2003 English Department External Review Self-Study

English Department Response to the Report of the External Review Team of Spring 2003

Our response to the report of the external review team is the same as our response to the team's visit. We appreciate the deep and wide national experience that has informed their review, the hard work they invested in understanding our local circumstances, and the wisdom of their insights and advice that have come from their visit and now their report. We are grateful both for the affirmation of our sense that we are a highly functional, hard-working, and effective department and for the suggestions of possible strategies, several of which we had not seen ourselves, for enhancing our synergies and improving our programs.

Summary

The following bulleted list summarizes our response to what we see as the most important and urgent observations and recommendations by the team. We should note that many of these recommendations, and our endorsement of them, are not resource-neutral. And we are mindful of the budgetary straits through which we now travel as a department, college, and institution. So we recognize that these recommendations in several cases call for resources that are not available at this time. Nonetheless, the budget constraints do not lessen the needs or our responsibility to point to the needs.

Theme #1: Integration, Synergy and Balance among the Diverse Elements of the Department

  • We need help from outside the department, at the level of the central administration, first in controlling, calibrating, and predicting the level of dem and for 191.
  • Second, we need assistance from the same quarter in allowing us conceptual and administrative space to design creative and effective alternatives for meeting that dem and.
  • In particular, we need to protect our majors and graduate programs by resisting an increase in the 191 composition load for tenured and tenure-line faculty.
  • Specifically, we embrace the reviewers' observation that we need to maintain the enrollment ceiling on 191 at no more than 25.
  • We need to be mindful of the workload of those who work with these facets of our programs, especially the workload of the directors of composition, ESL, and the Write Place.
  • To support the work of all of these directors, we need to bolster our ability to recruit well-qualified graduate students who will both strengthen our graduate programs and increase the numbers of teaching assistants for ENGL 191, the College ESL courses, and the Write Place.
  • We desperately need more financial resources for staffing the Write Place, whose budget has eroded gradually but inexorably over the years, significantly reducing our ability to serve some of our most at-risk students.
  • We especially appreciate the reviewers' strong recommendation that the Write Place not be relocated outside the department with other student learning centers.
  • Similarly, we agree that the IEC would lose a great deal, as would our TESL graduate program, if it were located elsewhere in the university structure.
  • We endorse the reviewers' recommendation that the department receive funding to hire an MA-degreed person (probably MSUAASF) for administrative support for the IEC, as well as for the College ESL Program. This funding cannot come from the IEC.

Theme #2: Revisiting the Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

  • Undergraduate Programs. We intend to pursue the reviewers' recommendations relative to the following issues.
    • revisit the status of ENGL 300,
    • address their concerns for the multiplicity of majors,
    • assess/address students' desire for more poetry and possibly more grammar within the major.
    • assess/address duplication and narrowness of scope in the rhetorical and applied writing major.
    • reconsider appropriate distribution of 3-credit and 4-credit courses among the department's undergraduate offerings.
  • Graduate Programs. We have begun or will soon begin discussion around the following recommendations.
    • additional composition theory/pedagogy course
    • better data on MA graduates
    • full tuition remission for GAs and TAs
    • marketing plan
    • highly marketable graduate degree in business/technical communication
  • TESL Programs. We particularly endorse the reviewers' observations relating to TESL programs:
    • increase our programmatic emphasis (both undergraduate and graduate) on K-12 ESL teaching and to increase staff accordingly. While faculty numbers have remained constant, ESL student numbers have increased 300% in 3 years.
    • seek additional ways of identifying and serving the immigrant student population, both in the IEC and in our College ESL Program.
    • improve testing and placing students in the College ESL program

* BS Program, Communication Arts and Literature. Faculty will continue program revision in keeping with NCATE and BOT changes.

* Review of all curricula will reflect the department's commitment to assessment planning. The department will continue to document that we are effectively fulfilling goals for general education and institutional assessment.

Theme #3: Resources, Workload, and Staffing

We believe the following observations and recommendations by the review team are especially urgent.

  • Faculty are working at rates that make burnout likely.
  • Workload is a very significant issue that jeopardizes recruitment and retention of outstanding junior faculty.
  • We need to improve library resources, especially in TESL.
  • Although we agree that a language lab is needed for ESL instruction, equal or better results can be gained far less expensively. The IEC simply needs a far larger allotment of computer lab time, which means an expansion of plans for Centennial Hall lab space. Students can do without a costly language lab by making use of online resources instead.

Discussion

Integration, Synergy and Balance among the Diverse Elements of the Department

We respond first to what we see as a central theme, perhaps the central theme, in the report: integration, synergy and balance across our several programs and levels of programs. This theme captures several of our most pressing issues having to do with major strengths, challenges, and opportunities.

In particular, we embrace the reviewers' vision of the synergy and balance between ENGL 191, the introductory composition course, and the rest of the department's efforts. Heretofore, we have been able, with careful planning and hard work, to avoid damage to the major programs, but next year, 2003-2004, the major will suffer--more than marginally. This issue touches probably every other issue in the department, including issues of recruitment and retention of both students and well-qualified faculty. We need help from outside the department, at the level of the central administration, first in controlling, calibrating, and predicting the level of dem and for 191. Second, we need assistance from the same quarter in allowing us conceptual and administrative space to design creative and effective alternatives for meeting that dem and that take advantage of the resources and synergies among resources that are available in the department. Specifically, as recommended in the report, we intend to develop a more attractive "exemption" system for students who already have skills or experiences that can be judged comparable to 191. We look forward to the development of "freshman learning communities" and to helping find ways to meet the 191 requirement within them. In particular, we need to guard against unbalancing the allocation of our scarce faculty resources by increasing the 191 composition load for tenured and tenure-line faculty. We have already seen the effect of attempting to raise this load in the failure of our search this year for a new faculty member, and this search was for a specialist in composition and rhetoric. Specifically, we embrace the reviewers' observation that we need to maintain the enrollment ceiling on 191 at no more than 25. As the report notes, we are already 25% above the maximum enrollment recommended by the national standards. Finally, we also appreciate the reviewers' advice relative to a judicious increasing of enrollments in general education literature classes in order to help meet the institutional need for enrollment space for new entering students. We have begun to experiment with this strategy over the past two years, and we intend to continue this experiment. The effect in terms of a significant increase in the number of English seats available to first- and second-year students can be seen in the tables of our self-study report.

We need to bolster our ability to recruit well-qualified graduate students who will both strengthen our graduate programs and increase the numbers of teaching assistants for ENGL 191, the College ESL courses, the IEC, and the Write Place. For example, as the reviewers note, we still are not at a competitive level in compensation, particularly in tuition remission for graduate teaching assistants. At the same time, we need to be mindful of the workload of those who work with these facets of our programs, especially the workload of the directors of composition and the Write Place. And we need--we desperately need--more financial resources for staffing the Write Place, whose budget has eroded gradually but inexorably over the years, significantly reducing our ability to serve some of our most at-risk students.

The Write Place is also a signal example of the crucial synergies among the different programs and strengths of the department. We especially appreciate the reviewers' strong recommendation that the Write Place not be relocated outside the department with other student learning centers. The Write Place is vitally integrated with the ENGL 191 program, the College ESL program, and both the undergraduate and graduate programs, providing a site where writers of all kinds can talk about their work in progress and where readers of all kinds, including undergraduate majors and minors, graduate students, and faculty can engage writers in rich conversations about their texts. Indeed, the reviewers have given us insights into possibilities for taking even further advantage of this departmental resource at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, using the Write Place practicum courses more integrally in both the undergraduate and graduate curricula.

The integral place of the IEC is similar to that of the Write Place. Like the Write Place, it is a site where faculty and graduate teaching assistants, informed by a rich and humane theoretical and pedagogical understanding and agenda, engage students in an aca dem ically rich enterprise. The IEC would lose a great deal, as would our TESL graduate program, if it were located elsewhere in the university structure. At the same time, the reviewers note, the IEC is also a vehicle for reaching out to the rest of the campus, especially in the recruiting of students who subsequently go into programs across campus. And they note that we may be able to find further synergies with programs elsewhere on campus in the recruiting of IEC students in this challenging time for recruitment of international students generally. As a revenue-generating program, the IEC needs to maintain its enrollments, and it also needs to have solid administrative support. We particularly endorse the reviewers' recommendation of hiring an MA-degreed person (probably MSUAASF) for this support, as well as for the College ESL Program.

Revisiting the Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

It is now five years since the sea change of our conversion to a semester calendar when we last looked at all our courses and programs. The reviewers saw a number of points, some of which we had not seen, where we can profitably revisit our curriculum and programs. With the general education curriculum, we especially need to stay cognizant of the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum and the potential problems and opportunities it suggests. We have already noted the reviewers' recommendation that we continue to experiment with ways of presenting some of the general education literature courses in larger classes that are still inviting learning experiences for first- and second-year students and are potential recruiting grounds for English majors.

Undergraduate Programs. The reviewers recognized that ENGL 300 occupies a somewhat problematic position in the major, constituting a bottleneck for some students. We intend to pursue their recommendation that we revisit the status of ENGL 300. The reviewers noted a particular concern for the multiplicity of majors and recommended specific ways to reconsidering this programmatic structure. Students reported to the reviewers a desire for more poetry and possibly more grammar within the major. The reviewers had specific concerns about duplication and narrowness of scope in the rhetorical and applied writing major. We have already begun email and other discussions on most of these issues, and several members of the department have taken initiatives in beginning to think more systematically about these recommendations. We will schedule a retreat for department-wide discussions of these issues, as well as the issue of the appropriate distribution of 3-credit and 4-credit courses among the department's undergraduate offerings. We intend to follow the reviewers' recommendation that we be judicious in increasing course credit hours so that we do not gain relief in number of courses carried at the cost of program flexibility.

Graduate Programs. The reviewers recommended an additional composition theory/pedagogy course to enhance the strength of our preparation of our graduate students, especially those who will teach. Our first thought in responding to this recommendation is to structure programs so that more graduate students have an incentive to take the theory and pedagogy course in the Write Place, and we will explore other alternatives as well. In terms of the overall management of the program, we concur with the reviewers' sense that we need better data on our MA graduates, that we need full tuition-remission for GAs and TAs, and that we need to develop a marketing plan. Indeed we see as the first step in developing a marketing plan a revisiting especially of our graduate programs in rhetoric to explore the possibility of designing a highly marketable graduate degree in business and technical communication. As with the recommendations for the undergraduate programs, we have already begun conversations around these recommendations and ideas, and we look forward to continuing the discussions through the summer toward our fall meetings.

TESL Programs. We particularly endorse the reviewers' observation that we need to increase our programmatic emphasis (both undergraduate and graduate) on K-12 ESL teaching and to increase staff accordingly. We agree also with the reviewers' recommendation that we seek additional ways of identifying and serving the immigrant student population, both in the IEC and in our College ESL Program. The reviewers made several recommendations regarding testing and placing students in the College ESL program, and we are exploring these recommendations.

Resources, Workload, and Staffing

Resource issues, especially workload, were highlighted by the reviewers as well as by our self study. We endorse the reviewers' recommendation that we work with the institution at large and with the library in particular to expand significantly our holdings, particularly in applied linguistics, teacher training, and ESL textbooks. We also appreciate the reviewers' recommendation that we consider ways to develop a language lab. Although we agree that a language lab is needed for ESL instruction, equal or better results can be gained far less expensively. The IEC simply needs a far larger allotment of computer lab time, which means an expansion of plans for Centennial Hall lab space. Students can do without a costly language lab by making use of online resources instead.

We appreciate the reviewers' highlighting workload as a concern. Like them, we are mindful of the financial constraints under which our department and our university currently operate. These constraints will doubtless require us to make programmatic and staffing decisions that will be deleterious to our programs and to our students. Indeed, we have already been forced to some of these decisions. Without whining, we need to keep workload in the foreground as a significant issue. The reviewers note that "faculty are very close to 'burnout,'" and we believe this indeed is an accurate characterization. For example in our graduate program in TESL, we have grown from 50 students four years ago to 180 students now, and we still have the same number of faculty members. We currently have double-numbered (400/500) classes that should have maximum enrollments of 25 and that have enrollments as high as 49. Beyond this general concern, workload is a specific concern in the recruitment and retention of excellent faculty, as dem onstrated partly by the failure of our search this year for a probationary hire in rhetoric. We currently have seven exceptionally able colleagues, probationary hires in the past four years, who are mobile in the profession and who need to decide in the near future whether they will set their aca dem ic roots deeply at SCSU. Workload connects powerfully, then, with issues of quality of faculty, programs, and the department itself.

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