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Editorial: Proofreading the English department’s requirements

The Department of English initiated a curricular review in coordination with several other departments in March 2010. Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12, who was professor of English and department chair in 2010, said at the time the restructuring would not be “a revolutionary change,” and that it was necessary to “have a conversation, try to get some student input.” By November of the same year, the department announced new requirements that included three courses: ENGL 0210, ENGL 0410 and ENGL 0610, classes designed to introduce students to the department and to provide curricular breadth. But the implementation of these requirements has been somewhat unstable as upper-level English concentrators have been forced to take these lower-level classes, displacing underclassmen looking for a foothold in the department. The requirements are not inherently problematic, but their implementation has been lacking — to the detriment of first- and second- year students. More time should have been allotted for the transition period, and the introductory courses should not be so limited that underclassmen interested in English are forced to pursue other options.

Given the time frame of the changes, many upper-level students are now tasked with completing courses designed for first-years and sophomores. Many find this frustrating, as they intended to use their final semesters to take upper-level seminars that would cap off their studies. While this issue will likely no longer exist in a few years, as those enrolled during the transition period will have graduated, it is entirely unfair to current English concentrators who must suffer the flaws of the untested system. A more equitable solution would be to phase in the requirements, exempting students who have already begun pursuing their degrees.

As upperclassmen take these introductory courses to satisfy requirements, they take spots from first- and second-year and prospective concentrators. Many of these courses are capped at 30 students to ensure discussion. While small, discussion-based courses are an important part of learning and should not be overlooked, they also cause an overcrowding problem that should have been anticipated. If the English department decides against adjusting the requirements for current concentrators, it should at least offer more of these classes in the coming semesters.

The requirements also bar non-concentrators from enrolling in introductory English classes. Many non-concentrators seek more comfortable lower-level courses to broaden their intellectual experiences. Non-concentrators, though less familiar with the conventions of college-level English studies, can participate meaningfully by offering perspectives based in their own intellectual backgrounds. It is disappointing that many are displaced in this organizational melee.

Much has been written in recent years about dropping enrollment in humanities departments across the country. As more students aim for physical science degrees believed to be more marketable, departments like English are forced to reconsider their places in higher education. Skills learned in the English department, such as the ability to write concisely and persuasively, have broad applicability. Even less practical features of the English degree, such as knowledge of canonical literature, can hold great personal significance and should be treated as such. Therefore, we are passionate about the future and direction of the English department at Brown for both concentrators and non-concentrators. It is disappointing that these more pragmatic concerns have displaced concentrators passionate about literature and other students seeking the benefits English has to offer. We are hopeful that future changes will address these concerns and allow students and faculty to return to the true purpose of the English department: the teaching and learning of literature.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Daniel Jeon, and its members, Georgia Angell, Sam Choi, Nick Morley and Rachel Occhiogrosso. Send comments to


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