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Faculty approves Am. Lit. merger

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Caroline S. Stauffer

The Middlebury College Faculty voted for the creation of a new department and major in English and American Literatures and a new program in American Studies during its December meeting on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 12. The final count in paper ballots for the proposal sponsored by the Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) was 101 votes in favor, 41 against and six abstentions. A simple majority was required for the proposal to pass.

The vote followed 90 minutes of discussion during the meeting in John McCardell Jr. Bicentennial Hall, but the restructuring of the American Literature major has drawn attention at the College since the proposal was introduced in October and engendered heated debate from both sides since the issue was first raised in the fall of 2003.

President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz served as meeting chairman and moderated the discussion. Liebowitz adjourned the meeting after proclaiming the resolution a chance for the faculty to engage the difficult issues that had been raised throughout the process.

“I hope that after this we can convene as a group to continue to do what’s best for our students and faculty,” Liebowitz said.

Under the new proposal, the major in American Literature and Civilization will cease to exist, and the departments of English and American Literatures will be combined into a single department, while American Studies becomes an interdisciplinary program.

Associate Professor of Classics Jane Chaplin presented the EAC proposal. Chaplin emphasized the Committee’s belief that both new programs can be staffed for the foreseeable future using existing faculty resources and that the creation of the new programs can also be seen as “restructuring existing departments.”

A steering committee will oversee the new American Studies Program and will take responsibility for any future modifications of the program. Majors in American Studies will have to take five required courses, three electives and five courses in one of four possible areas of concentration. Chaplin said the EAC believes the new program represents a “huge opportunity for interdisciplinary study” at the College.

In the view of the EAC, the Department of English and American Literatures is an “intellectually strong and coherent major in literature written in English,” according to Chaplin. Students will be required to take introductory courses in English literature, American literature and one course emphasizing close reading. Chaplin noted that all but two requirements for the major could feasibly be completed by taking classes focusing on the American canon.

The new programs will be fully integrated into the curriculum beginning with the Class of 2010. Students currently majoring in American Literature and/or Civilization can finish their majors at the status quo.

During the ensuing discussion, Frederick C. Dirks Professor of Political Science Michael Kraus pointed out that voting on the restructuring of a department in which that department’s faculty did not give unanimous consent is an unprecedented job for the Faculty Council. Kraus urged his colleagues to consider the repercussions of their votes. “We are about to put an end to a department,” he said. “This is setting a precedent. From now on a department that is divided five to four can be dissolved.”

A motion to postpone further consideration of the proposal until either all of the Faculty that were directly involved can bring forward a unanimous proposal, or failing that, for a period of at least one year to allow time for cooling off and to further urge the administration to make some form of professional mediation available also failed.

Reginald L. Cook Professor of American Literature Brett Millier, an ardent supporter of the EAC proposal, argued in favor of resolving the issue, though she stopped short of calling the question. “Your task is a vote on the simple matter of structure,” she told her colleagues. “What I want most of all today is to move forward so that the healing, if it is to take place, can begin.”

While the ballots were being tabulated, Liebowitz answered the question of why neither he nor his predecessor, Professor of History John M. McCardell Jr., had taken a more visible role in the deliberation.

“During the course of the last 15 months, I have received many a communiqué,” he said. “No matter how difficult and how painful the process became,” he continued, “I felt it was important for us to work through this in our departments and then to go through the proper channels that the College has set up.”

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