Thursday, February 2, 2012

Comparative Literature's Official Response to "Needs Attention" Designation

24 January 2012


Vicki Ruiz, Dean, School of Humanities
James Steintrager, Acting Dean, School of Humanities
Michael Gottfredson, EVC/Provost

RE: Department of Comparative Literature Response to “Needs Attention” Designation

The department understands that severe budget cuts require aggressive measures, and the focus on undergraduate enrollment makes sense, especially where the aim is to attract new students rather than to redistribute the existing population. Comparative Literature programs nationally and historically have been small, but we are directing our curricular and teaching energies toward increasing enrollments, and in fact have been doing so diligently over the past several years as we discuss below. We need to begin our response by clarifying the record on which the current assessment was based.

Several “Needs Attention” SOH departments have pointed out inconsistencies in the metrics of the recent review: their application and interpretation. Our department’s numbers also need to be reconsidered for reasons specific to our program. The Department of Comparative Literature has the good fortune to serve as the academic home for a number of prestigious faculty who have been brought to UCI to head high profile research units. David Goldberg, for example, leads the system-wide Humanities Research Institute. Ngugi wa Thiong’o was hired in 2002 to direct the International Center for Writing and Translation. And Nasrin Rahimieh came to UCI in 2006 to head the new Samuel Jordan Center of Persian Studies and Culture. The department also includes a Distinguished Professor (Gabrielle Schwab), the editor of Postmodern Culture (Eyal Amiran), and the Campus Writing Coordinator from 2001-07 (Susan Jarratt). In the case of each of these faculty members, a special assignment has meant a reduced teaching load so that, in a department of 11/12 members, almost half devote considerable time to administrative obligations. Goldberg, for example, has no teaching responsibilities (though he teaches a graduate seminar on occasion). Others have reduced course loads through contractual arrangements.

These faculty and their centers bring considerable notice, millions of dollars in external funding, and intellectual vibrancy to the School. That Comparative Literature has been the department of choice for such dynamic faculty and programs is very much to our credit. We find, however, that a metrical calculation of student credit hours that does not take into account these special arrangements misrepresents the department’s labor. The chart on p. 2 of the Nov. 15th memo lists Comp Lit’s filled faculty FTE at 11.75. If administrative assignments had been taken into account, this figure would be closer to 9. A recalculation on this basis puts our Total Majors per Filled FTE closer to 10, rather than the 6.61 listed on the memo, and would adjust the SCH per FTE accordingly.

Any statistical profile is a snapshot of a program in process. From our inception in 2004 as a stand-alone department, Comparative Literature has been very active in building our undergraduate program and has increased our majors since then (currently 42). Early on, we negotiated with English to establish courses that would serve as electives for their majors and have been offering these on a regular basis. In 2006 and again in 2010-11, we revised our curriculum so as to create three tracks for majors based on our knowledge of the interests and career paths for students in the Humanities: World Literature (for future teachers), Comparative Literature (for students headed to graduate school), and Cultural Studies (for students with broad interdisciplinary aims).

Over the past few years, Comparative Literature has been working closely with the Associate Deans of Undergraduate Education in the School to respond to the need for larger enrollment courses. We’ve created appealing topics, participated in cross-disciplinary teaching opportunities (FIP and Hum Core), and cross-listed our courses with high-enrollment departments (e.g., English, History, and Film and Media Studies). Judging that cultural studies and world literature may be two areas of wide appeal, we’ve created new lower-division, Gen Ed courses to tap interests of students across campus. This quarter (Winter 2012) CL 10 (GE IV and VIII), Comics and Superheroes (Amiran), enrolled 97 students. (Requests for the course approached 200, but we were restricted to an enrollment of 97 by the room size.) CL 10 (GE IV and VIII), Masterpieces of World Literature, will be taught by Jane O. Newman in fall 2012. The department has submitted a Letter of Intent to develop this course as an online offering to UC and Non-UC students under the Wave II UCOP initiative.

Higher enrollment courses in recent years have included the following:

FIP: Consciousness (Terada), 2009-10, 71 students FIP: Persuasion and Social Change (Jarratt; Newman), 2009-10, 66 students FIP: Consciousness (Amiran), 2011-12, 72 students CL 141, Golden Age Comics (Amiran), spring 2010, 52 students CL 100A, African Literature (Ngugi), fall 2010, 67 students CL 105, Comparative Multiculturalism (Schlichter), fall 2010, 63 students CL 102, Melodrama (Terada), winter 2011, 57 students CL 160, Latin American Film (Johnson), spring 2011, 60 students CL 160, Hong Kong/Chinese Cinema (Abbas), fall 2011, 78 students Humanities Core Course, Declarations in Dialogue (Jarratt), winter quarters, 2010-13, approx. 900 students

Comparative Literature has been actively building its capacity to offer undergraduates a rigorous education in critical cultural competencies—a kind of education that will prepare them to be active global citizens in a diverse world. We value highly the pedagogies that enable students to learn to speak and write powerfully in multiple languages, to interpret complex cultural messages and act thoughtfully in a world filled with ethical dilemmas. The multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-literate education we offer in Comparative Literature prepares students for advanced study in humanities, law, and other fields, and improves student employability. While we are participating whole-heartedly in the campus-wide effort to overcome the dire economic challenges we face, the department of Comparative Literature does not want to lose sight of the indispensable intellectual and pedagogical contributions of a humanistic education for 21st-century global citizens.

In the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey, UCI students found humanities courses more satisfying than courses in any other school. Results for students in Comparative Literature courses were also very positive in UCUES data. Future assessments should take such data into account. A small department does not have the resources to conduct the kind of study that would answer the question we often hear posed: why do students select one major over another? An investment in such a study campus-wide would put any future assessment of quality and decisions about resource allocation on a more solid footing. In the mean time, the department of Comparative Literature is polling its majors to see how they found out about CL and what they value in this program. We are reaching out to community college students who take courses in world literature and related subjects, forging connections with faculty teaching those courses. We are paying attention to our program at every level and welcome the opportunity to communicate about our efforts and successes.

Finally, we wish to address the question of restructuring departments in the SOH. The APG expresses an interest in the SOH reducing the number of small independent units in Humanities (p. 3). Does the UCI School of Humanities have an inordinate number of small units? To approach this question comparatively, we investigated the organization of humanities at other UC system campuses. We report the following: UCLA Humanities Division = 23 units, UC Berkeley = 17 units, UC Davis = 15 majors and programs; UCI = 15 departments. It seems, on comparison with other UC campuses, that Humanities at UCI does not have an excessive number of small units. Despite this evidence, Comp Lit is willing to entertain the prospect of joining forces with other units. Any such restructuring must be grounded in shared intellectual and disciplinary aims. We are currently engaged in conversation with other units about the intellectual grounds of possible collaborations.

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