English department drops Critical Perspectives

The English Department will no longer offer its required course Critical Perspectives next year due to a scheduling fluke.

By Hannah Fine

The English Department will no longer offer its required course Critical Perspectives next year due to a scheduling fluke, according to the director of the undergraduate English program.

Undergraduates will also need only three period courses—courses that cover writing from a specific time period—rather than four to graduate with a major, although English majors will still have to take one of a number of theory classes. Other distribution requirements will stay the same.

Those faculty members who would have taught the class next year happened to take leaves of absence at the same time, Director Christina von Nolcken said. “What’s happening for next year is just this little bit of ad hoc tinkering so that the undergrads can have a sensible program,” she said, adding that the department will meet next year to make a final decision concerning the course and the department in general.

“We always wanted to have a course that all majors and minors in English would be able to discuss together, and we always hoped that Critical Perspectives could perform that function,” von Nolcken said.

Future English majors can petition von Nolcken to have a theory course fit the requirement, von Nolcken said. Prospective majors will also have to take one course from each of three literary periods: pre-1650, 1650-1830, and 1830-1940. Currently, students must take two courses in literature written between 1450 and 1750, and two between 1750 and 1950.

Future graduate student hiring decisions will not be determined by Critical Perspectives. Whereas English graduate students used to teach the course to fulfill their financial aid packages, new graduate students will teach classes aligned with their own research interests. “We look for the very best we can get in both categories of professors and graduate students, and then we look at what they can do,” von Nolcken said.

Some students who spoke to the Maroon said they would not have taken the class, given the option. However, many ultimately enjoyed the course. Fourth-year Christopher Shea took the class last winter and said he loved it. “I probably wouldn't have taken it,” Shea said, “but I'm happy I did. It's sort of a Core course because of its breadth.”

Third-year Sean Bowen took the class last winter quarter as well, and would take it again. “I think it was good for developing close reading skills and it gave me a good theoretical foundation to work from, and I found it really useful for advanced classes,” said Bowen, an English and Russian double major. He said that if Critical Perspectives isn’t brought back, “there should be some required class that does what Critical Perspectives tries to do.”

Current Critical Perspectives students had differing reactions. Second-year Caroline O'Donovan, an English and Political Science major taking the class, was frustrated the change was not announced (it has been accounted for on the English department’s Web site). “No one, not my advisor, told me maybe you should hold off on taking this class,” O’Donovan said.

O'Donovan said she would rather take a class on a specific theory she is interested in, although first-year and potential major Caterina MacLean, who is also in the course, said she enjoys it so far.

“I was surprised because I had heard such bad things about the class, but I actually liked it so far, even though everyone was like, it’s pretty boring, pretty dry,” MacLean said. “I wish that the English Department had communicated a little better when they knew they were changing the requirements.”

Trent Bowen, a third-year physics major and English minor, offered a critical perspective of his own. “I don't see why people complain about one required class. As a physics major you have, like, eight.”

­—Additional reporting by Asher Klein