The faculty voted to approve a proposal from the literary arts program to become the Department of Literary Arts during its March 1 meeting. The proposal will now go to the Corporation — the University's highest governing body — for approval at its May meeting.
The move to change the program into a department was "partly stimulated by an extremely positive external review," said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.
Since splitting from the English department in 2005, the literary arts concentration has become one of the largest at Brown — 11.4 percent of humanities students concentrated in literary arts in 2009 and 9.6 percent in 2010, according to the proposal. The program has 11.5 full-time faculty members, 11 teaching assistants, one visiting lecturer and replacement faculty. It offers nearly 70 courses a year, apart from independent studies and thesis courses, according to the proposal.
The program split from the English department due to different approaches to literature, wrote Brian Evenson, directory of the literary arts program, in an e-mail to The Herald. "They approached literature from a scholarly perspective and we approached them from a craft (and) practitioner's perspective," he wrote. "We found ourselves moving sometimes in very different directions."
The move to make the program its own department is largely nominal. "If a unit is a department, it implies institutional stability and commitment that the word ‘program' does not convey," Carolyn Dean, senior associate dean of the faculty, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "In practice, departments and programs may be quite similar," she wrote. "The term ‘program' is simply an artifact of an earlier history that the University has not yet addressed as such." Newer or innovative academic areas typically begin as programs, she wrote.
Because the literary arts program already had its own concentration, a full rank of faculty and a graduate program, "it already operated as if it was a department," Bergeron said.
The program can already offer tenure and give the title "professor of literary arts," Evenson wrote. Professors based in the English department before the split currently remain professors of English, but the shift to a recognized department will allow all faculty to be professors of literary arts.
There will be no changes to concentration requirements, according to Evenson, and the program's funding will not be altered because of the change, Evenson wrote.
"The only advantage, which is a very slight one, is that it will give us a little more credence in the eyes of some other universities. But since we already have a solid reputation as a top-10 program, this is very minor," he wrote. He added that he does not believe Brown is prioritizing departments. "This is a change that we pushed for ourselves."
"More funding would be something I would hope for," said Nikolos Gonzales '12, a literary arts concentrator.
Gonzales, whose focus is screenwriting, said there have been times in advanced workshops when a graduate student not focusing in screenwriting would teach the material because there was not enough funding to support specialization.
He also said he would like to see more help with post-graduation plans if the literary arts program becomes a department.
Many concentrators are already under the impression that the program is in fact a department. "There's a little confusion currently at Brown about what it means to be a program versus what it means to be a department, and our move to becoming a department tries to do our part to clarify what the difference is," Evenson wrote.
"I don't think too many students actually knew that literary arts wasn't a department already," wrote Matthew Weiss '12, a literary arts concentrator, in an e-mail to The Herald. "It's true on their website it does say ‘literary arts program' as opposed to department, but it's listed along with all the other departments, so that's not much of a clue."