Writing classes limited by faculty shortage

By CHELSEA ANDERSON/Montana State News

This fall semester’s registration has left a number of English students, with the writing option in particular, frustrated with the lack of classes offered. With a dip in funding, the English department doesn’t have nearly enough faculty available to teach the number of upper division classes that are necessary for seniors to graduate.

According to Kirk Branch, the English department chair, next year is a particularly difficult year for scheduling, “We’re stretched very thin.” Two tenured faculty will be operating next year with decreased teaching schedules, “We have one teacher who will have a reduced schedule for research purposes and another with a reduced schedule for the tenure application process,” says Branch.

According to Branch, the writing department has the funding for five tenured faculty, although four of them have reduced teaching schedules because of required administrative duties, “It really worked out quite poorly for next year because most of these administrative positions rotate through writing, literature and teaching faculty and currently most of the positions are held by writing faculty.”

As a result of the majority of the tenured faculty having reduced teaching schedules, the department is only able to offer one section of upper division classes each semester. Branch says, “Although we have a large number of non-tenured faculty as well as graduate students, they are only qualified to teach lower division classes, and where we really need more classes is in junior and senior level classes where only a tenured professor would be qualified to teach.”

A number of students expressed frustration within the first few days of the registration period. Carina Nieman, a senior graduating in December 2017, says, “Even with senior standing I wasn’t able to register for digital rhetorics, a class that is required for me to graduate. If they don’t add another section, or if the professor isn’t willing to add an extra student, I won’t be able to graduate on time.”

With the increasing number of English degree-seeking students, the ratio of students to classrooms is inadequate. Classes in the English department often only have one section (with the obvious exception of WRIT 101, 201, LIT 201, etc., which are all classes offered as CORE classes to other majors) and as a result, upper division classes are filling too quickly.

According to Branch, the department was forced to add sections of digital rhetorics, public rhetorics, and rhetoric and composition, so the classes will be taught every semester instead of the previous schedule of every other semester.

As the number of incoming freshman registering as English majors and minors continues to rise, the number of classes offered (and therefore faculty available to teach) needs to rise as well.

Branch says, “The writing option in particular continues to rise each year. How do we continue to grow the major if we aren’t at the same time growing the faculty? At what point do we have to stop accepting majors? There is a limit to the number of majors we can accept with the number of faculty we have.” One of the most debilitating problems in the English department is the number of writing classes that are available to the entire campus.

While there is only one (very rarely two) section per upper division class that is required for senior English students to graduate, there are 61 sections of WRIT 101, a CORE required class for every student who enters the university, being offered this coming fall. Similarly, there are 11 sections of WRIT 201, a CORE elective. In fact, most of the classes that offer multiple sections, like WRIT 201, or the literature Mythologies class (LIT 238), are the classes that are available to the entire university because they fulfill CORE credits.

While English faculty members are forced to spend the majority of their time and effort teaching these classes to non-majors, the College of Letters and Science refuses to grant the department more funding to hire faculty. As a result, the current faculty is spread too thin between administration and lower division classes and are unable to provide enough classes for students in the department.

According to Branch, “The major is suffering because of it. If you’re going to offer a major you need to be able to accommodate it.”

However, Branch did emphasize that the department does not suffer because MSU is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focused university.

“As the humanities go at STEM universities, we are a high profile department. People know about us and respect the English department at MSU.”

Dean Rae of the College of Letters and Science was not available for comment for this article.

– edited by Cullan Staack

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