2003 English Department External Review Self-Study
Department of English: Program Need
A report on the accountability of English programs published in the Modern Language Association's annual publication on the state of the profession points out that student demand for programs in humanities fields has remained constant since 1990 ( Hellenbrand 86). The writer goes on to offer some examples to explain why English in particular has remained one of the stronger disciplines: "As a specializing profession, English has responded to new technology (technical communications), social need (ESL), and cultural change (American studies, women's studies, etc.). We probably have been more mindful of niche opportunities than we admit." ( Hellenbrand 86-87)
This English Department is representative of the norm nation-wide. The number of enrolled majors grew along with campus-wide enrollments from 183 in 1999 to 236 in 2002 (institutional data software is not necessarily reliable; nor do these figures take into account intended majors, and students typically apply to the major in their senior year), but it is common to find students majoring in programs across all fields of academic study taking advanced English courses, both in literature and writing. Students in business, the humanities, and the social sciences minor in English in large numbers, 41 in the General English minor in 1999, and 47 in 2002; 5 are Applied Writing minors. The Creative Writing minor continues to grow, from 63 in 1999 to 70 in 2002. (Strategic Planning , online)
Beyond the continuing strength of numbers in the profession, English as a field serves the community by preparing interpreters and problem-solvers to be active participants in all parts of society. And the English Department seeks to go even farther, preparing thinkers with the creativity and integrity not only to be problem-solvers but problem-discoverers, as James Slevin notes:
.a college or university is a place devoted to the creation and exchange of knowledge and the testing of its truthfulness. .What higher education needs is a place to make evident a conception of itself as a culture of inquiry, not improvement, and as a site for intellectual work committed to problematizing and not problem-solving, to complicating and not resolving issues, to studying and not measuring the work that faculty members and students do together. (69)
2. Student career preparation
One non-traditional student reflected, "I cannot begin to express the feelings of low self-worth I experienced before I returned to school.. An English department, in general, is the most influential entity in a student's career. .the knowledge presented by the instructors here, while, perhaps, not outwardly useful (as is the common jab at English majors), is in actuality the most useful 'body of skills' that can be shown to students. I don't think many will object to the claim that language is the tool used to relate all other knowledge. So without the extensive examination of language skills, how is one expected to be adept at examining anything? . (Program Reflections, Supplementary Materials)
The Departmental self-study written for external review in 1992 cited Robert Reich's argument in The Work of Nations that the job category of "symbolic-analytic services," the trading of the manipulations of symbols (data, words, oral and visual representations), showed the most potential for professional development. This forecast remains relevant, and it is to the education of these symbolic analysts that English departments make essential contributions. Moreover, John Naisbett's Megatrends remains on target in contending that the computer revolution increases rather than diminishes the need for people with the ability to make sense of and interpret the flow of information in our culture.
Education in English means acquisition of literacy in the broadest sense: the ability to read complex and problematical texts and situations; to sense historical, political, emotional, moral, and aesthetic contexts; and to respond effectively, appropriately, persuasively, and humanely. Need for these skills remains as high as ever.
Resources collected from the SCSU Career Services document the continuing increase in employability of English majors nationwide (see bibliography included in the Works Cited section, and Fogg , The College Majors Handbook 394, Table 3). Characteristics of English majors include the ability to guide and influence others, excellent oral and written communications skills, a creative and inquisitive mind, the ability to work independently, and others that enhance adaptability and ability to learn on-the-job. Careers include media of every conceivable kind, including advertising, publishing, communications, and public relations; government and non-profit organizations; and positions of every sort in business and the professions (Career Services fact sheet).
The book Great Jobs for English Majors notes that the popularity of the degree has risen once again owing to recognition that after an organization shifts away from hiring job candidates with liberal arts degrees, quality of communication deteriorates (xii). "It's harder for liberal arts graduates to find a job initially, but in the long run, that degree serves them really well" ( Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors viii).
According to the online assessment survey, a high percentage of seniors in ENGL 490 (about a third) would like to attend graduate school. Numbers of seniors also state that they plan to use their English degrees to teach, including ESL and other kinds of teaching, and to pursue business, publishing/journalism, religious callings, or public administration; about a third remain unsure of their careers. Most expect to continue writing all of their lives, both in their careers and creatively. A number have started novels and have written screenplays. Seniors have researched and developed serious interest in pursuing careers in technical writing, screen writing, and interactive computer games design. Some plan to work abroad (3 of 18 in Fall 2002 ENGL490), including a significant number by teaching English as a second language. Seniors expect a high degree of future geographical mobility.
This data demonstrates fulfillment of SCSU's mission of connecting students to a global community.
"Of all skills students say they want to strengthen, writing is mentioned three times more than any other," because students perceive its lasting importance for their success in college and in careers (Light 54). Research has shown, moreover, that "The relationship between the amount of writing for a course and students' level of engagement--whether engagement is measured by time spent on the course, or the intellectual challenge it presents, or students' level of interest in it--is stronger than the relationship between students' engagement and any other course characteristic" (Light 55).
The SCSU English Department maintains high-quality instruction in writing, and a high level of engagement with the subject, in literature and English Education courses as well as in its writing program, because it demands a great deal of writing from students.
Data collected for the present self-study from a faculty questionnaire show that individual faculty require substantial amounts of writing, on average 3 or 4 papers/12 pages in literature courses, 5 papers/20 pages from advanced writing courses (Table, Writing Assignments in the English major).
These assignments are made possible because the Department continues to offer relatively small class sizes in the major, normally capped at 30. The cap was increased to 31 last year.
Assuming that an English major takes 2 literature courses and 1 advanced writing course in a single term, chances are that this student will write 12 papers in a single term and submit close to 50 pages of revised, formal work in addition to informal writing assignments. This statistic compares favorably with a Harvard education (Light 57-58).
Comparison between ENGL 300 and ENGL 490 online survey responses show that a higher number of seniors mark that they are self-confident as writers; students also demonstrate self-awareness about their process of writing and their skill-level in specific areas such as grammar and research. Most seniors surveyed also note that their English training has enabled them to excel in writing for courses outside of English, and give credit to English specifically for teaching them to write (citing mostly advanced writing courses) and for usually assigning more writing than other departments do. (Online Assessment Project)
Senior portfolios show effective cross-disciplinary work by students who take film or theater studies programs in addition to the English major.
"I also read and write differently than I have before. I write with more attention to the words I use and the meaning behind them. I write with an audience in mind, whereas before I would write in ignorance of who the piece was for. I read differently in the fact that I read more cynically (or critically) paying close attention to what the author is saying to me and whether or not it is a valid statement. I talk differently to some degree. I have expanded my vocabulary at college, but am usually only comfortable with interjecting a "big" word here or there." (Program Reflections)
"I have learned how to write with rhetoric more clearly and in greater depth. I have also learned how to expand my ideas that would allow aspects of my writing to make much more sense. . From the different English courses that I have taken, I currently can create many different types of papers, speeches, resumes, business letters, book reports, and research projects." (Program Reflections)
Students express high praise for the Creative Writing program (Online Assessment Project, reports); seniors also articulate recognition of communication skills they have earned, such as in the case of this senior:
"Everyone knows how to communicate. However, these lines of communication, like faulty telephone lines, are most times clogged with static and emotion that a listener might very well misinterpret and react [to] in the wrong way. One cannot demand that the speaker be clearer because that is something that is far beyond one's control. What one can do is to ensure that the lines that lead to one's receiver are functioning at optimal levels so that there is a minimum chance for miscommunication and a maximum chance for understanding and ultimately empathy." (Program Reflections)
The English Department clearly fulfills the College of Fine Arts and Humanities' mission of fostering " communicative and expressive abilities" (See Appropriateness and Contribution)
As is the case at most universities, the English Department's traditional expertise in the teaching of writing is drawn on to teach first-year writing to incoming students. The Office of Academic Affairs has required English to provide 2400 seats of first-year writing per year. The present year the department has succeeded in providing nearly 3000 seats by hiring adjunct and fixed-term faculty and also teaching assistants. Current budget crisis has raised prospect of driving class size for ENGL 191 from 25 to 28, a compromise of quality that the Department will resist as long as possible. See report on General Education, 191 Assessment.
3. Program distinctiveness
Since English Studies as a field remains essential to any conception of university life in this country, it is difficult to characterize the St. Cloud State English Department as unique. Nevertheless, this department is notable for its work ethic and conscientious citizenship in the university community. Considering that SCSU English is the largest single academic department in the MnSCU system, the department is even remarkable for its successful integration of professional subfields within English that at other universities (Laurence 16) often work together less effectively: rhetoric, composition, literatures of America and Britain and the world, creative writing, linguistics, critical theory, and English as a second language.
The department's solution, developed locally with awareness of national trends, was to make explicit key organizing frameworks of the discipline, to open up the possibilities of method to students. Courses are slotted into the categories literary history, which includes multicultural approaches, theory, genre, author, and writing. Students are given considerable choice, but firm guidance, in gaining an education that integrates these fields.
It is noteworthy that the SCSU English Department, in redesigning its curriculum in 1998, avoided the problems that David Laurence issued a warning about in the Spring 2002 ADE Bulletin, especially "intellectual fragmentation and organizational atomization" (15). While the atomization of faculty time persists, this department, in part by encouraging almost all faculty to cover multiple fields and to teach writing, and in part through program design, sustains its instructional cohesiveness and adaptability. Apparently some other departments nationwide have dealt with professional differences by turning programs into an assembly of uncoordinated courses (Laurence 16).
English as a field is inherently adaptable. Scholarship has shown that the diversity of courses in English has allowed the field versatility to adapt constantly to changes in the social and institutional environment.
More generally, it is important to take note of the English department's role in encouraging students' development as human beings. English studies prepares students for leadership by strengthening their voices, in both conversation and writing. Moreover, the field teaches skills for productive and responsible living: creative and critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and self-understanding. By providing them with knowledge of the social, intellectual, and artistic foundations of culture and history, English prepares students to take action and to create and produce their work with a recognition of its place in wider contexts of society and meaning. Thinking deeply about readings enhances sensitivity to the values of a multi-cultural and ever-changing world through literature, which always functions as the antennae of a culture. Even as diversity spreads from individual specialized courses to diversify survey, period, and majors courses, the department itself offers the primary welcome for a large number of the international students who pass through the ESL program.