When I arrived at Cortland, there was a gallery of outdate faculty photos by the English department office. Among them was a picture of Shakespeare, listed as emeritus. The pictures are gone now, as our many of those pictured in them. Like many departments, we are in the midst of a rash of retirements, with two last year and two this year, and several more likely over the next few years.
In any case, our Shakespearean is in his last semester now. Our chair requested permission to open a search to replace him and, quite cheekily, gave as her rationale for the necessity of his replace, “We’re an English department.” Apparently this was not sufficient justification.
Why do we need a Shakespearean? Well, we require some of our students to take our Shakespeare course, so we usually need to offer it every year. However, the dean asked, quite logically, if anyone else could teach that course. And there are at least two faculty members who can teach it. Now you could argue that the department needs a faculty member who is active in research in Shakespeare, but we haven’t had that while I’ve been here. Furthermore, given the heavy teaching load here, we have faculty in many areas who aren’t active scholars. In other words, that’s not an argument that really flies here.
The truth is that the need for a Shakesperean is grounded in a particular sense of disciplinary identity, one that I don’t really share as it not simply marginalizes my work but can, at times, be actively hostile toward it. The fact of the matter is that if I can be asked to teach rhetoric, poetics, creative writing, new media design, intro to literature, and computer pedagogy, then I don’t see why we need to have one faculty member for nearly every *&(^&! century of British literature. On a faculty of 17, we have 6 British lit faculty, 7 if you include Irish lit. These 7 faculty taught 14 British Lit courses in the last year; that was 11 different sections, not including the fact that several of them were undergrad and grad versions of the same course (and if you ask the students, they’ll tell you they read exactly the same books in both and sometimes get the exact same syllabus). On the other hand, 3 professional writing faculty offered 12 writing sections and 12 different courses.
Now I’m not saying that we necessarily need another PWR faculty member, but I’m not sure how you can say we need a Shakespearean either. What we need is a sense of the future and how we can hire faculty to meet that vision.