Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

English Department Changes Curriculum

CURRICULUM English Department Changes Curriculum By Liora Geblum and Charlotte Nichols Special to The Hoya

The English Department recently voted to change the structure of its curriculum after almost six years of complicated course requirements that, according to department members, were insufficient to meeting students needs and wants.

“The system that we worked out five or six years ago didn’t work out because of an imbalance in what students want to take and what teachers had expertise in,” English Professor Paul Betz said.

Under the new system, the two-semester core requirement for students will not change, but the class options to fulfill the requirement will, according to English Curriculum Committee member Professor Ricardo Ortiz. There will be four fields from which to choose a first English class as a prerequisite for all upper-level classes: Medieval and Early Modern Literatures and Cultures, 18th and 19th Century Literatures and Cultures, Modern and Post-Modern Literatures and Cultures and Introduction to Critical Methods.

English majors will need to complete at least two of these introductory “gateway” courses, along with three additional classes: one from field one, one from field two and one from either field three or four. Overall, English majors will take five classes from these new fields.

Another issue that was brought up in the reevaluation of the curriculum this year was whether there should be a diversity requirement in the gateway classes. Under the new curriculum guidelines, all courses would be required to address the issue of diversity. The proposal was defeated in December by a vote of 17-19.

Betz explained that the proposal defined diversity very loosely, as class diversity, race diversity, and gender diversity among others.

“Virtually every course that is taught at Georgetown has diversity integrated in it already. It’s part of the field. The question was whether or not we should order people to teach it,” he said.

“We’ve never had a policy that people must teach from this ideological point of view or that ideological point of view,” he said, adding that if anyone ever came and wanted to teach differently, Georgetown would not want a rule that would deter them.

The new curriculum is a result of a year and a half-long process described by Ortiz as “long, meticulous and complicated.”

The change in course requirements almost six years ago called for a re-evaluation of the program in 2000, and is only now that any conclusions are being decided on.

Under the 1996 system, English majors chose one of three concentrations – Studies in Literature and Literary History, Studies in Culture and Performance or Studies in Writing: Rhetoric, Genre, Form. According to Betz, more students were choosing the concentration in writing than Georgetown has capacity for.

“We didn’t want to injure the students by making classes bigger. We want to keep them small so students have a lot of interaction with the professors, but we still want to have enough space in classes for what students want,” Betz said.

“The changes that are taking place don’t have a lot to do with ideology, they have more to do with practicality,” he said.

The English course curriculum has had a history of being affiliated with ideology, however. When the current system was originally implemented in 1996, it was met with much resistance, both on campus and in the national press.

“It got a lot of national publicity, which was not favorable towards Georgetown, but it was based on a lot of misconceptions,” Betz said.

Before 1996, English majors were required to take two out of three classes on three authors – Shakespeare, Chaucer and ilton. According to Betz, Shakespeare was the most popular so 95 percent of students would choose that class as one, and then either ilton or Chaucer as the other.

“The `traditionalists’ who wrote about this tended to assume that Georgetown had had a requirement in Shakespeare, but that was oversimplified,” Betz said.

People were quick to assume that because so many people were choosing Shakespeare, there was a specific Shakespeare requirement, Betz said. The truth, he said, was that there had not been a mandatory reading list since the 1960s.

Many were opposed to the canceling of the rule in general, though, because it appeared Georgetown was de-emphasizing the works of classically great authors. Georgetown graduateWilliam Peter Blatty (C ’50), author of The Exorcist, went so far as to pledge to cut Georgetown out of his will because of the canceling of this rule.

Despite the opposition, the new curriculum was adopted in 1996. The reasons for the most recent change are unaffiliated with the past controversy, and instead are more focused on two main goals. The first goal is to simplify the currently complicated list of requirements and achieve a more administrative and student-friendly system. The second goal is to offer a more intellectual and professional program that can prepare students for the various careers English majors may embark on, according to Ortiz.

One way the new curriculum attempts to accomplish these goals and provide the classes that the students are asking for is by changing the number of concentrations offered from three to six.

“By choosing electives from different areas, students will be able to experience further the wide diversity of texts, topics and methodological approaches that characterize the field of English studies today,” said the document on which the English Department voted.

According to English Department Chair Joe Sitterson, the earliest the new curriculum would be implemented is fall 2003.

“Such a model will not be implemented prior to or independent of the resolution of a number of other structural and administrative matters,” he said in a memo to the English Department.

Betz said the “structural and administrative matters” to which Sitterson refers are the little details, such as the sizes of specific classes.

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