It’s January, and that means a few things: people are busy, for one, what with the end of the first month of term; grant season (which is now concentrated in several points throughout the year–maybe go buy your department’s or faculty’s grants person a drink or some chocolate!)*; and the beginning of interview “season” (and we all know the decline in full-time, tenure-track jobs has made that process–when it happens…–even more fraught and stressful). And then there are the small annoyances, like a blizzard that shut down the east coast this week. But, like Janus, January looks both ways, and there are some upsides, the most important of which, of course, is that our Winter newsletter is on its way: expect it in a week! (update: you can find the latest newsletter here! – ed.)
One of the issues we discuss in the newsletter–English enrolments–is addressed in the US context in a recent article from Inside Higher Ed. You can read the article, “Where Have All the English Majors Gone” (or “Major Exodus”–it seems to have two titles), by clicking here. Of course, there have been many such articles about declining numbers of English and liberal arts students, and some terrific refutations of that decline (here’s a fairly decent summary of some of the good, the bad, and the “we would have made it, if it wasn’t for you lousy kids and your darn ‘theories!'” arguments). But I share the Inside Higher Ed article not for the apocalyptic if repetitious click bait of its title(s), but because it raises the important point that talking to students about their perceptions, needs, and educational desires is a significant task. The article suggests that this is a task that, while it may be done informally in our departments, may also need a more systematic approach.
In other words, do we, in English, take enough ownership of recruitment to and retention in our own programs? Do we tend to leave that to University recruitment officers? Do we talk to them enough and in the right ways–or about the right things–to learn how to reach out to students who may want the knowledge, skills, and other opportunities we offer, but who don’t associate those opportunities with “English”?
Issues of enrolment and retention may seem somewhat outside the usual tasks of professing English (if such is what we do…), but they cut to the heart of why we do what we do, and how. And these topics are, of course, tied to other issues: the decline of the tenure-track and subsequent overwork of contract faculty; declining funding for “pure” (i.e. not corporate-partnered) research; and so on.
These very issues are on deck for a focused discussion at the 2015 ACCUTE conference in Ottawa, in a panel sponsored by our colleagues from the Canadian Association of Chairs of English, which we hope will generate further wide-ranging conversation and some practical work. Before then, ACCUTE will also have a brief piece from exec member Lisa Surridge in the Winter Newsletter (coming soon to a computer screen near you!).
In the meantime, I posted this piece to start that conversation: clearly the US situation is different from ours in many ways, but what in the Inside Higher Ed piece connects to your reading of our situation? What do you find useful? Useless? Exciting? Tedious? Is discussing issues of enrolment and recruitment caving to the neo-liberal onslaught, or is it necessary? Do declining enrolments (if such they are) speak to a problem of people’s perception of “English,” or to something about the discipline itself? Please comment below! –Jason
*full-disclosure: my partner is our ADR and so de facto grants facilitator, but I promise not to eat any of the chocolate. Or maybe just one square.