Monday, September 28, 2009

Imagining our Future

Tight times make for hard decisions, and for now, some delayed decisions.

As a department, we have some time this year to think about our future, where we want to be in ten years and in twenty.

If you think back, say 20 years, in most US English departments, we've changed a lot. We teach a lot more literature by writers of color, though not as well as we should, probably. We teach more literature by women, and more texts that wouldn't have counted as literature in most departments 20 years ago (graphic novels, for example).

It's hard to really imagine where we'll be as a profession or within our department in 20 years.

Will we continue to teach lit by writers of color primarily in classes devoted to ethnic lit, leaving the surveys populated by mostly white men? Will we teach surveys or reimagine what and how we teach? Will we imagine new sorts of literature altogether?

When I think of English departments 20 years ago, I think of departments centered on literature; will we become more centered on textual production? What would that look like?

Will our departments be ever more populated by adjuncts with little job security, lower pay? Will regional universities use more MA-trained instructors and fewer PhD-trained instructors? Does it matter? Will schools in more urban areas hire more PhD-trained adjuncts without providing any sort of security?

And without that sort of security and less overwhelming teaching loads, who will have the time and incentive to undertake curricular revision at departmental, program, or institutional levels?

Technology has changed the way classrooms work in some dramatic ways just in the 20 years I've been teaching. And the changes are going to come faster. And yet we've retained some aspects of teaching, not necessarily because they're great ways to teach, but because they're cheap. We continue to use grad students in R1s and we still have students sitting in rows, often in large classrooms, packed to the rafters.

It's daunting, isn't it?

It's tempting to want to hide in my office, reading and teaching and stuff, but it's also our responsibility to try to shape the changes rather than react to them.


  1. "Will regional universities use more MA-trained instructors and fewer PhD-trained instructors?"

    Short answer: I'll bet that regional universities will be able to have PhD-trained instructors, much as they do now.

  2. Undine, I'm sure that's true for most regional universities, especially in urban areas. But not for all.

    We, for example, are several hours from any R1, so we don't have hungry phuds (or folks with other terminal degrees) hanging around in the area. Nor are we (the school, the community) appealing to most phuds from elsewhere.

    Our adjuncts either come as faculty spouses or as locals who didn't want to move away. A few have phuds, but most have MAs (and not a few got those MAs here). Our adjuncts are more MAs than phuds at this point, I think. And our department is about 50% adjuncts.

  3. Ambitious questions. I wish you'd post some answers too -- 'cuz it makes my head hurt to consider it all.