10 May 2021

Dear Everyone:

It was lovely to see so many of you on Friday for our end of year events — the open exec meeting, prizes & awards announcements, and celebration of those who are finishing their degrees this year.  Despite technical issues aplenty in that last chunk — issues which, as several graciously and all too rightly noted, seem entirely appropriate to what has seemed an endlessly challenging year, LOL — I think and hope admiration and affection for students and our colleagues came across throughout the afternoon!  Nancy Silverman and I thoroughly enjoyed putting together this program of hurrahs of various kinds and were very glad to share the day with all who were able to attend. A distinctly warm note of thanks to Wayne Koestenbaum for creating art for the occasion, and for pushing through the uncooperative technological conditions to share its gorgeous vibrancy!

I’ll ask us as we start this final week of classes for this semester and year, also to offer warm congratulations to the students finishing their first year in the program. What an absurdly challenging thing to do!, and here you are on the other end of the year! In our celebration on Friday, I invited those finishing up to recall the selves they were in starting doctoral studies, and to do so with deliberate tenderness and appreciation for that person they were, who brought them to this kind of work however implausible, perhaps impossible, the idea of finishing a PhD seemed. To the first years out there, but really to everyone, remember you’re doing implausible, impossible things all the time…not only can you do this, but you already are….! Invoke our past and future selves to bear that in mind as you get through this last little bit of the year! (Rooting for you, always!)

In this final missive for this academic year, I want to start by recapping some of the biggish things I reported on Friday, as a way of reflecting on our program’s doings and by way of setting the stage for the year to come.

First, we’ll be welcoming two faculty members to our program in the fall! 

As announced last year, I’m freshly excited to remind us that Professor Amber Musser will be joining the Graduate Center as our newest central line colleague! The author of Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (2014) and Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (2018) in addition to many other articles, essays, and chapters, Professor Musser holds degrees in Women’s Studies from Oxford University and the History of Science from Harvard University. She’s taught at New York University, Brown University, Washington University in St. Louis, and most recently at George Washington University.

I’m also super excited to announce that Professor Todd Craigwill be joining our program as a consortial colleague! Professor Craig is associate professor of English at Medgar Evers College, where he serves as the deputy chair of English and coordinated the writing programs. He earned his PhD from St. John’s University in 2013, and a master’s in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1999; his BA is from Williams College. His many, many publications include a novel, a biographical history of the hip hop duo, Mobb Deep, and a monograph titled K for the Way: DJ Rhetoric and Literacy for Comp 3.0 and Beyond that is contracted to Utah State U Press.

No exaggeration to note that it will be to our immense benefit to have Professors Musser and Craig among our ranks; yay for us!

Second, our new faculty colleagues will be joined by 11 incoming students! Under DEO Siraj Ahmed‘s so careful guidance, and with the work of some 40 of us (see below for the full list!), we reviewed 300 applications and will be welcoming a diverse-by-all-kinds-of-measures cohort of people with expressed interests in postcolonial, medieval, eighteenth century, romantic, contemporary, early modern, and/or rhetoric and composition studies.  We have reviewed and will continue to refine the application review process so that we can best align our practices with our program commitments to “education for the whole people”!  

Third, we’ve also revised how we think about “placement” with those commitments firmly in mind. Thanks to DEO Tanya Agathocleous‘s super thoughtful leadership, and with support of a Doctoral Curriculum Enhancement Grant awarded us by PublicsLab, we’re working to conceive and implement Job Planning (formerly known as placement — other title suggestions welcome if any come to mind!) as a curricular component through which we programmatically remember not to limit our conceptions of the PhD in English to the academy. We take flight from the observation that we (urgently!) need the kinds of thinking and smarts and education that characterize the people who move through our program to be shaping every part of the worlds we inhabit! Accordingly, and with vital input from Matt Gold, Queenie Sukhadia, and Rob Yates, others on the DCEG team, we’re trying out new courses (namely, Practice of the PhD in English I & II, offered for the first time this spring) and planning programming that reflects this kind of expansive thought) and planning programming for the year to come — more on that to follow.

We will of course continue to offer support in the search for academic jobs!  And, toward that end, students, please keep an eye out for information on Job Planning for those planning to finish in AY2021-22; that’ll come separately.

Fourth, and reflecting some of this kind of thinking about and attempt to make sure our program procedures are aligned with our substantive values, under Karl Steel‘s dedicated chairship, the Curriculum Committee has been working on revising the Portfolio Exam (which is officially the First Exam). It has recommended, and the Executive Committee has approved, a shift to a more advisory function, prompted most immediately by the circumstances of this past year, and infused with the importance of embedding capacious understandings of the purposes of doctoral education in English into our protocols. An enormous amount of effort has gone into this revision process! Big thanks are due to the Curriculum Committee, listed below.

Two other notes with respect to curriculum, which are: a) that, pending Board of Trustees approval in June, we expect English seminars to be offered at 2, 3, and 4 credits, a change that provides as much flexibility as possible to students in both master’s and doctoral programs; and b) upcoming next year is attention to the foreign language requirement and consideration of the addition of a “concepts in pedagogy” course, with particular thanks to Mark McBeth for taking the lead in developing that possibility.

Finally for now, and with particular appreciation, I want to make note of the successful launch of the cluster model of mentoring innovated and implemented by Nancy Silverman, who I know extends her thanks to everyone participating in the program. There is an enormous amount of time and work and care that goes into administering as well as participating in that program, and right now, the need for this kind of structured mentoring is of course exceptionally timely.

Much appreciation to Nancy and to all who participate, and that’s the perfect transition to move from the reporting piece of this message to focusing on gratitude for the work behind every single thing we do.

Toward that end, huge thank you: – to Nancy, Tanya, Siraj, and Mario DiGangi, our Satisfactory Progress Officer, for all the unnamed as well as specified things you all do as program officers, and to our College Assistant Kent Yuen, for his contributions this attenuating year, too;
– to the Executive Committee members, who are asked to make final decisions on all substantive program business, of which there is quite a lot! — Tanya Agathocleous, Siraj Ahmed, Eric Lott, Ammiel Alcalay, John Brenkman, Peter Hitchcock, Matt Gold, William Arguelles, Genevieve Bettendorf, Olivia Wood, Shoumik Bhattacharya, and Michele Chinitz;
– to Faculty Membership Committee members, for the enormous amount of work you’ve done! — Jacob Alpaca, Tanya Agathocleous, Filipa Calado, Ashley Dawson, Duncan Faherty, Matt Gold, Jonathan Gray, Eric Lott, Mary McGlynn, and Alan Vardy;

– to the Curriculum Committee, for so much thoughtful effort! — Karl Steel, Mario DiGangi, Duncan Faherty, Carrie Hintz, Kelly Josephs, Caroline Reitz, Jessica Yood, Michell Wilson, Sylvia Korman — and with special invaluable assistance from Anna Rider;

– to the Friday Forum Committee, for their engagement and organizing efforts! — Tanya Agathocleous, Siraj Ahmed, Michael Gillespie, Eric Lott, Sonali Perera, Miranda Hajduk, Bradley Nelson, Sean Nortz;

– to the Prizes & Awards Committee, for helping us recognize and celebrate student achievements! — Michael Gillespie, Richard Kaye, Steven Kruger, Mark McBeth, Nancy K. Miller, and Joan Richardson;

– to our Graduate Council Representatives, for attending to program business beyond the program despite the sometimes uninspiring kinds of things that are the business of Grad Council! — Peter Hitchcock, Amy Wan, Cary Fitzgerald, Christian Fryer-Davis;

– to the ESA, for all the various work you’ve undertaken! and with particular thanks to the super responsive co-chairs, William Arguelles, Genevieve Bettendorf, and Olivia Wood, as well as to the co-chairs of the excellent conference they hosted, Miranda Hajduk and Emily Price;

– and, last and decidedly not least, the many, many who worked on Admissions! –Christian Lewis, Daniel Hengel, Mitchell Wilson, Onur Ayaz, Sharanya Dutta, Emily Price, Nik Valdez, Dhipinder Walia, Tanya Agathocleous, Alexander Schlutz, Ammiel Alcalay, John Brenkman, Glenn Burger, David S. Reynolds, Lyn DiIorio, Mario DiGangi, Duncan Faherty, Michael Gillespie, Carrie Hintz, Nico Israel, Kelly Josephs, Richard Kaye, Steven Kruger, Eric Lott, Marc Dolan, Mark McBeth, Matthew Gold, Mary McGlynn, Sonali Perera, Peter Hitchcock, Caroline Reitz, Michael Sargent, Talia Schaffer, Tanya Pollard, Alan Vardy, Karl Steel, Amy Wan, Wayne Koestenbaum, Jessica Yood – with welcome assistance from Alexis Larsson!

There are more thanks to offer, including to all who administer foreign language requirements and sit on student exam and defense committees; who’ve shown up for events and supported each other in countless ways, big and small; who’ve picked up the slack for those who had to put down some of their loads for a variety of reasons; who’ve offered patience and compassion as much as you could; who’ve demanded more and better through all manner of protest and activism; and, as well, to the often behind-the-scenes people who’ve kept us going — the people who make the tech work, who manage the zoom links, who manage the physical building and keep it alive, and all the other essential workers who of course merit applause and/but ought to recognized by better pay…

And very personally, I thank you for swimming along with me through the multitudes of zoom meetings and email messages including these Monday ramblings. I thank you for the notes you send in response, and know I owe you all heaps of sweet treats!  As a stand in for chocolate for now, here, the recent soundtrack you gifted me through your suggestions:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/355xTVozw5hu7jRYHuJKjD?si=dmcnvpM9TZ6mq4vFKD6CyQ.  I’m listening to it just this moment in writing this message to you.

Thank you for your mutuality, reciprocity, kindness. Who knows what shapes the coming year will take, and/but I am grateful to know that we’ll make our way through guided by those anchoring principles.

I won’t appear nearly as often in your inboxes over the summer, will continue to try to respond to email in 72 hours or so (with the exception of a couple of weeks when I’ll be on vacation far away from screens!), and wish you all distinctively restorative summers.

Abundant well wishes,


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