American Studies at Temple?
By Miles Orvell and Philip Yannella
Note: Following the reorganization of interdisciplinary programs in Spring 2011 by CLA Dean Teresa Soufas, many of our colleagues have continued to ask about the situation with American Studies. The Program has continued to offer courses and to serve its remaining majors and minors. But in May, 2012, we proposed to the Dean that it be terminated. On October 1, 2012, we responded to the Dean's request that we write a formal termination memo (see below for a slightly redacted version of what we submitted). Since then, we were called once to meet with the Dean and the Chair and Undergraduate Chair of English to discuss alternatives to termination. Recently, the Dean's ad hoc committee examining the reorganization published its report (see elsewhere in this issue of the Faculty Herald – The Editor). That report also included recommendations.
BACKGROUND: Founded in the early 1970s with a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Studies at Temple was meant to be a small undergraduate major that stressed interdisciplinarity and the rigorous pursuit of knowledge. It has been noted for its commitment to the teaching of undergraduates, and three or its core instructors (Robert Weinberg, Philip R. Yannella, and Miles Orvell) received Temple Great Teacher Awards. Orvell and Yannella have been continuously involved with the Program, and each of them directed the Program for many years.
Many of the Program’s courses were cross-listed with the Honors Program. Many students who were not majors or minors took two or three American Studies courses as electives. The number of majors in American Studies ranged from a low of 11 to a high of about 40. There were 35 majors in Fall 2004, 34 in Fall 2005, 28 in Fall 2006, 24 in Fall 2007, 26 in Fall 2009, 24 in Fall 2010, and 18 in 2011. While the number of majors declined over these years, the number of credit hours generated by the Program increased, peaked, and then decreased. There were 2550 CHGs in 2004-05, 4279 in 2008-09, 3517 in 2010-11.
In recent years, the proportion of Program teaching done by Presidential Faculty declined significantly. More courses were taught by adjunct faculty, many more by NTT faculty, and fewer by Presidential faculty. Part of the cause of this trend was the increasing unwillingness of Departments to release faculty to American Studies. It also became more difficult – it had never been easy -- to attract Presidential faculty to take up the Program directorship.
REORGANIZATION: In Spring 2011, Dean Soufas reorganized American Studies, announcing that the Program per se would no longer exist, that the major and minor would be folded into the Department of English, that there would no longer be a Director, and that the fulltime faculty in the Program would be constituted as an American Studies Steering Committee with a volunteer to serve as Chair. American Studies was one of several programs to be so reorganized.
AMERICAN STUDIES IN 2011-12: There were significant faculty losses during the year after reorganization. Bryant Simon (History), who was Director from 2005 to the reorganization, declined to participate in American Studies after June 2011. In December 2011, Lisa Rhodes, an NTT faculty member who for several years had been a central figure and mainstay of the Program, resigned from the University. In March 2012, Margaux Cowden, who had served for two years as an NTT with half of her teaching in the Program, announced that she had accepted a position at Williams College. Following the resignations of Rhodes and Cowden, it should be noted, the Dean authorized a search for a fulltime NTT position in American Studies.
In the reorganization, American Studies was described as having been “folded into” the Department of English. Unfortunately, many casual readers and listeners, students and faculty alike, misinterpreted the “folded into” as “folded.” Since the Spring of 2011, Orvell and Yannella have had to attempt to correct the perception of the Program’s death. While American Studies courses continue to run, there have been only a few declarations by majors and minors in the past year or so.
The American Studies Steering Committee was chaired by Orvell from June 2011 to January 2012 and by Yannella from January 2012 to June 2012. In May 2012, Orvell and Yannella were unable to further volunteer as chairs because of their teaching and research obligations. Consequently, administrative responsibility for American Studies was shifted more formally to the English Department. Orvell and Yannella continue to serve as consultants to the English Department and advisors to American Studies majors and minors.
PROPOSAL TO TERMINATE: We believe that the major and minor in American Studies should be terminated for the following reasons:
1) The Program has insufficient Presidential faculty teaching in it. At best, Orvell, Yannella, and Seth Bruggeman (a joint appointment with History) contribute five courses per year. Offering a major almost totally staffed by adjuncts and by one remaining NTT faculty member (Kenneth Finkel, who teaches one advanced course per year) does not seem to us to be pedagogically sound, intellectually justified, or fair to students who need and deserve ongoing commitment from research-oriented Presidential faculty. Hiring other NTTs to replace the two who recently resigned would not solve the basic problem either, since it would place the program in the position of staffing a majority of its courses with just one or two faculty.
2) Given its current weakness, it is very unlikely that Presidential faculty from other departments can be attracted to teach courses in the Program. We appreciate Dean Soufas’ efforts to help in this regard by encouraging department cooperation, but it has been difficult for chairs to release faculty from their departmental obligations.
3) We do not believe that there is any likelihood that a sufficient number of undergraduates will be attracted to major or minor in American Studies, especially now that it has lost its identity as a free-standing program.
Our careers have been tied to American Studies. We have given much thought to what we might do to sustain the major and minor into the future. With much sadness, though, we have concluded that American Studies ought to be terminated. We do not think it is intellectually defensible to sustain a program where the majority of courses are taught by adjuncts.
We hope that the challenging, innovative, and student-centered courses that have been the foundation of American Studies will continue to be taught in other departments; moving the courses into suitable departments could be easily accomplished (Community and Regional Planning has already indicated their interest in housing some). In addition, Orvell, Yannella, and Bruggeman will continue to bring their experience with interdisciplinary studies into the Temple classroom in their respective departments. We hope that the General Education courses -- Finkel’s large lecture Philadelphia course and “First Person America” – will find other homes. •