Guest column: More to merger than simply seeking unity
I believe that the department of English must come clean and explain the real reasons for its desire for relocation. Here, I am referring to such historical items as the department’s perception that Dean [Mary] Wildner-Bassett does not always act in its best interest, its frustration at not having its own College of Humanities dean for 25 years and its annoyance with other College of Humanities units for perceiving its own financial resources as limitless, etc.
I know these topics are difficult to discuss; we have all put forth a great deal of effort to arrive at where we are in the academy, and to justify what we feel are basic rights for our departments is both enraging and painful. It is, however, a worthwhile project to ensure a brighter future for the College of Humanities.
Furthermore, in following the logic that boundaries to synergy currently exist between English and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and that English’s only option to overcome these boundaries lies in joining the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, does this logic not also suggest that a relocation will create new boundaries between English and the remaining College of Humanities units?
Of even greater concern is an upper administration that is willing to accommodate an English department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, but not one that remains in the College of Humanities. This is a paramount problem for the College of Humanities to tackle (and as a united college!), instead of allowing itself to be divided and conquered.
Unfortunately, it seems that a culture of secrecy and suspicion has made itself at home in our upper administration. This lack of transparency is not helpful and divides the College of Humanities and university at large. It must end.
I fully endorse intellectual synergy and interdisciplinarity, but these shouldn’t be pursued by undermining the validity of the humanities as a core institutional endeavor. It saddens me to see the animosity that has grown in recent weeks between English and the rest of the College of Humanities, which I’ve witnessed in the decreasing attendance of English events.
The relocation forum, too, left me very distraught and confused: most people spoke only past each other, not with each other. Arguments were put forth as if someone else present might actually oppose them, but who really opposes intellectual synergy? Who really is against better working conditions for English [graduate assistants]? Who really wants to keep poets from writing about the environment?
I believe that College of Humanities units have many goals in common, but they remained unspoken in the forum. What the College of Humanities needs instead is a serious, detailed, future-oriented conversation about what the humanities are going to look like on this campus in 10 years, should English relocate and how this might compare to what we all, English included, want them to look like.
As an interdisciplinarily-minded doctoral student, I stand in solidarity with the department of English, both in its larger mission and in projects I have undertaken with its faculty and graduate students. Even so, I cannot help but feel that English has lost its way in suggesting this relocation.
Many believe that relocation is inevitable, and that the Planning Committee is a mere formality, but in sharing my opinions here, I am taking [Professor Leerom] Medovoi at his word that nothing is yet a “done deal.”
I long to see a strong College of Humanities with a strong department of English at its center. I hope that the department changes its current course by taking a deep breath, putting politics aside and remedying issues “at home” rather than running from them. If this is not attainable, then our self-understandings as scholars, researchers and artists are flawed in ways that no departmental relocation can hope to rectify.
—Charly Mostert is a graduate student in the Department of German Studies.