Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois


Illinois Department of English Blog

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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 vmahaffe@illinois.edu.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Comings and goings:the ecology of a department

A few weeks ago, I posted here about Lindsay Rose Russell and Derrick Spires, the two fantastic new Assistant Professors who joined our department this Fall.  Consider this a followup post.  I thought it might also interest some readers of this blog to be given a glimpse behind the curtain, as it were, at a more comprehensive picture of the personnel changes that take place in a department like ours each year.  Including Graduate Student TAs, there are between 180-200 different people working in English in a given year, and so there is always bound to be a certain amount of turnover. 

We had a pretty good year in placement terms last year, which means that many of our PhD students left to take up jobs elsewhere.  This is all to the good, even if their friends and colleagues here will miss them.  We also had one big faculty retirement last year: Richard Powers, acclaimed novelist and all-around wonderful colleague, decided to retire from his university position.  He has been pretty adamant about not wanting a lot of fanfare, and I hope he'll forgive me for saying this here, but there is nobody more universally beloved and admired in our department than he is and it is a big loss to all of us to have him step away.  Maureen Airsman, who many recent graduates of our department will know as the manager of our undergraduate advising office, retired too. And we had one faculty member on the tenure track (Kate Vieira) leave us to take a position elsewhere despite our best efforts to dissuade her. So that's the bad news. Two of our former Senior Lecturers left to take up tenure track positions at other universities.  Mark Dahlquist is now Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi and John Griswold left to take up position as Assistant Professor and at McNeese State, where he is also editing the McNeese Review.  Mark is a scholar in my own area of expertise, and I consider John a personal friend, so it is bittersweet for me to see them go, but I'm excited for both of them and for the avenues of professional advancement that these moves make possible for each of them.

On the plus side, there is a whole new cohort of graduate students in our PhD and MFA programs, we were able to hire Angela Smith to work in our undergraduate advising office, and we were very fortunate to be able to hire Kay Emmert, Miguel Jiminez, Cheryl Price, and Gregory Wilson as new non-tenure track faculty members this Fall.  John Labella joined our department this Fall with the provisional title Visiting Instructor, though his title will change to Visiting Assistant Professor in the Spring.  Labella, who just completed his PhD at Princeton, is a scholar of modern and contemporary US poetry, which he reads in transnational contexts, and he will teach classes for us in poetry, poetics, and literary theory. We also added Professor Wail Hassan to our department, though he was already a faculty member in our campus's Program in Comparative and World Literature.  Hassan, who is an expert in (among other things) Arabic-American and Arabic-British literature has worked with students in English before, and we are happy to have been able to move 25% of his appointment across the quad to English.  

I've come to think of all this in almost ecological terms--as a necessary process of gradual change that can be a healthy one over the long haul--even though it also means seeing some friends and colleagues leave each year. If Heraclitus were a university administrator, he might have observed that nobody can step into the same department twice!

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