English major should be re-evaluated

Last Monday, members of the English department met with concerned students at Rice House to discuss possible changes in the structure of the English major. English department faculty had already been discussing, through the curriculum committee, the possibility of restructuring the major. The Record supports this reexamination of the English major.

Clearly, this rethinking of the English major is still very much in the early stages. The Record would like to take this opportunity, therefore, to make some early suggestions.

Among the changes being considered, and one that seems quite probable, is the elimination of the present English 101 format, which allows the professor a great deal of freedom in the structure of the course, but which doesn’t allow students the maximum amount of choice within the introductory class. If the English 101 requirement were waived in favor of a choice from one of several 100-level courses, this could allow for more diversity, or at least more choice within the introductory level.

We can think of two main concerns about the English major. First, there are enough requirements that it becomes difficult for an English major to truly focus on a specific type of English literature if the courses in those specific areas of interest do not satisfy any requirements.

It was rightly pointed out that courses emphasizing English literature written by minorities tends not to fulfill any specific requirements for the major, making it difficult to concentrate on minority literature.

A second concern we have is the lack of continuity within English courses. At the beginning of every class, be it 101 or an upper 300-level class, professors must assume that everyone in the class has the same base of knowledge, namely none. With no specific requirements, there is no guarantee in any class that every student in the class has read, for example, Hamlet.

One way to address this second concern is to make the major more sequential. Perhaps require that all majors take English 201, “Shakespeare’s Major Plays.” In this case, by having fewer, more specific requirements, English majors would all have a general amount of common knowledge, as well as the opportunity to concentrate on more diverse kinds of literature.

While allowing more flexibility within the major may address the problem of students’ ability to study classes, such as those focusing on minority literature, which heretofore have fulfilled no requirements, this does not address the concerns that some students have about the lack of classes that teach minority literature.

This is an issue in which patience might be necessary. The English department is one of the larger departments on campus, with 15 full professors. It is not controversial to say that this is a good thing. The department is solid and has many experienced professors. However, this also means that the department may be slower and more difficult to change when changes would be beneficial.