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English department evaluates requirements

Capped courses frustrate non-concentrators hoping to take intro-level English classes

The English Department is evaluating the effects of three recently introduced concentration requirements, ENGL 0210, ENGL 0410 and ENGL 0610, said Stephen Foley ’74 P’04 P’07, department director of undergraduate studies and associate professor of English.

These requirements — established in the fall of 2011 — have been met with a mixed response, including complaints about the difficulty of enrollment in the courses, according to both students and department faculty members.

Though the three requirements were previously offered, concentrators were not obligated to complete all three. For the past year and a half, the English department curricular advising committee has met to discuss the changes, though members did not share plans for future restructuring because the courses were only recently made mandatory.

“Curricular changes don’t happen fast,” Foley said. “We are still in an observing period.”

Vanessa Ryan, assistant professor of English and member of the curricular advising committee, said the requirements are considered “gateway classes” for potential English concentrators. These courses aim to give a broad scope of the English concentration, she said. They are ENGL 0210: “Medieval and Early Modern Literatures and Cultures,” ENGL 0410: “Enlightenment and the Rise of National Literatures and Cultures” and ENGL 0610: “Modern and Contemporary Literatures and Cultures.” The courses progress from early literature to modern works and are intended to showcase many genres, modes and styles of literature.

Though there are three numbered course designations, there is usually more than one course offered within each number category in any given semester, so students can choose between different courses in the same chronological category. For example, this semester there are two ENGL 0610 courses — ENGL 0610E: “Postcolonial Literature” and ENGL 0610G: “American Fiction and Mass Culture.”

Because these courses span a large swath of time and multiple genres within literature, they appeal to many non-concentrators and undeclared students. But the courses are capped at 30 students and enrollment preference is given to concentrators.

“The drawback of these classes is that they’re capped for discussion, so you lose potential concentrators,” said Kimberly Takahata ’14, an English concentrator. “If they are to be required still, the cap needs to be fixed.”

While Ryan acknowledged this problem, she explained that because the classes were only made mandatory in the fall of 2011, many juniors and seniors needed to fulfill the requirement, creating a cycle in which non-concentrators or underclassmen are prohibited from enrolling.

“A lot of juniors and seniors are in them right now, and that’s a matter of logistics,” Ryan said. “Hopefully with time that will balance out.”

Other students have had different problems with the restructured system. Everett Epstein ’13, an English concentrator, said he was annoyed that he had less time to take the three classes because they became mandatory in the fall of his junior year.

“I think all of the English classes I’ve taken already cover the material, but I have to take the 0410 and 0610 my senior year,” Epstein said. “I don’t think I would be taking them if they weren’t required.”

Overall, the clarity the three introductory courses provide for the concentration has outweighed the enrollment issues raised, Ryan said.

“Meeting with my concentration advisees, I see how well these mandated classes have worked,” she said. “There are clearer learning goals for the concentration.”

“What we have here is a planning problem, not a content problem,” Foley said, adding that the department is discussing the kinks, but that students should “not expect a magical solution anytime soon.”


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