Higher Education

Thanks to Google I'm writing an update

We have often heard before about the fact that anything you publish online can be accessed through Google and stays there long after you’ve forgotten about it. A colleague of mine was recently cross-examined in a legal proceeding regarding poetry she published on a website.

But I’m not writing about that. I’ll leave that to her. I’m writing about something a little closer to home. We’re hiring this year. I’m not closely involved in this year’s hiring process, but of course one is inclined to Google the visiting candidates. I’m assuming they might do the same with us. And if you Google "SUNY Cortland English Department," our department’s website is, thankfully, the first hit.

The second hit is a post on this blog written in November 2004 titled "SUNY Cortland English Department, Where you at?". This post is lodged between a post that takes "the rear" as a subject and another that discusses meconium, so maybe that gives you some context.

Anyway, I figure I need to own up, somewhat to my past, and perhaps give an update, if that’s what people are going to encounter. Although that post notes my particular department as a site, it really speaks more broadly to the discipline of English Studies, to longstanding conflicts between literary studies, rhetoric/composition, and cultural studies/critical theory, to which I would now add various concerns over technology (see the previous post).

This department has essentially decided to go its separate ways. English majors don’t take writing courses (unless they take them as free electives or decide to minor or something in professional writing). With the latest revision to our professional writing major, our students will no longer take courses in literature either.

[Note: we made this change because our major as it is currently constructed requires 34 credits in Professional Writing (a typical amount for any liberal arts major at Cortland) plus nine credits in English literature and a philosophy course. We decided to drop those 12 credits for a number of reasons: they caused bureaucratic "double-dipping" problems for our majors who wanted to minor or double-major in English; they made it difficult for junior transfers to graduate in two years; they made us a little less desirable an option; and finally we just decided these courses, while valuable in themselves, were not especially integral to our degree program–that is, there was no more reason for us to ask our students to take these courses than there would be for the history or communications departments to ask their majors to take them.]

Aside from the occassional GE course, professional writing faculty don’t teach undergrad courses with an ENG prefix, and no literary studies faculty has ever taught (or asked to teach as far as I know) a course with a PWR prefix. Up until last semester, I was teaching a grad course for English Education in technology, but I’m not doing that any more. Writing faculty still offer courses in writing at the 500 level, but they are mostly taken by our professional writing undergrads. Students who are in the Master’s program in English are permitted one non-literature elective if they choose; we don’t see many of them. We occassionally see students from our English Education grad programs. We have plans to create a grad degree in writing. When we have that I’m sure it will follow the undergrad model and be separate from any literary studies curriculum.

It’s a strange (one might say ironic) though not unexpected outcome of this business. Ostensibly the professional writing program was created (before I was hired) to increase interest in English. But it never really worked out that way; we’ve always been perceived as a rival. For professional writing to increase interest in English, one would first have to acknowledge that an interest in professional writing was an interest in English. Despite what we may say, in practical terms, we’ve never accomplished the integration of professional writing, a fact that is clearly observable in our currriculum.

Maybe that’s for the best. At this point,it will have to be, or at least we need to make the best of it, b/c I don’t see the situation reversing.

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