Suggestions for a 21st-Century English Department
  1. English Departments should hire to clusters of topical or project-centered interests (e.g., literature and global media, literature and science, literature and terror) that have the potential both to foster collaboration within the department and to link up to campus-wide initiatives. Considerations of historical or field specialization should be secondary (such considerations should not be a priori, but should be generated as part of robust topics and projects).
  2. Every three years, each senior faculty member should be asked to teach a new course on a period, topic, or approach in which they are complete novices or are very uncomfortable.
  3. To foster a more genuine relation between research and teaching, one or two courses in a faculty member’s load each year should be workshop- or lab-style courses in which faculty work alongside students (grad, undergrad, or both) to produce something (e.g., an essay, a web resource, an edition, a conference, a film). At the extreme, such a course would start with no syllabus.
  4. Using teleconferencing or virtual-immersion information technology (e.g., Second Life instructional spaces), English departments at major research institutions in the U.S. should co-teach classes (if not whole courses) with instructors from significantly different areas of the world or different kinds of educational institutions. What do the topics and approaches that matter to “us” (e.g., identity, ethnicity, aesthetics, theory, culture, popular culture) look like when brought into dialgue with the needs and assumptions of students in Europe, Africa, or the East, students at a different grade level, adult students, students from a different social class, etc.?
  5. Today the assumptions that divide, and unite, “literary interpretation” and “creative writing” in a literature department should be rethought in a larger social context that privileges over both poles of that binary such goals as “innovation,” “collaboration,” and “entertainment.” In the globally competitive age of innovate-or-die and critique-by-radio-talk-show-or-blog, scholars entrenched in either interpretive critique or avant-garde creativity seem to be fighting some past war.
  6. English Departments should borrow paradigms from such departments as Engineering to establish robust, proactive internship programs that place students in a variety of for-profit, non-profit, and other organizations. Such an internship program should have a high level of visibility and supervision in the department–e.g., supported by an adviser who visits area businesses, arranges field trips for students, etc.
  7. English Departments should have a “public humanities” initiative with public events and outreach missions. Such an initiative should be coordinated alongside an extramural fund-raising campaign of the sort that other disciplines organize.