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The Standard for Assistant Profs at the IU Dept. of English

January 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

February 1. I hear that the murder trial will be in March. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but my current plan is to delay reposting on this till Fall 2010, since emotions are likely to run high during the trial.

January 11. After thinking and talking this over, I’ve decided that I should pull the post that was here. Several commentors expressed pain and anger at what they took as an opportunistic timing of my post. Originally, I’d hoped a simple disclaimer added to the beginning of the post would soften the discussion. Now I see that wasn’t enough. I will delete the entry, and wait a couple of months before discussing the issue of whether English professors should have doctorates, by which time I hope it will not be connected with anyone’s death.

Although I understand how others could judge my post to be an opportunistic criticism of IU’s creative writing program and people of color and homosexual practice, that was not my thought or intent. Believe it or not, what I write normally has few underlying motives other than intellectual curiosity and proposals for the common good. In this case specifically, reading about Professor Belton’s death and following the links got me thinking about the nature of the faculty at Indiana Unviersity, and I went ahead and thought out loud about the matter without considering how others might be hurt by my musings. If you will be so gracious as to allow me to exchange one sin for another, my act was not heartless, but thoughtless.

And so I apologize for the timing of this post and for not responding more quickly to the pain and anger of those who knew Professor Belton. Death brings pain, and it was not my desire to add to the suffering of anyone involved in this tragedy.

I’m pulling the post out of respect for those who grieve. Thus, I’ll also be pulling quite a number of comments. I hope each commentor will understand this action. I’ve retained a download of your comments– email me if you’d like a copy of what you said.

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  1. January 26th, 2010 at 23:34 | #1
  2. Tarez Samra Graban
    January 21st, 2010 at 22:39 | #2

    I regret not commenting before this post was removed, though I agree that the timing of the post was unfortunate. You may choose to remove this comment as well—it is your blog, after all.

    Eric, I think you should retitle your post.

    You have already noted the varied faculty roles in your own department—from Lecturer to Acting Assistant to Clinical to TT—where the highest earned degree may be the M.A. or the J.D., but is certainly not in all cases the Ph.D. You have clearly stated that the nature and type and title of each position comes with it requisite skills and knowledge, not all equivalent to one another. You have acknowledged your understanding that the M.F.A. is still the terminal degree for the field of creative writing.

    The larger impetus behind your questioning the departmental “standards” in English has emerged in your response to other people’s comments, thus ensuring that the title of your post is enthymematic at best, sensationalist at worst. This is not a genuine query about the hiring practices of English (where all of its non-creative writing faculty hold Ph.D.s from distinguished programs) but an admission of your bias against creative fields in académe. Please do not parade the former as the latter without admitting the fallacy you cause.

    Several commenters have already noted the fallacious nature of your claims. My own comments will seem redundant, but I offer them as a way of speaking more directly to the bias you express (rather than to the “query” you “pose”):

    If your concern is that M.F.A.s (employed as creative writing faculty at IU) are not good practitioners, you can and should put that concern to rest. It has no basis. Our creative writing program will not consider hiring a candidate unless s/he has already demonstrated a successful record of publication and performance.

    If your concern is that M.F.A.s (in creative writing at IU) cannot teach well, I’d say that should be no more or less a concern in creative writing than it is with any other disciplinary branch in the R1 university. By and large, the creative writing faculty at IU have the distinction of teaching well and must have a record of successful teaching before hiring.

    [You may want to engage with English as a whole discipline on what is its definition of “teaching well.” Better yet, engage with the humanities on this point—on everything from class size to feedback mechanisms to number/nature of assignments to assessment practices. I have no doubt that, while Business and English may share some principles in common, they differ on more than they share. In the interest of promoting disciplinarity, I hope they would continue to differ. When I catch wind of business school practices that cause me to doubt all of their faculty are “teaching well,” I hold aside my criticisms. Business has not invited me to give them an outsider’s perspective, though I welcome the opportunity to do so for a consultatory fee.]

    If your concern is that M.F.A.s are not good scholars, then we should take up operational definitions of “scholarship” to determine why (in your mind) the condition of having only the M.F.A. precludes scholarship. If “scholarship” means the frequent production of treatises operating only on systematic logic or derived only from empirical methods, then a great many faculty at IU should go their fraudulent ways, a great many departments should close their doors, and dozens of academic disciplines should simply pack it in.

    [Your post implies that this would be a welcome change, but you cannot reasonably expect others to accept this argument. If we did, we might be at risk of not hiring people like Gorgias, Cicero, Shakespeare, Wollstonecraft, or Woolf, not only because they were unemployable, performative in their academic work, politically left-of-center, and cultural riff-raff, but because they were obscure (in terms of the nature, type, and circulation of their scholarship among their contemporaries), not empiricists, and not good in the traditional classroom. We might also be at risk of assuming the ten ancient Psalmists would never have written without a generic antecedent or an immediate audience. Finally, we might be at risk of accepting your December 30 assertions that Jewish-American and Asian-American literature are obscure and of “tiny importance,” instead of realizing that the textual traditions which have helped western civilization to emerge are multi-ethnic and complex.]

    In short, I fail to understand the basis on which you can raise up the creative writing professoriate as reasonable evidence of lower standards in the English department, though I do understand two things:

    First, our departmental orientation in English (as scholars who teach well) may disrupt a vital bifurcation on which your argument rests. You insist on some degrees of separation between these activities (scholarship and teaching) in order to argue for creative writers as non-academic and certain business faculty as peripheral. More than one commenter on your blog has already suggested that you familiarize yourself with the many intellectual areas within English at IU, so that you might realize its strength in attracting and hiring competitively in both activities at once (i.e., both activities within the same person).

    Second, you demonstrate an inability (or refusal) to see epistemological value in many fields that are not your own. You have already stated that “esoteric” (“hobbyist” and “audience-less”) subjects such as creative writing are lesser than other subjects. In spite of your penchant for Romantic novels, you would consider neither “art” nor “craft” in any field as carrying epistemological value. You’ve made claims about the academic non-viability of having creative writing (at all, but especially) in English. You’ve made claims about the insufficiency of contemporary poetic (or creative) discourse to be publicly viable. From what I can tell, the following assumptions underlie those claims:

    • written production, workshop delivery, and performance (especially of contemporary novels and contemporary poetry) are all non-academic activities
    • poetic and other fictive and non-fictive types of contemporary discourse do not represent the real work of académe and carry insufficient ties to other knowledge-making discourses (e.g., contemporary philosophy, history, etc.)
    • the process of learning creative writing does not and cannot itself provide opportunities for students to do intellectual work (e.g., reflection and theory)
    • by extension, writing instruction (of any kind) is devoid of intellectual positioning or theorization and should be limited to (repetitive) “practical” forms.

    Now, if in fact you do see room for epistemological activity in the creative arts, then I admit to being confused by the premises underlying your argument. One premise is that our creative writing faculty write stuff that is so elite and qualified that it has limited applicable value beyond académe. The other premise is that our creative writing faculty are supremely underqualified for académe. So which is it? Sometimes you argue from one at a time, but at other times you argue from both at once.

  3. Melissa
    January 14th, 2010 at 21:22 | #3

    I’m interested in this blog. I appreciate the nature of discussion you seek and respect the fact that you have taken down your post.

    I don’t know if you remember me, but you removed my original comment due to it’s impolite nature. I’ll be interested to see what comes next.

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