English department moves ahead, makes changes

As the 2002-03 school year comes to an end, the English department is undergoing various transitions in both the faculty and the curriculum.

After the recent resignation of department chair John Smyth, Tracy Dillon, professor and director of the Center for Excellence in Writing, is preparing to assume the position.

Also, with a large number of both recently hired professors and retiring staff members, the department is preparing to evolve, said Lee Medovoi, assistant English professor.

“Anytime you have that much turnover in personnel, you ask, ‘What do we do well? What sorts of new things do we want?'” he said. “We’re entering into an assessment period.”

With the re-accreditation process in the near future, the English department is eager to report assessment initiatives in order to ensure it is meeting students’ needs, Dillon said.

Such efforts may include additional classes for students with difficult schedules, Medovoi said.

“We’re concentrating on making more classes available when working students can take them,” he said. “There are so many students who work full time and need more night classes.”

Other changes include additional available resources for the Portland community provided by the Center for Excellence in Writing.

Though the center has consistently provided writing workshops for community members, future plans include increased availability and additional subject matter within such activities.

The future possibility of a film studies minor is another exciting prospect, said Michael Clark, professor and assistant chair of the English department. He explained that due to the prevalence of film in modern society, acknowledgement of the medium within PSU curriculum is necessary.

“Film is the art form of the 20th century,” he said. “In the 19th century it was painting and the development of the novel. People in the 19th century identified with characters in novels, and authors were the rock stars of their time. Now, film is our primary narrative form. It’s what people identify with. I think anyone who denies that is kind of making it up.”

Though the process of creating the minor has been ongoing the past three years, Clark said he has his “fingers crossed” that the option to be available to students beginning this December.

“Portland is an incredibly bookish and cinematic town,” he said. “We live in a film town, and it needs a film program. It would be good for students, good for Portland and good for the university.”

Requirements for the minor will include film criticism and theory, film history, as well as various electives.

“It will be a critical approach,” he said. “We’ll look at cinema as an art form, but also cinema in cultural form. It tells us something about ourselves.”

The development of film studies at PSU is partially in response to the shift of focus within English departments across the country, Clark said.

“The whole arena of literary studies has changed,” he said. “It’s not an English department, it’s a literature and culture department. It’s become very interdisciplinary. We no longer just read the classics. That raises a lot of issues. Some people think it’s important to read Homer, The Bible or Shakespeare. And other people argue, no, it’s more about understanding the narrative.”

He explained that with the creation of such a field of study at PSU, the university could start to draw talented students with interests in film.

“PSU should be the NYU of the West Coast,” he said. “This is a great town, and it has tons of energy. Let’s aim high and make our English department the best one north of San Francisco.”

However, at a time when budget shortfalls are a serious concern, new programs and similar changes can be difficult to achieve, Medovoi cautioned.

“This is a complicated time,” he said. “We want to do more, and find more ways to make a difference to the students and community, but it’s at a time when resources are shrinking, the budget is shrinking. We’d like to do these things, but protect what we’re already doing. Unfortunately, some initiatives are going to have to wait until the fiscal health of the university improves.”

Currently, the department is focusing on several broad objectives and hopes to continue contributing to the PSU community, Dillon explained.

“We’re looking at community-based learning and outreach, conflict resolution, sustainability and paradigms that are emerging in English studies nationwide,” he said. “Our goal is just to try and embrace those priorities, and work with colleagues across campus to promote the goals of PSU.”

For more information about the Center for Excellence in Writing, contact Tracy Dillon at [email protected]