When I became Chair of the English department last year, someone asked me if I were the first woman to assume this job. Much as I knew I had to learn, that was one question I knew the answer to, because for many years, I had heard my friend and colleague, and now Professor Emeritus, Marshall Terry speak of his former teacher, colleague, and friend, Professor Ima Herron, the first female Chair of the Department of English at SMU, from 1951 to 1953.
As Marsh tells it, Herron was a wise Chair and a generous and effective teacher and mentor to her students, providing a long lasting legacy to this department that continues to enrich us. Because of Professor Herron, donors have left valuable bequests to the Department of English, funding both endowed chairs and departmental research. The talent and generosity of Ima Herron and our donors have made it possible for our programs to expand, thrive, and succeed.
This year, the English Department is engaged in a variety of new endeavors to improve not only our academic programs but our ability to engage with our former students and the larger community. This newsletter is one example: we are creating both paper and electronic versions and have expanded the alumni database, reaching out to far more of you than we have ever contacted before. We have committed the Department to exciting changes that we want you to know about.
We are featuring our Creative Writing Program in this issue of Erudition and celebrating the return of the Literary Festival, the English Department’s great lost-and-found tradition. I encourage you to mark this event on your calendars.
Our PhD Program — the most significant addition to the Department’s mission — is beginning its fourth year and has just welcomed six new students. This makes for a total of 23 excited and exciting young candidates for the degree. Two have already passed their qualifying and oral exams and are now working on their dissertations — the final stage before receiving the PhD and beginning the all-important job search. Six more are in the exam-preparation stage, with others soon to follow. When the program reaches its full state of development in two more years, we expect to have from 30-35 full-time candidates working in areas ranging from Medieval Studies all the way to Contemporary Poetry, and just about every other sub-discipline of literary studies in between. Indeed, the program has gone from its planning phase to its current shape faster and more successfully than any of us could have imagined. It has been an exhilarating time.
In the last two years, we have hired several wonderful new colleagues: Irina Dumitrescu, whom we featured in the Summer 2010 issue of Erudition, and Jayson Gonzales Sae-Saue and Marjorie Swann, whom you can read about in this issue. These scholars add strength to an already-strong department in both traditional and emerging areas of our discipline, allowing us to enhance our undergraduate and graduate teaching and our research profile. This year, we are conducting a search for a scholar of Early American Literature and will report on the progress of that pursuit next Fall.
Recently, the University transformed the undergraduate curriculum, reaffirming in new and creative ways the centrality of Dedman College to the Liberal Arts education and of reading, writing, and critical thinking to the Liberal Arts. And as for our own undergraduate curriculum: that always remains at the heart of what we do. We revised that curriculum a few years back to better reflect the current state of the discipline, still covering a wide range of literature but allowing our faculty to work more creatively. Our Director of Undergraduate Studies, Tim Rosendale, reinstated an excellent panel last spring, “What Can You Do with an English Major?” In preparing for that panel, we contacted many of you and heard back so many interesting stories that, in this issue of Erudition, we will be sharing some of what we’ve learned about you.