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Volume 21, Issue 1

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

Well, this has been a pretty odd start of semester, hasn’t it? Viewing four presidential candidates during the first two weeks of term took a big chunk of the time for many of us. I was particularly attentive since, as a member of Faculty Council (the elected executive committee of Faculty Senate), I found myself charged with distilling feedback of faculty opinion about the candidates to the Board of Regents. I think I can reasonably say that the tenor of that response was unambiguous, completely in line with the public comments of faculty and the AAUP survey, and so I shared a sense of shock when, 24-hours later, the Board of Regents announced the appointment of the single finalist that faculty (and other campus communities) made clear was not an appropriate fit. While I heard some concerns about a slow faculty response, it was strictly speaking just one business day later (after the holiday weekend) that Faculty Senate responded in an open meeting by voting no confidence in the Board of Regents. Which gets us with breakneck speed to where we are now, which seems to be something of an impasse.

It is hard, of course, not to feel a certain anxiety and concern with that tumbling of events, especially as the UI is now in the media spotlight as the latest poster child for the alarming trend of political tussling over higher education. But there will, of course, be a way forward – I’ll even hazard a guess that it will be a glorious one – even if I can’t see yet how we will get there (but read on for a few suggestions). First, though, let me acknowledge the great English Department contributions to the process so far, even if the outcome looks so concerning. First and foremost, thanks to Lena Hill who served on the search committee. The committee for such a search is sworn to secrecy so we should not expect to learn details of their deliberations, but we can be sure that they put in hours of work making reasoned deliberations in challenging and stressful circumstances. Thanks, too, to all our members of Faculty Senate, namely Barbara Eckstein, Claire Fox (who also serves on Faculty Council), and Claire Sponsler (who also chairs the committee on the selection of senior administrators), who all played a part, with English prominently represented in Faculty Council interviews with the candidates. And thanks to all who showed up and spoke at the four public forums and at the open Faculty Senate meeting, which was notable, I thought, for the articulate and wise statements by colleagues in English. The department showed itself to be central to the university’s practice of shared governance.

And now to the impasse. What to do when the Board of Regents appoints as President of the University the candidate that the faculty articulated in so many ways is not best suited for the position? I have now heard a strikingly similar answer both from Faculty Senate, from CLAS Executive Committee, and from individuals across campus: articulate what we do and what we consider core values to ourselves, to the citizens of Iowa, to the world more broadly, and thereby educate and set the agenda for any new president. The keys to our identity are familiar to us all and yet always bear rearticulating – the value of a Liberal Arts education for all citizens; the importance of the imagination and a place to nurture it; the significance of humanistic research for contributing to society; the value of a top-notch research university that can provide a great education to more than just the elite; the importance of cultivating a febrile environment in which young people can experiment and play with their identity and in which it is ok to be book-y and to be smart; the value of tenure as a vehicle for maintaining free inquiry; the centrality of diversity for engaging society; the significance of research on fields that some might consider arcane and on those (like Old English homilies) that are plainly central. The current sense of crisis may encourage us to spell out those bedrock concerns of our collective endeavors all the more urgently. Other ideas will also surely take shape – I have heard suggestions of teach-ins, symposia on public education, as well as increased public engagement.

At the moment it is not quite clear if there is a single coordinating center for all this activity. Surely Faculty Senate will play a role, and that body has the attraction of bringing together colleagues from throughout the university. CLAS Faculty Assembly has been suggested as one locus for action, and that may be a powerful center for explaining the value of the humanities within a Liberal Arts education. I am sure that other centers of energy will arise. It seems to me that in this case a distributed model of action may be healthy, with diverse messages coming from diverse outlets all demonstrating the vitality and value of a great public university.

Within the department, with the advice of the executive committee, we will hold a lunchtime discussion soon for English faculty to ponder our collective and individual responses. In broad terms, though, I think the key contribution of the English Department is to continue doing the great things we do – teaching, inspiring, and empowering undergraduates, guiding and educating graduate students, writing widely and persuasively, sharing our work with diverse publics in multiple contexts and forums. Come what may, a lively, engaged English Department is at the heart of what makes this university great.

Welcome to the new semester! I look forward to seeing many of you at the Fall Reception tomorrow. 

Library Matters

In addition to our able subject librarian, Stephen Sturgeon, we now have a new liaison for classroom visits to Special Collections in Amy Chen. Amy kindly agreed to introduce herself to us in this newsletter:

Hello, I’m Amy Hildreth Chen, the new Special Collections Librarian. I was hired in June 2015 to coordinate our instruction program. You may know that this role was held by Colleen Theisen previously. Because our instruction and outreach programs grew so rapidly, Colleen elected to focus on outreach and the Libraries hired me to take over the instruction portion of her job.

Please feel free to contact me directly at if you have an interest in what our instruction program can do for you. If you’d like to book a session for the upcoming fall, please click here to fill out our form.

Over the next few semesters, we will be shifting the policies and procedures of Special Collections to encourage best practices in pedagogy, further develop the range of instruction methods we offer, and make booking classes easier. I appreciate your patience as we go through this process. Over the past few months, I interviewed several of your colleagues to learn about what’s working, and what’s not, with our current program. If we haven’t met yet, and you have suggestions on how we might improve, please let me know.

I should disclose that I am deeply invested in your department because I’m an alumni! I received my BA in Political Science and English in 2006. While I was an undergraduate, I wrote an honors thesis supervised by Lori Branch and took graduate classes under Dee Morris and Priya Kumar. Their support helped me successfully apply to Emory University, where I graduated with a Ph.D. in English in 2013 with a dissertation on the market for twentieth-century literary collections. At Emory, I also worked in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) for five years, an experience that allowed me to pursue a career in special collections. Between 2013 and 2015, I was a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellow in the Division of Special Collections at the University of Alabama, where I coordinated instruction, managed exhibitions, and supported social media campaigns. I am happy to be back at the University of Iowa and I’m thankful to English for steering the direction of my career. I look forward to working with you in the future.

Prospective Students Matter

The annual You @ UI event for prospective majors who have been accepted for admission to the UI but have not yet decided to come will be on the morning of Saturday, October 3. With expert guidance from Phil Round and Kate Torno, we will, once again, create a coffee room out of the Gerber Lounge for one-on-one exchange between faculty volunteers and prospective students, facilitated by our student ambassadors. Faculty can volunteer for one or more of the three morning sessions by signing the sheets by the mailboxes in 310 EPB. 

First-Years Matter

With thanks to Blaine Greteman, Loren Glass, and Kate Torno for getting this ball rolling, we are now strongly associated as a department with a Living Learning Community in the new Petersen Residence Hall. The LLC that used to be Popular Culture is in process of being renamed Living Literature. Dick Pfarrer is the LLC coordinator that Kate Torno and Lena Hill are working with. The LLC invites English faculty to participate in programming aimed at its community of freshmen. Kate reports that there is a pleasant lounge on the floor of our LLC as well as a large room on the main floor that holds 300 at tables or in rows with a stage. Students from the LLC are receiving an introduction to Iowa City’s literary scene in Loren Glass’s ENGL:1100 City of Literature, newly developed as a course in common for them. If you have further ideas about programming or potential, feel free to discuss them with Kate, Lena, or Loren.

Digital Humanities Matters

I am delighted to report that John Culshaw, University Librarian, has named Judith Pascoe as the new Senior Scholar for Digital Arts and Humanities Research in association with the Digital Studio for Public Arts and Humanities. This three-year renewable appointment will see Judith taking a lead in shaping work on Digital Arts and Humanities on campus. Since she will be spending a significant portion of her time in the Digital Studio, after this semester Judith will be teaching a single course each semester for the English Department. Bravo, Judith!

Faculty Matters

Congratulations to Lori Branch, whose proposal for an NEH summer seminar for College and University Teachers was successfully selected for funding. Lori will be co-directing the four-week seminar on “Postsecular Studies and the Rise of the English Novel, 1719-1897” during July and August 2016.

John D’Agata has worked with the UI Press to create a new opportunity for publishing in nonfiction with a Nonfiction Writing Prize. NWP graduate students will play a leading role in selecting manuscripts, while the NWP Distinguished Visitor will be the final judge. For further news, click here.

Congratulations to Eric Gidal, whose book, Ossianic Unconformities: Bardic Poetry in the Industrial Age, was recently released by the University of Virginia Press. Eric has also received two grants related to a collaborative project with a few faculty and librarians at the University of South Carolina. The project, Mapping Scotland: Cartography, Literature, and Environment in the Industrial Age, seeks to develop the methods and ideas in his book and apply them to a wider swath of Scottish literature, specifically the holdings of the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature at USC. The project will create a web exhibit and digital tool for exploring environmental change through historical maps and literature, with a focus on the geography of nineteenth-century Scotland. He will correlate digital facsimiles of the holdings at USC with a sequence of contemporary historical maps so as to explore and chart evolving relationships between literature and geography in a rapidly changing world. In addition, Eric has received a Studio Start-Up Grant from our own Digital Studio for Public Humanities.  The aim is for the Studio Start-Up grant to provide design support over the first six months as he works on a prototype for the project that focuses on the Poems of Ossian.

Loren Glass’s new course, ENGL:1100 City of Literature, captured local imagination and received nice notice in the Iowa City Press Citizen at the start of the semester. Click here to read the article.

Congratulations to Michael Hill, who was selected to participate as a fellow in the 2015-16 CIC Academic Leadership Program. Michael will be one of five fellows from across the university learning tips from academic leaders about handling budgets and leadership in higher education.

Adam Hooks continues to be recognized as a significant authority on early modern printing. As such, he will be co-directing a Research Methods Workshop for Early-Career Graduate Students on “From Manuscript to Print: Evolution or Revolution?” at the Newberry Library on October 24.

In celebration of UNESCO's International Jazz Day, Horace Porter discussed Ralph Ellison's work as part of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature event, “News from the Great Wide World: Ralph Ellison and the Cultural Ambassadors of Jazz,” that celebrated the intersection of jazz with the work of the writer Ralph Ellison. Throughout the program, a jazz ensemble performed songs composed or made famous by jazz artists who connected with Ellison, including Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, and Charlie Christian.

Congratulations to Claire Sponsler, who received the 2015 David Bevington Award from the Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society for her book The Queen's Dumbshows: John Lydgate and the Making of Early Theater (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). The Bevington Award is given annually to the best new book in early drama studies. The award was announced at the International Congress on Medieval Studies which took place at Western Michigan University in May. Further news about this award is available here. Claire will also be sharing her expertise as a discussant at the Newberry Library’s Medieval Studies Symposium, “New Approaches to Medieval Drama” on Sept 25.

Dave Wittenberg’s recent book, Time Travel: the Popular Philosophy of Narrative (Fordham, 2013), was picked out for an extended and enthusiastic review by Fredric Jameson in the London Review of Books. Click here for further reading.

Staff Matters

Congratulations to Lynne Nugent of the Iowa Review, whose essay, "The Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card" was published at the website Full Grown People and is available for reading here.

Please welcome our newest staff members. Jenny Britton, who joined us in May as the new HR Coordinator for EPB, and Joelle Petersen, who joined us in July as the new Front Desk Admin Services Coordinator.

Jenny comes to us from the hospital also where she worked for COMPASS for a number of years. She graduated from the University of Iowa with a major in American Studies. She will be responsible for all of the HR functions for the EPB departments including monitoring compliance with University processes and procedures, processing faculty and staff appointments, terminations and changes of status. In addition she will work closely with all four DEOs in EPB and assist with gathering information that is required (PTEAPs, PARs for example). Jenny will also be assisting CLAS with managing medical leaves and disability accommodations. Jenny’s office is 323B EPB.

Joelle comes to us from Iowa State, where she recently graduated with her masters in Student Affairs and worked in Residence Life and Study Abroad. Joelle received her undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa with a major in Anthropology and a focus in Museum Studies. Afterward, she spent a year teaching English in Gwangju, South Korea. Joelle is responsible for assisting with faculty and grad student travel, visitors, events, and the everyday operations of our department. If you need have any questions while you’re in the office, please feel free to say hello to her at the front desk in 308 EBP.

With the new academic year brings new student staff employees, supervised by Joelle and Hannah, who will be happy to assist you with any copies, book scanning, and similar tasks if you find you’re in need. Please say hello to returning student staff member Heidi Stofer, and new staff members Andrea Chan and Zoie Schares, all of them English majors. Welcome!

Obermann Matters

Obermann Graduate Institute Fellow, Brian Collins, recently began a tenure-track position in California this fall. Important to the decision to hire Brian was the philosophy course he developed during the Graduate Institute that uses movies to introduce elements of philosophy to high school students. The philosophy grad student was part of the 2014 Obermann Grad Institute on Public Engagement, co-directed by Barbara Eckstein, that covered a variety of subjects, including the value in pursuing publicly engaged scholarship in teaching and promoting this work in job applications. For more about Brian's story, click here.

Upcoming Matters

English Department Fall Reception, Sept. 12, from 5:00 -7:00 pm at the home of Jon Wilcox and Denise Filios, 404 Linder Road NE.

You@UI, Oct. 3, 9:45 am-1:00 pm Gerber Lounge (304 EPB)

Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism: Stanley Plumly, Oct. 23, TBA