The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is undergoing a big change.
The Minnesota State English Department posted a statement on Instagram Jan. 31 stating “President Inch has mandated the College’s departments be combined or restructured to create new departments.”
The statement said classes and degrees will still be given in literature, rhetoric and composition, technical communication, humanities, linguistics, TESOL and English education. However, the Art and Design, Creative Writing and Film Studies departments will be combined into one new program.
College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Christopher Brown said talks of merging departments started in November after the provost initiated a call for 18 departments to reduce to 10.
Brown said the faculty got together to discuss the potential of coming together to create a program that would help students get unique interdisciplinary collaborative experiences.
“I met with faculty from different programs and asked each individual to articulate their vision for the program. It was all about how this kind of configuration can really give students those high-impact practices that they probably could not do siloed,” Brown said. “I believe being in bringing them together eliminates those obstacles and provides more structure for them to actually collaborate on different projects.”
Despite talks of the merger, the news still came as a shock to some. Creative Writing Prof. Geoff Herbach said that, when he heard the news, his first reaction was to attempt to deal with how the department would maintain critical courses for writers.
“Our major is totally intertwined with English. Half of the major is literature and we’re being separated into the new configuration. I was concerned about how would our students navigate that,” Herbach said. “We don’t want to lose the heart of what we do.”
The shock didn’t just hit faculty members; it hit students too.
Junior Isaiah Flolo said he was meeting with the River Whale Review, the student literary journal at MSU, when the news broke.
“It didn’t make any sense when (we first heard the news.) Writing is part of English. I understand that it’s part of the arts, but at the same time, creative writing is about writing literature,” Flolo said. “It was more of a why scenario we just couldn’t understand at the time.”
A concern among students is whether the merger will affect how students obtain their degrees. Brown said it would not impact their degree completion as students will graduate with the program they came to MSU under.
Brown said he hopes to facilitate an organic process for the merger. Currently, Brown said he is working on figuring out the structure for department chairs, reassigning administrative assistants and meeting with each department to address questions or concerns.
“It’s going to take some time and effort to put together departments and programs that will help our students as they move into their future,” Brown said.
Herbach said there are some benefits of merging, one of which is students won’t be required to take extra classes to get both degrees.
“There are students I know who are already working across departments and now there’s going to be a way for them to spend more time together. That kind of energy that comes from collaboration is exciting,” Herbach said. “We can reach out to future students and say ‘you don’t have to be pigeonholed. You don’t have to do 160 credits in order to get both degrees there if you’re interested in both subjects.’ There’s a place where you can do all of it.
One idea English Department Chair Nancy Drescher is looking forward to is dual licensure between TESOL and a world language. The idea came from seeing an overlap between the two programs.
“We cover the same thing in two different ways because we’ve been two separate departments. By coming together, it’s less money and less work for our students while maximizing the work we’re doing,” Drescher said.
The creative writing department has already been collaborating with the art and design department on projects.
“We’ve already talked about the possibility of focusing on a graphic novel course. There are already people who are working with graphic designers to get poems they write in class to get posters made,” Herbach said.
Drescher said the English department is working on creating an open bachelor’s degree that offers students several choices as to what they want to declare.
“They can pick an area of emphasis that they would like to focus on, but they can mix and match and get a little taste of all of what we do because I think students who are interested in one are generally interested in the other,” Drescher said.
Drescher said the faculty is there to address students’ concerns and thoughts.
“I think it’s navigating our way through that full range of emotions from very fearful and concerned to the other end of ‘what’s this shiny new thing?’ and everyone in between. We need to listen to all those voices,” Drescher said. “We’re all on board with making the transition as painless as possible for students.”
Brown says despite potential obstacles, it’s an opportunity to add creativity and innovation to the liberal arts.
“I think we have to continue moving forward keeping up with what’s going on and what’s trending in the world today. I’m optimistic about the potential of this merger, especially in terms of adding more innovative, interdisciplinary aspects that will potentially challenge us all to think deeper,” Brown said. “It’s going to help individuals and faculty to think outside the box along with the values, needs and vision of this generation of students.”
Drescher said students should reach out to either her or the English department if they have any questions or concerns.
“I would love for students to know they shouldn’t just sit with anxiety no matter whether it’s about this or about a specific class,” Drescher said. “We’re going to make sure students are able to graduate right when we told them they were going to.”
The new departments will begin July 1.
Header photo:The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is planning on restructuring and combining departments in order to create new opportunities for students to gain hands-on experience through collaboration. (Emma Johnson/The Reporter)
Write to Emma Johnson at email@example.com