Tuesday, April 01, 2008

English Department of the Future

The time: some decades hence.
The place: The University of South Jetsonville, a large state university.

The Grand Administrator is speaking to one of his minions about what used to be called the English Department. Although there are four faculty members who still comprise the "English Department," most of the department, and its chair, have been "restructured" and have disappeared in the name of increasing efficiency. Curiously enough, the number of administrators has only increased. We enter in the midst of the conversation.

The Grand Administrator: "What can you tell me about how we're achieving excellence in the English Department?"

Minion: "Well, our single section of English 101 is a success. The accrediting agency is happy that we have moved to weekly Scantron grammar quizzes instead of actual writing, since it's impossible to be accredited without measurable outcomes. There's nothing more measurable than a quiz."

GA: "What about Instructor X? How is he doing?"
Minion: "We asked the students about that last week. 1,495 of the students in our section of English 101 thought he was doing a good job, but 5 of them thought his grading scheme was too hard."

GA: "Hmm. That's not good. Those 5 deserve better for their tuition money; we have to keep the customers happy, you know. It's a good thing we don't have to rehire him in the spring. Do we still have the instructor bids from the fall?"

Minion: "Yes. Of the 350 applications we got, at least five or six of them offered to teach the class for very close to what Instructor X is teaching it for, although none of them offered to pay for all their own photocopying, as he did. I think we can get someone for around $2,000 to teach this course.

GA: "No benefits, of course?"

Minion: (Laughs) "Of course not!"

GA: "What about business and professional writing? Is that going well?"

Minion: "Yes, although the business school and the science departments have demanded that we teach actual writing in those, so we have to pay the instructor a little more for that section. We live to serve those schools; they bring in the money, you know."

GA: "What about our section of Shakespeare? Remind me again about why we kept a literature class. It seems so useless and out of touch with the modern world."

Minion: "Well, the trustees and regents seem to like it. It reminds them of when they went to the University of South Jetsonville and tells them that we are Keeping Up Standards by Teaching the Classics. The president likes it, too, since he can talk to alumni about Achieving Excellence through the Humanities. Granted, alumni don't shell out for Shakespeare the way they do for football or basketball, but a few misty-eyed English grads will always give a little if we keep the Shakespeare course."

GA: "Professor Y, who teaches it, is getting pretty old. Shouldn't we be putting Dr. Kervorkian on speed dial for him pretty soon?"

Minion: "No, studies have shown that students rate male authority-figures in lecture-driven classes the highest of all when they fill out course evaluations."

GA: "What about Professor Grant Superstar? Tell me--what does she teach again?"

Minion: "She doesn't. We have her on board to add class to the place, what with her NEH grants and all."

This was inspired by all the talk about a tenureless university. I'm kidding, of course; at least I hope I'm kidding.

Want to add some dialogue of your own?


Anonymous said...

More dialogue - I'll watch out for some IRL dialogue to parody. You have captured the discourse so well that at this moment I cannot equal what you've already got.

Minion: I understand, accept, and applaud the "fact" that although we offer the PhD we are essentially a service department. I understand that the reason we have graduate students is to produce extra special student credit hours, which increase our funding, and then PhDs, so that the University keeps its Carnegie category.

undine said...

Yes, indeed to the Minion dialogue.

Dr. Virago said...

I only just saw this and I have to saw: holy crap, Undine, do you work with me at Rust Belt U? Cuz, um, at RBU this is *real* conversation. (Um, I'm not kidding. And we're supposedly classed Research-Intensive!)

Dr. Virago said...

Er, I have to *say*...is what I meant to say.

undine said...

I don't *think* we are at the same place, Dr. Virago, but that's the scary part: these conversations are going on all over.

Musicalbookworm said...

Wow! You mean in the future I'll actually make $2000 for teaching a three hour course as an adjunct!

Sadly, yes, I think I will be part of the last generation that can even imagine a tenure track job or academia as a viable career.