide an opportunity for students who have been admitted to decide that they do, indeed, want to come to Iowa. Special thanks to Tom Simmons for kindly agreeing to anchor such visits with a sample of an inspirational English Department class. If Tom leading prospective students to ponder the problem of happiness in the works of Thomas Traherne, Henry James, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton, and Robert Pinsky doesn’t inspire them to come and major in English, I figure nothing will!
Corey Creekmur was selected for and will be attending a two week NEH-sponsored workshop at Middlebury College in June on "Scholarship in Sound & Image," focused on the video essay as a creative and critical text. The workshop will be run by Middlebury College faculty Jason Mittell and (Iowa PhD) Christian Keathley, and feature visiting scholars Eric Faden and Catherine Grant, and visiting artist Kevin Lee. 13 participants (representing 4 countries) were selected from over 100 applicants in what we were told was a "highly competitive" selection process. Information on the workshop can be found here.
Barbara Eckstein is one of three co-directors of this spring’s Obermann Humanities Symposium, Energy Cultures in the Age of the Anthropocene, March 5-7, 2015. For further details, see here. Barbara was also co-director of this spring’s successful Obermann Graduate Institute on Engagement and the Academy.
Ed Folsom and Blaine Greteman are both cited in the IowaNow story about the $1.6 million Mellon Foundation grant to support digital technology in a combined initiative between Grinnell College and the UI. See here.
Patricia Foster has an essay "The Lost Years" forthcoming in Colorado Review. One of her essays has been nominated for a Pushcart prize.
Warm congratulations to Blaine Greteman on his selection for the Stanford Humanities Center External Faculty Fellowship for 2015-16. This prestigious award (the committee selected fewer than 10 fellows from 373 applicants) will enable Blaine to conduct full-time research in residence at the Stanford Humanities Center during next academic year. Blaine will be writing a monograph that builds on his Digital Humanities project, the Shakeosphere online database, pursuing networks in early modern literature. Congratulations, too, on Blaine’s selection for an Obermann Interdisciplinary Research Grant for Summer 2015, worling on the project, “Linked Reading: A New Scalable Model for the Digital Humanities.”
Kevin Kopelson was Al Jazeera’s choice for an expert witness on the NFL cheating scandal in an interview on their Inside Story.
Jonathan Wilcox recently saw the publication of a co-edited volume, Anglo-Saxon Emotions: Reading the Heart in Old English Literature, Language and Culture (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), which includes his essay, “An Embarrassment of Clues: Interpreting Anglo-Saxon Blushes.”
In this age of heightened travel costs and constrained travel budgets, it is always worth applying to International Programs if you are travelling to a conference or research trip that is travel overseas. Recent successful applications from English include Blaine Greteman, Stephen Voyce, and Lena Hill.
Faculty Colloquium with Adam Hooks titled “Shakespeare’s Bones.” Feb 17 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
English @ Work: Guest Speaker: Amanda McFadden. Feb 18 at 1:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Earthwords and English Host a Reading of Undergraduate Nonfiction. Feb 18 at 8pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Pedagogical Lunch: Teaching Our Graduate Students. A timely discussion in advance of our Spring meeting on graduate program issues, with faculty and grad students. Feb 24 at 12:00pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
English @ Work: Careers in Editing and Writing. Mar 4 at 1:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Colloquium with Anne Stapleton. Mar 10 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Pastries and Pedagogy. You can’t do that with a MOOC: a faculty discussion, with staff from Special Collections, of the ways we use archives and hands-on learning. Mar 11 at 9:00am. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
DGC Meeting. Mar 12 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting: Graduate issues. Apr 2 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Colloquium with Alvin Snider. Apr 7 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Pedagogical Lunch: Portfolios: An introduction to portfolios and how to use them in the classroom, a discussion with faculty who’ve used them, and an introduction to our online portfolio tool. Apr 14 at 12:00pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting: Foundations of the English Major. Apr 16 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Pastries and Pedagogy. Our interdisciplinary students: A faculty discussion with colleagues from one of the departments with which we share many students and texts, Theatre Arts. Apr 29 at 9:00am. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Meeting: Outcomes assessment. Apr 30 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Faculty Colloquium with Matt Brown. May 5 at 3:30pm. Gerber Lounge, 304 EPB.
Undergraduate Honors Celebrations. May 8 at 3:30pm. Senate Chamber, Old Capitol Museum.