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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

New English hires could add stability to department

By Kaia Arthur

The English department expects a return to stability in its ranks this semester after a hectic year of faculty replacements and the departure of former department chair Stephen Burt. After two years in the position, Burt left last spring to pursue a career at Harvard University. While the department dealt with his impending resignation, it conducted an intense series of interviews that resulted in four new hires.

New professors Casey Jarrin-specializing in 20th century British and Irish literature- and Don Lee, a creative writing professor, received tenure-track positions, while Professors Marlon James and Michael Cohen have accepted temporary visiting posts this school year. While James will teach both creative writing and literature, Cohen will focus on American poetry and literature.
The department also selected Professor Daylanne English to serve as the chair when she returns from sabbatical in January. Theresa Krier will serve as acting chair until then.

While confident that the recent changes will improve the department’s continuity with faculty and course offerings, some English majors said they feel that Burt’s departure was chaotic and indicative of the department’s unstable history.

Eva Kuhn ’08, a creative writing English major, echoed this idea, saying Burt’s departure placed students in an “annoying state of limbo.”

Some English professors and students agreed that the department has a history of disruptive faculty changes. As a result, many students said they find it difficult to connect with their professors or establish a sense of familiarity in a department with constantly changing faculty.

“Each year we need about three or four visiting people,” Krier said. The increased stability the new tenure-track hires will bring “has been coming for a long time,” she said.

The department hires visiting professors to teach in both its core English courses, and its creative writing concentration.

Visitors cannot act as advisers or sponsor students’ senior projects.

“It was really hard for me to find an adviser,” Emily Porter ’08, an English and Theater double major, said. Porter was unable to find an adviser in the department until her junior year.

The department’s reliance on visiting professors is particularly evident in its creative writing concentration, which until this year employed only one tenure-track professor-creative writing instructor Ping Wang.

“We hire visiting professors when we don’t have enough staff,” Wang said, but also because “the Twin Cities have so many great writers and poets that can provide different perspectives.”

At the same time, a perceived abundance of visiting professors and scarcity of tenure-track professors make it difficult for students to build relationships with their professors, Kuhn said.

“When you’re supposed to take professors, not classes,” she said, the constant stream of new professors is frustrating. “It makes it difficult to develop rapport [and] students have no pull for getting into a
particular class.”

The department’s hiring of Don Lee as a second tenure-track creative writing professor will make the concentration more consistent with course offerings and will possibly allow it to expand its curriculum, according to Wang.

“Prior to this year.there were few [creative writing classes] offered and getting in was very competitive because the intros fulfill the fine arts requirement too. I waited until my sophomore year,” Kuhn said. “The diversity in course offerings is also a recent development.”

Wang disagreed, though, that the concentration is inaccessible to students.

The concentration has consistently offered a number of introductory and advanced courses each semester and wait-listed students usually get in, she said.

“I think we’re at a good number now,” Wang said, “but when [new chair Daylanne English] returns, we’re going to take a count and make some decisions about the curriculum.”

The department plans to continue to increase faculty and curricular stability, Krier said. The department will go on a one-day retreat this January to review course data in order “to sort out policy issues and make requests to the college.”

“It’s great for these first-years,” Kuhn said. “They have a much more cemented department.

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