Editorials, Opinions

Editorial: University should invest in English, Literary Arts

By
Friday, February 22, 2019

The Herald reported last week about the difficulties students face enrolling in English and Literary Arts courses, given high demand and the small size of workshop-based classes. This phenomena is not new; double or even triple the number of students who can enroll in workshop classes have consistently shopped them during the first few days of the semester. While the University claims to be providing support to these departments, our institution should do more. The University must provide larger budgets and more faculty members to English and Literary Arts, reflecting in its resource allocation that writing workshop courses are valuable to the Brown curriculum.

With such a high demand for English and Literary Arts workshop courses, the University should offer more classes in these departments. Already, the courses are larger than recommended by the National Council of Teachers of English, which puts the ideal class size at 15. At the University, most English workshops and all introductory and intermediate Literary Arts workshops permit up to 17 students, if not more. It is tempting to respond to enrollment frustration by increasing class size, but doing so would put significant strain on the ability of professors and students to provide quality feedback on each student’s writing.

While four professors cited budgetary constraints as impediments to adding more courses, Senior Associate Dean of the Faculty Janet Blume told The Herald that the departmental budgets are “not insignificant.” With disputed accounts and vague statements, the Brown community cannot know how much money these departments have — making it impossible to determine the root of the problem and advocate accordingly. In this vein, the University should strive toward transparency and publish more specific budgeting information — such as each department’s funding — so that students and community members can work alongside University administration and faculty to find a solution.

A part of this solution must come through increasing the number of full-time faculty members in the English and Literary Arts Departments to match the high volume of students interested in the subjects. The English and Literary Arts concentrations are among the larger at Brown. In the graduating class of 2018, English was one of the top 10 most popular concentrations, and Literary Arts was 16th most common out of 81 concentrations. But their popularity among undergraduates is not reflected in faculty size. While 35 seniors graduated with a degree in Literary Arts last spring — in comparison to 19 in Mathematics — Literary Arts has only 17 faculty members while Mathematics boasts 28.

The University must also follow through on its commitment to give more of those in “visiting faculty ranks” full time jobs. Of the 17 faculty members in Literary Arts, only 12 are full-time. Visiting faculty are paid less and often have to balance their responsibilities with trying to find a tenure-track job. Further, with less of a reliable future at the University, they may be less connected to campus resources and unable to serve as long-term mentors. The University needs to make more of a concerted effort to hire full-time faculty to allow the departments to gain the stability necessary for sustained growth.

Ultimately, writing is part of Brown’s curriculum and its liberal learning goals, and the University should continue to support the growth of classes that promote writing as part of its core mission. Four of the 11 Liberal Learning Goals, which students are required to review prior to declaring concentrations, directly relate to English and Literary Arts workshop classes. These goals compel students to “work on your speaking and writing,” “expand your reading skills,” “enhance your aesthetic sensibility” and “collaborate fully.” Small workshop classes allow students the opportunity to work on their writing through multiple rounds of edits, discuss frequently with peers and the professors and explore their own creativity. The University’s commitment to writing should be shown through an increased focus on supporting these courses and departments.

While the University has taken steps to support the Literary Arts and English Departments, the University’s leaders need to have a more concrete plan to meet workshop course demand. Without such a plan to increase funding and faculty, the University risks preventing its students from fully experiencing the open curriculum and the unique nature of workshop classes at Brown.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Elisheva Goldberg ’22, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.