From the Chair

John ArcherShortly after I became department chair last summer (as it happens, this is my third time around), I found myself thinking about some of our major changes over the past two decades: the founding of our pioneering Ph.D. program in Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society, for example, and the merging of the former Humanities Department with Comparative Literature a decade and a half ago.

We have seen challenging times, to be sure, but have also experienced many rewards. Our faculty, staff, and students have succeeded in building one of the world’s premier departments engaged in cultural studies, comparative literature, and film studies.

Our faculty and students have produced prizewinning books, dissertations, and theses. We have garnered numerous distinguished fellowships and awards for both research and teaching. We have recruited dynamic faculty and highly qualified graduate students, despite increasingly intense competition from better-funded programs at other universities, public and private. We have developed whole new slates of courses, and we have advised and mentored graduate students ever more rigorously. As a result, we can be very proud of our B.A. and Ph.D. graduates as they head off to challenging and productive careers across the nation and around the world.

Student success

Reviewing the scores of dissertations produced in the past 20 years, the variety of institutions where our Ph.D. graduates now teach, and the ways in which they are now transforming the landscape of academic inquiry, I realized that there are remarkable stories to be told of our intellectual diaspora. The article on page 6-8 of this issue of Intersections profiles just three of these stories, while the sidebar to that article suggests the depth and breadth of our graduates’ impact nationwide and globally.

We have also intensified our attention to undergraduate education. Under the leadership of Gary Thomas, our curriculum coordinator, the popularity of our undergraduate program continues to grow; each semester the number of students in our classes sets a new record. Our undergraduate advisor, Jules Darg, is now in her second year with the department. She has transformed the advising process, focusing on the needs of the whole student, helping our majors pursue their careers at the University in significantly more rewarding and productive ways.

Last fall Jules recruited filmmaker Joel Weber (of The Listening Project) to provide a screening and discussion for our majors. This semester she facilitated the campus visit of half a dozen more filmmakers, including renowned documentarian Jennifer Fox, who guest taught in two of our film classes. Jules initiated a student organization for our majors, launched a website and blog for our student community, and started a Friday-night series of film screenings (“CSCL Friday Film Night") that is drawing large audiences. She has made substantial contributions to expanding our students’ international experience, particularly with Study Abroad opportunities. As department leaders, Gary Thomas, Robin Brown (Director of Graduate Studies), and I are committed to continuing and expanding educational and career opportunities for our students, with your support.

Moving forward

Last August the faculty held an off-campus retreat at which we developed ambitious plans for sustaining and enhancing our curricula in cultural studies, comparative literature, and film/media studies. This semester we launched a new course in digital filmmaking, and we have moved well down the path toward establishing a new graduate minor program in film and media. Last fall Hisham Bizri facilitated a master class by legendary film director Bela Tarr, an extraordinary hands-on experience for our undergraduate film majors. Our graduate students have formed a film study collective that is bringing speakers of national distinction to our campus this spring.

Finally, we completed a long-overdue overhaul of our Web site last fall. As time and funding permit, we hope to see it grow, offering additional resources for B.A. and Ph.D. alumni, and for the community at large. If you haven’t visited recently, please have a look at cscl.umn.edu.

John Archer
Professor and Chair

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on July 23, 2008 2:33 PM.

News from the Chair was the previous entry in this blog.

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