English May Alter Size of Committee
The English department is considering doubling the size of its undergraduate committee as a result of a petition submitted by 102 concentrators earlier this month that criticized department policy.
In an interview last week, James Engell, the department's director of undergraduate studies, described the petition as "constructive and well-intentioned."
A small group of students delivered the petition to Engell in his office on May 14, reading a prepared statement detailing their hopes and goals.
The petition was first organized by a group of 10 undergraduates led by Marc R. Talusan '97 in the days following the department's general exam, which the students found "biased and obsolete," he said.
Engell said that the petition was discussed at the department's annual degree meeting. He was encouraged by the idea of expanding the undergraduate committee from approximately five to 10 students, which will allow for subcommittees.
"It's important to get a committee that's representative of student opinion," he said.
Lecturer in English Richard C. Marius echoed Engell's enthusiasm for change in the department, going so far as to state that changing the general exam is "a good idea."
Talusan originally voiced his complaints during the department's general exam. Instead of answering the assigned questions, he wrote a long essay chronicling the essay's flaws.
"How you've learned, how you've studied and depth of knowledge is what the generals are supposed to test--but they don't," Talusan said. "They're severely biased.... The department makes you feel that there is leeway in the exam, but I think that leeway is a fallacy. It's open-ended in a very, very limited way--they definitely want you to know a set of texts."
However, Engell had other feelings concerning the exam.
"An honors senior should be able to look at a literary work that they haven't seen and comment on it," he said.
In an interview last week, Talusan reflected on his recent actions.
"I have no regrets...[though] I regret that a department...can act in an extremely irresponsible manner by not allowing students to question their policies and not fostering dialogue between students and administrators," he said.
But both professors said that they did not necessarily feel that the department was at fault.
"It's hard for me to say that the English department has been unreceptive," Engell said. "I had not myself specifically heard of any of the issues raised in the petition before the petition."
He went on to note that the department's willingness to expand the undergraduate committee is evidence of its receptiveness.
Marius echoed the feelings of his colleague, stating that "the depart-