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Volume 21, Issue 4

From (Under) The Chair’s Desk

Official numbers are out, and the English major has continued to see a small decline in popularity. We now stand at 794 majors, in comparison with 840 last year. The promising news, though, is that the number of first-year students with an English major has gone up rather than down, suggesting we may be reaching the bottom of our decline. And, from anecdotal accounts, our decline seems much more modest than many of our peers. Within the university, humanities departments generally seem to be seeing a continuing drop in majors, while other Big Ten English Department chairs reported drops in the order of 50% over the last few years. Further details on the numbers are provided below.

A CIC conference on graduate education and the Future of the Humanities gave me the opportunity to hear stories from other Big Ten English Departments—things are tough everywhere, but English Departments have a resilience which made us as a group sound appealingly robust—as well as to reflect on how doctoral studies should be pursued in the future. It turns out that most departments have shrunk their doctoral programs, which has created certain tensions (especially about providing sufficient graduate courses) even as it also creates opportunities. I found particularly appealing the suggestion that, with smaller programs, we have the opportunity to give more personalized attention to each graduate student. Specific ideas shared at the conference included modifying preparation to allow better for alternative careers; possibly reshaping expectations of the dissertation; trying to organize a CIC humanities summer institute; possible revitalization of CIC course share to make our specialist seminars available to graduate students on other campuses; and a possible CIC post-doc exchange. These and other ideas have also been seeing discussion on campus, with DEOs from humanities departments planning on further discussions, the OVPR Humanities Advisory Board providing some possible leadership, and the Digital Studio/Certificate in Digital Humanities playing a role. An NEH institutional grant may help some of these initiatives move forward. The one thing that seems clear to me is that English should play a leading role in these discussions—both sharing what we do well, and learning how we might benefit from the experience of others. I will report further as the various initiatives develop.

Meanwhile, regular English Department life continues apace. The new compressed schedule for so-called Early Registration (it is really regular registration) ends today, with our courses looking happily subscribed—with thanks to Hannah Rounds and Joelle Petersen for staying on top of quick reorganizations, and special thanks to Kate Torno for directing the students to the most appropriate courses. Next year’s curriculum is nicely in place (always with the caveat that we will need some revisions when the new major finally gets approved). Promotion cases are moving forward (with thanks to all involved, including Jenny Britton for admin support). Our undergraduate recruitment systems seem exemplary, leading a group of us to talk with the Brent Gage, the VP for Enrollment Management, and his team about ways of partnering to highlight the department’s strengths. And English faculty continue with their vital roles of research and leadership, as the brief notes below will illustrate.

Happy Thanksgiving Break!


Student Numbers Matter

The Registrar’s Office has now released the Profile of Students for Fall 2015, available here on their website. The report shows the number of English majors in the third week of Fall 2015 and is good as a stable point of reference for comparison with previous years. Graduate numbers are less useful because the report collapses together Writers’ Workshop and English graduate students.

The numbers provide a somewhat mixed picture for our department. Once again fewer students are choosing to major in English, although the rate of decline is fairly small. Our total number of majors now stands at 794, in comparison with 840 last year, and 862 the year before. That is a decline of 5% from last year. We are thus seeing a continuing drop in numbers, but it is striking that our drop has been less than many of our peers in the Big Ten (with English majors at both Penn State and Nebraska currently totalling about 350 after bigger drops than ours).

If you look at the pattern of entering students, the number is more heartening. In Fall 2015, 157 students enrolled with a declared major in English, as opposed to 130 in Fall 2014. That is a significant increase, suggesting that our recruitment procedures of last year had a meaningful effect (bravo, Kate, Phil, and the recruitment team!). The pattern of transfer students is approximately constant: we saw 39 transfer students with a declared English major join in Fall 2015, in comparison with 38 in Fall 2014. The remainder of our year-group presumably chooses to switch to an English major once they have experienced the intellectual pleasures of our classrooms.

The Profile give some further information that reveals the significance of English. We are now the sixth most popular program of study for undergraduates in the university. This figure is based on first declared majors only, so the numbers are wrong, but comparison is probably sound, since the same metric is used for all. Psychology is easily the most popular undergraduate major (with 1020 first majors). English (with 687 first majors) is just a shade behind Business (698) and Biology (695). Most striking are the other two, which are the two fastest-growing majors on campus: Human Physiology (851) and Health and Human Physiology (742). English is the seventh most popular program of study among freshmen.

In another way of looking at the numbers, our total Student Credit Hours taught in Fall 2015 is 9,703, which compares with 10,440 in Fall 2014, with an FTE of 39.5 (in comparison with 39.75 in Fall 2014). However you look at it, English remains a vital part of the university. About time for another hire or two, if you ask my opinion!

Detailed breakdown of the numbers, with a comparison for the last few years:

FALL 2015

794 majors

687 first majors (218 men, 467 women; 131 self-identify as minorities, 14 are foreign)

107 second majors (39 men, 67 women, 1 transgender)

In 2014-15 we awarded:

216 BA degrees

25 minors

13 MA degrees

16 Ph.D. degrees

Tenure-track FTE: 39.0

Lecturer FTE: 0.5


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


Faculty Matters

Congratulations, once again, to Lori Branch, whose upcoming NEH summer seminar is featured here.

Marilynne Robinson will be giving a lecture on “The American Scholar Now” in the Englert Theatre on December 9 at 5:30 p.m. Both Ed Folsom and Chris Merrill both provided impressive context on the relevance of her perspective, which can be read here

Congratulations to Loren Glass on the successful Post-45 conference recently held at the University of Iowa; click here for more details. For Loren’s earlier commentary on the new president, click here.

Lena Hill was one of the invited speakers at the UI teach-in on inclusion last week. See more details here.

Michael Hill served as co-director of a public humanities session on "Rap Music, Money, and Civics." More info here.

Adam Hooks recently served as co-director of a graduate workshop at the Newberry Library, “From Manuscript to Print: Evolution or Revolution?” See this website for more details.

Judith Pascoe’s new role as Senior Scholar for the Digital Scholarship and Publishing Studio in the UI Libraries and overseer of the Studio Scholars program gained the attention of Iowa Now, and can be read here. Judith’s earlier editorial over the selection of the President is available here.


Graduate Matters

Congratulations to Gemma Goodale-Sussen and Stephanie Tsank on their selection for Post-Comprehensive Research Awards for Spring 2016 from the Graduate College. These awards enable the recipient to concentrate on research with a fellowship semester place of teaching a course.

Bravo to Katherine Montgomery (PhD, 2014) whose article, "Like a beautiful voice singing in a darkened room": Mysticism and Modernity in Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier" was recently published in The Space Between: Literature and Culture from 1914-1945.


Undergraduate Matters

Congratulations to Max Seifert, a senior English major, saw a chapbook of his poems published after winning a poetry prize. Further details about his chapbook, The Hole of Everything, Nebraska, can be found here.


Custodian Matters

Tom Reiner, the third-floor custodian who is probably familiar to anyone who lingers in EPB past 5 p.m., was honored this Veteran’s Day for another part of his life. The Johnson County Military Affairs Association presented him with the 2015 Will J. Hayek Award. Tom, who apparently served in Vietnam in 1968-69, was honored for his work raising donations for the needy. “At least once a week, he brings a full truck of much needed supplies to Pearl City Outreach… In total, his deliveries to the community exceed 500 deliveries of goods per year. He donates food, cloghing, toys, school supplies, and other needed items to families, churches, food banks, and Armed Services in the community,” reads in part the brochure celebrating his achievement, which also includes remarkable pictures of Tom in the days of his military service. The full citation can be seen here.


TIR Matters

Congratulations to Harry Stecopoulos, Lynne Nugent, and The Iowa Review on their successful pursuit of a $10,000 NEA grant to support the publication and promotion of an issue of The Iowa Review, featuring new writing by U.S. military veterans. The journal will conduct a writing contest for U.S. veterans, judged by an accomplished veteran writer and requiring no entry fee. In addition, the journal will publicize the issue through a public reading, website gallery, and social media.


Upcoming Matters

DCG Meeting, December 3rd, 3:30-5:00 pm, Gerber Lounge

Faculty Meeting, December 10th, 3:30-5:00 pm, Gerber Lounge