English department considers move to College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
A proposal to move the Department of English to a new college has raised questions about the financial and academic future of both the department and the College of Humanities.
Department faculty and staff are voting this week on a proposal to relocate to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. If a majority of the department approves the proposal, it will move to Faculty Senate in time for its last meeting of the semester on May 5.
The proposal, which was presented to the department’s governing body on April 4, stems from a conversation earlier in the semester exploring the possibility of combining the two colleges. After a weekend workshop-style retreat in February, talk of merging the two colleges ended, but members of the Department of English were still interested in becoming part of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Citing academic synergies as the main reason the department wants to move, the proposal highlights some already existing collaborations and possibilities for more collaboration with the
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Alison Deming, director of the creative writing program, addresses concerns regarding a proposal to move the Department of English to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences on Wednesday in the Modern Languages building. Faculty and staff in the department are voting on the proposal this week.
The proposal also states that the department would maintain existing collaborations with the College of Humanities.
“Sure, you can try to do collaborations across the college line, but this just makes sense,” said Lee Medovoi, head of the Department of English and head of the planning committee. “There are so many alignments and the direction that the department wants to go so organically connects to so many units in SBS that we just feel like we’ve reached a crossroads that we want to actually consider this proposal.”
One of those strong collaborations is with American Indian Studies, a graduate interdisciplinary program that will become a department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences next semester. Franci Washburn, director of graduate studies in American Indian Studies who has a double appointment as an English professor, said having English in the same college might make for easier collaboration.
The department held a community forum last Wednesday to address questions anyone in the university community may have had about the proposal. Faculty and staff members, as well as graduate students from both colleges, raised questions about the financial impact the move may have on the colleges and on the department.
As the university is moving into a new Responsibility-Centered Management budget model,RCM2, stakeholders from both colleges raised questions about whether there were financial reasons behind the department’s decision to move. RCM2 is currently in a development phase and will determine how the university budgets for departments and colleges in the future.
One of the main concerns is what financial impact the move might have on the College of Humanities, since English is the largest department in the college. Vincent Del Casino, associate dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and member of the proposal planning committee, said the basis for the move is an academic one. Because RCM2 hasn’t been established yet, there is no way to know how the move will impact budgeting. Del Casino is also a member of the RCM2 steering committee.
“The first point has to be intellectual,” Del Casino said. “If there’s no good intellectual basis for doing any of this, there’s no point.”
The proposal suggests reducing graduate assistant teachers’ workload by having them teach only three courses per academic year instead of four, as well as reducing English composition classes to 19 students, and raises questions about the affordability of reducing class size in general and where the money for more classes would come from.
Karen Seat, director of the religious studies program, said she felt the proposal implies that the provost will only consider reducing class size and workload if the department moves to a bigger college.
“Somehow that seems to be an issue here. The provost is not willing to empower English if they stay in the College of Humanities and so that’s what makes it seem like this is some kind of maneuver to try to force the merger,” Seat said. “Why is there this sense that English will have its problems met only if it agrees to move? Why can’t the problems be met in the College of Humanities?”
The deans of both colleges declined multiple requests to comment.
Alison Deming, professor and director of the creative writing program and a member of the planning committee for the proposal, said she feels the move would allow for more robust collaboration with the larger college and seems like a smart strategy for the university’s synergy goals.
With a bigger push for funding higher education through grants and private fundraising, Deming said a move to the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences may help the Department of English as it grows.
“We also think SBS has a strong infrastructure for grant-seeking and development,” Deming said,
“and that is going to be a real boost for us as we develop more strengths in that area.”
Some in the College of Humanities who don’t like the idea of the college without the Department of English haven’t had time to re-envision the college without it, Deming added.
“We only intend to do the best thing for our department and for our university, she said, “but I understand that there are concerns and fears that come about with change.”