Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois

Illinois Department of English Blog


Welcome to the Department of English blog.

My name is Vicki Mahaffey and I took over as
head of the department on July 1, 2016. I'll be using this site to post updates and information of interest to our faculty, students, and alumni,
along with reflections about our discipline(s) in particular and the humanities in general. As anyone who has ever worked or studied here knows, the Department of English is a vibrant place. If you have something you'd like to see posted here, or if you want to contact me about the content of this blog, drop me an email at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I am happy to announce here that Tony Pollock has agreed to serve as Director of Graduate Studies beginning next Fall. He'll be replacing Stephanie Foote, who has done a fantastic job in that office for three years and is more than ready for a richly-deserved break right about now. Tony served as the department's placement officer this year, and he will be replaced next year in that important job by Jim Hansen. The short version of this post would read: thanks, Tony; thanks, Stephanie; thanks, Jim.

Here's the long version.

For those readers of this blog who are not academics, professors in departments like English typically measure out their work lives in terms of three categories: teaching, research/creative activity, and service. Teaching is our bread and butter, and it is something most of us work exceedingly hard at and find intrinsically rewarding and valuable. And research and/or creative activity is usually something that professors at universities like Illinois are deeply passionate (not to say obsessive) about. Since the published products of our labor are what our colleagues at other universities know us by, it means that our research/creative activity profiles are typically our main public profiles, the way we garner prestige and other rewards in our professional worlds. All of this is, I think, as it should be.

But that leaves service--the category used for all administrative contributions to the operation of the department or university, as well as for administrative work done for one's profession (such as serving on editorial boards of journals or evaluating grant proposals). Service can often feel like the least important part of a faculty-member's job, since for most of us the teaching and research we do is integral to who we feel we are. And it is certainly the case that service work can be poorly rewarded in a profession that sometimes sees publication as the be-all and the end-all. But at the same time, anyone who has been in an academic department for any period of time will know that conscientious departmental contributions to shared administrative work make all the difference in the world and that they have certain colleagues whose service contributions made their professional lives notably better. And so colleagues who agree to take on administrative positions and who do them conscientiously really deserve everyone's gratitude. When colleagues accept major administrative posts they are saying, in effect, that the collective work of the department matters enough to them to make it worth a bit of self-sacrifice. Every faculty member in English has as stake in the success of our graduate program, so the jobs that faculty members like Stephanie, Tony, and Jim take on have at least an indirect impact on things that matter a great deal to all of us--and of course an even more direct impact on the graduate students who take our classes and help us teach our majors.

Turnover in the DGS's office is the occasion for this post, but the same kinds of things could be written about other major administrative positions in the department. Rob Barrett didn't have to accept my invitation to become Associate Head last summer, but I'm very grateful that he did and I think the whole department is better off for it. Paul Prior has made huge contributions as Director of Rhetoric and Cathy Prendergast is already working hard to prepare to take over for him this summer. Ted Underwood is doing great things as Director of Undergraduate Studies. And Audrey Petty just took over from Mike Madonick as Director of Creative Writing. Lori Newcomb has helped with all hiring initiatives as our Affirmative Action Officer, and faculty members like Lauren Goodlad and Gail Hawisher do major administrative work outside of the department with affiliated but separate academic units. And on and on.

The real truth is that most faculty members, especially those with tenure, make significant service contributions. But since part of my job is to find the right people for posts like the Directorship of Graduate Studies, I'm especially impressed by (and grateful to) those faculty members who are public-spirited enough to accept these major, multi-year service commitments.

Thanks, Tony; thanks, Stephanie; thanks, Jim. Etc.

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