Steven Orientale

The English department boasts the highest number of faculty members within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and, according to Department Chair Langdon Hammer ’80 GRD ’89, is engaged in an intensive search for new faculty.

According to the Office of Institutional Research, the department’s faculty headcount sits at 81, having consistently grown in recent years. However, according to Hammer, the size of ladder faculty is substantially smaller than a decade ago, despite the overall growth in faculty headcount. This aggregate development comes at a time of change in the department, which included a restructuring of undergraduate major requirements that went into effect last academic year. In addition, according to the Office of Institutional Research, while the department’s faculty numbers have been growing, the number of undergraduates majoring in English has remained largely static over the past decade, and the number of graduate students has steadily decreased — a trend which aligns with national patterns in the discipline.

Still, Hammer, who is planning to step down as the department’s chair after nine total years of service, told the News that the department hopes to grow further in the coming years. He added that they will look to build on existing strengths and continue to expand the department’s offerings.

“There’s a commitment to do this impossible thing, which is to represent our field as broadly as possible, to represent some of the range of literatures in English today and still teach subjects that have been core to the discipline of English studies for 100 years,” Hammer said.

According to Hammer, the department appoints a large number of faculty members in order to facilitate the number of seminars offered in the department, including introductory courses like English 114/115 and English 120/121. This spring, the department offers 12 sections of English 114, four of English 115, nine of English 120 and six of English 121, according to the department website.

But while the department remains large, the number of English undergraduate degrees conferred in the 2016–2017 academic year stood at just 66, falling behind other majors such as economics with 143, political science with 123 and history with 106. The number of English majors conferred by Yale’s department has decreased since the 1970s — a time in which 100–150 undergraduates graduated each year with majors in English, according to Hammer. He added that recent faculty additions to the department have incorporated more experts in previously less explored topics, such as Native American and African literature.

In the spring of 2017, the department voted to change the requirements of the English major to diversify the curriculum, representing more literary periods and making the major more flexible. The department broadened the introductory requirements so that students now take three of four classes in a lineup of foundational courses — including offerings in English poetry, American literature and Global Anglophone literature — as opposed to only the two previously required courses in English poetry. On the advanced level, the department changed its historical requirements from three pre-1800 courses and one pre-1900 to one in each of four periods — medieval, Renaissance, 18th/19th century and 20th/21st century.

According to English professor Jessica Brantley, the new changes ensure the major requirements “equally value” writing “across lines of gender, race, and class, and from all times and places.”

“The new requirements make clear that our subject in the department is all writing in English, whenever and wherever in the world it was written,” Brantley said.

Hammer also pointed to the recent expansion of the department’s creative writing program. The program offers a variety of courses on topics like journalism, television drama, adult literature and humor writing, according to Richard Deming, director of the creative writing program.

Deming said the student interest currently outstrips the number of faculty members in the program.

“There are several reasons why interest continues to rise,” Deming said. “Some of it is cultural — more and more, people, feeling fragmented and alienated by technology and a barrage of information and opinions, seek to fashion a response, to knit together these pieces into a story that articulates what it means to be a human being living in this fraught present tense.”

Undergraduate English majors in the class of 2020 will be the first group of students required to follow the updated major requirements.

Carly Wanna | carly.wanna@yale.edu