University of Rochester

EVENT: Conference Explores Challenges in Literature, Humanities Studies

September 23, 2004

Just what constitutes “English graduate studies” in the 21st century? Research on medieval and Renaissance texts? Comparisons of American and British postmodern poets? Screening films for metaphors on gender and social issues? Reading hypertext novels on the Web? Or all of the above?

More than two dozen University of Rochester alumni, all of whom received their doctorates in English from Rochester and are faculty or administrators in higher education throughout the country, will return to campus for a conference on “The Future of Graduate Studies in English” Oct. 14 through 16. They’ll speak on panels about challenges facing graduate studies in literature and the humanities, interdisciplinary opportunities, job searches, and the distinct challenges and strengths of small doctoral English programs such as Rochester’s.

The event also marks the 50th anniversary of the department’s Ph.D. program and, said chair Frank Shuffelton, “In 50 years, the nature of graduate studies in English has changed from the traditional study of literary texts. Fifty years ago, for example, film was not considered text, and yet films are based on text. The growth of interdisciplinary work in cultural, film, and media studies has both enriched and complicated graduate studies in English and the humanities.”

The keynote speaker for the Rochester conference is Cary Nelson, a prominent vocal critic of academia’s labor practices and handling of graduate studies. He’ll discuss “Has Higher Education Failed?” at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, in the Gowen Room in Wilson Commons on the River Campus.

In his 1997 book, Manifesto of a Tenured Radical, Nelson criticized inequities in higher education, called on academics to evaluate their own practices and behaviors, and offered a proposal for change in the form of “A Twelve-Step Program for Academia.” His most recent book, Office Hours: Activism and Change in the Academy, co-authored with Stephen Watt, decries universities’ focus on profits and imagines “alternative futures” in higher education.

Nelson is the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Rochester conference will kick off with a talk on “Mixing It Up: New Media and the Future of Graduate Education” by N. Katherine Hayles, professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, in Lander Auditorium in Hutchison Hall.

Hayles, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry, is recognized as one of the foremost scholars on the relationship between literature and science in the late 20th century. She has written widely on such topics as literary theory and concepts of artificial intelligence and cybernetics. Her lecture is sponsored by the George H. Ford Fund for Visiting Scholars in the Graduate Program.

Panel discussions will be held in the Gowen Room from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday. Among the participants are John Bassett, president of Clark University; Robert Golden, provost and vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Plattsburgh; Ed Folsom, Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa; and Dianne Sadoff, associate dean for personnel and tenure at Miami University in Ohio.

For more information, contact the Department of English, (585) 275-4092.