tough week

I really wanted to have a mellow birthday. After the emotional turmoil of the last year, I thought I was due for a calm, peaceful celebration of another year in my already-long life. But a crisis erupted at work, and I spent the days leading up to my birthday and the days following, composing emails, making phone calls, losing sleep, and feeling miserable. Everything was in place for a good birthday: Friday – a golf game with Pop and lunch with him and Katy; Saturday – Al-Anon meeting and girls’ movie night; Sunday – lunch at the Gs’; Monday – yoga and pizza with the kids. All of that was great, but it was infused with the negative energy generated by my speaking out about an issue at work. Here is my sense of the situation, sent to the concerned parties:

September 25, 2013

Dear Madonne, Kathy & English TT faculty,

I apologize for the situation we’re in today. I believe I did not do enough to avoid this emergency meeting and want to explain my role. Also, I want to present you with a view from my position as Assistant Chair.

So first, at the department retreat we mentioned several areas of hiring need: English Education, Literary/Textual Studies, Creative Writing, and Professional & Technical Writing. We designated people to write the various proposals with the instruction to forward these proposals to Kathy. At the time, I was under the mistaken impression that we treated retirement replacements differently from new hire requests. Thus I didn’t argue for the position I believe we needed most and let the matter rest until last Friday.

During the first couple weeks of the semester, I worked on the spring schedule and discovered that we had no English Education classes for Jim Young to teach. This situation made me wonder about the need to replace Shannon. In fact, while Shannon was on sabbatical for a year, we had no problem covering her classes. My conclusion: there is not an immediate need to hire another English Education faculty member.

I was hoping we would get authorization for two hires; however, when we received authorization for one hire, English Education, I realized my mistake. I immediately contacted the Dean and asked her about the hiring process. She informed me that “a hire, is a hire, is a hire”—or something to that effect. Meanwhile, several colleagues emailed me with their concerns regarding the hiring process; they specifically wondered why we hadn’t discussed our decision at a department meeting, after everyone had had a chance to see the four proposals. Thus, I urged Kathy to postpone the nominations and call a meeting of some kind. I appreciate her efforts on my behalf.

That brings us to today.

Since I began my work as assistant chair I have overseen assessment, curriculum, and scheduling. My position has been described as strategic planner. In this role, I attended the HERS Institute for women in higher education leadership, where I began drafting a strategic plan for the English Department. You all gave me permission to proceed with this plan at our retreat. Part of this plan includes a hiring strategy. We began this process a couple of years ago, with the assistance of Kim Wheatley. Last year, with his assistance, we submitted a hiring request to the dean (attachment sent previously). The pertinent part of the request is this:

At our recent department retreat, faculty voted to conduct a thorough curriculum review during the 2012-2013 academic year in order to fulfill the recommendation made by the Program Review Team in spring, 2011. Although we realize the risk in postponing our request for a tenure-track hire, we believe that we need to make careful decisions about the future of the English Department in the upcoming year. A recent survey of English faculty revealed that we feel our department should be responsive to national trends in curriculum while not rushing to join fads. Also, we want to be aware of our students’ professional interests and assist graduates in finding employment upon graduation. As the curriculum committee moves forward this year they will study peer institutions’ offerings with an eye towards innovative approaches and investigate global trends and demands in English. Therefore, we request permission to delay hiring a tenure-track position (area of emphasis to be determined) during the 2013-2014 academic year.

At the conclusion of the academic year, 2012-2013, we formed the Literary/Textual Studies (LTS) Committee, wrote a mission statement, and developed outcomes for this new area. The LTS focus will revitalize our department by providing clear entry- and exit-points for the major (“Introduction to the Major” and a capstone); basic literary surveys at the 2000-level; theory and theme-based courses at the 3000-level; and special topics and seminars at the 4000-level.

We need to people to teach these courses. Since I’ve been here, 14 years now, we have hired one person in literature: Samantha Seal, who filled the role of Medievalist vacated by Diane Krantz. Meanwhile, we’ve lost an Americanist (Bob Hogge), Victorianist (Merlin Cheney), Renaissance specialist (Donna Cheney), Feminist & Postcolonialist (Neila Seshachari), Classicist (Mildred Miya), and Mormon Literature specialist (Candadai Seshachari).

I say all this not to argue for replacing people, but to make the point that our needs lie here: in literature and more especially, theory. We do not have a specialist in theory, and yet, theory is a prerequisite for all of our upper-division courses. Since I began working on the schedule in 2012, I have scrambled to find faculty willing and able to teach our ENGL 3080 classes, which always fill. I also struggle to find people to cover the literary surveys.

Clearly, there is not consensus about what our next hire should be; however, there is consensus that we need some strategic planning for curriculum, hiring, and so on.

Please consider my explanation of our current situation and justification for a hire in literary/textual studies.

Thank you,

Becky Jo


The department meeting was relatively civil, though focused on personalities rather than principles. We now submit written ballots with hiring rationales to the dean’s office. Clearly this situation has revealed some fractures within the department and raised concerns about the direction we’re taking with curricular changes. Who knows where we go from here? I’m not sure I’ll continue as assistant chair…

About BJ

living the dream in northern Utah
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