I know I talk and write about this issue a great deal: I am passionate about it, because it is so central to my department’s mission and future.
The English Department has everything in place to be the envy of the Ivy League: excellent undergraduate majors, a world-class faculty whose research and creative work are widely cited and internationally admired, alliances with institutions like the Folger Shakespeare Library that offer unparalleled archives and research opportunities. What we do not possess is an adequately funded graduate program. The MA and PhD students we attract are excellent, but — unlike the universities with which we compete — we can fund only a few. The national reputation of a department depends heavily upon its graduate program, so money spent on graduate student support is an excellent investment in the research profile of the whole university.
GW excels at humanities research. The university should boast of that fact more frequently, and invest strategically to ensure we remain in the avant-garde.
My thanks to Drew Spence and The Hatchet for reading this blog. Below, Mr. Spence’s article from the front page of today’s Hatchet.
The head of GW’s English department says the University’s graduate English program has everything it needs to be one of the best in the country, except for one thing: funding.
Department chair Jeffrey Cohen said D.C. has some of the best resources available to English students – like access to world-class resources and professionals at the Folger Shakespeare Library – but said that due to a lack of funding for scholarships, schools such as the University of Pennsylvania, New York University and Columbia University often attract students who would have otherwise come to GW.
“We have everything in place for greatness, except a well-funded graduate research program,” Cohen said. “We have the faculty for it, we just don’t have the student support.”
Cohen said the primary way graduate educations are funded at GW is through a Graduate Teaching Assistant package – an aid package that pays for a student’s tuition and living expenses, and students work as teaching assistants. Currently, the GW English department only has a budget for nine GTAs, whereas English departments at other Universities can support up to 30, he said.
Because graduate studies often involve a good deal of research, Cohen has sent notes to Vice President for Research Leo Chalupa in hopes of securing funding for the program, noting that funds have already been allocated to the “hard sciences” like medical and engineering research.
The National Endowment for the Humanities, for example, provides grants for research pertaining to the study of the humanities, which includes the study of the English language, according to NEH’s mission statement. Chalupa has been charged with raising GW’s research profile, in part by securing grants for the University.
Cohen has been making a public push on the English department’s blog to increase support and awareness for his department’s graduate programs, pointing out that medical and other “hard science” research are often cited as critical to remaking GW into a first-class research institution.
“Washington D.C., besides being the center of government, is an arts and intellectual world capital,” Cohen said. “There’s a lot of exciting work going on in humanities and we need to boast more about what we’re doing.”
In hopes of raising funds and awareness, Cohen began posting blog entries on the English department Web site encouraging readers to take note of the strength of GW’s graduate English programs.
Cohen said Chalupa and the University have been very responsive to his requests and seem like they would be willing to work with him.
“I agree entirely with Professor Cohen that more and better support is required if we are to get the very best graduate students not just in English but in all subject areas,” Chalupa said. “This should be one of the priorities for GW.”
Cohen said he is optimistic that the graduate English program will receive the funding it needs to grow.
“A fully funded graduate program has been my dream since I came to GW in 1994. I am hoping the day will arrive when by philanthropy, grant money and or institutional investment, we have such a program,” Cohen said. “I am quite serious when I say it would be among the best in the U.S. We have the faculty, the resources, the possibility.”