Welcome back, everyone, to what promises to be an exciting school year. 2014-15 was both an engaged and a fulfilling one. The list of prizes and fellowships won, major talks (keynotes and plenaries) given, significant writing published, and exciting activities undertaken is so long that I won’t try to reproduce it here. I’ll limit myself to noting that Christina Pugh, Nasser Mufti and Robin Reames won’t be teaching this year because of fellowships (for Christina, a Guggenheim, and for Nasser and Robin fellowships from the Humanities Institute) that will give them the chance to write and to pursue the intellectual interests that will enhance their teaching in the future. But we’re putting together a more complete list of achievements to go elsewhere on this site so please email us with information. In fact, one of the things we want to do is make the site more useful as a way of tracking and, when possible, linking to new work, so you should absolutely let us know (write Michael at mfitz01s@uic.edu) when something has come out, and we’ll put the news up. And you should also be sure to tell us about accomplishments and activities that don’t take the form of publication but are just as central to the contribution we seek to make to intellectual life at UIC and in Chicago.

One such accomplishment was the establishment last year of a program that will get underway this spring, our new minor and major concentration in Professional Writing. Indeed, getting that program up and running – along with implementing the First-Year Writing Program Working Group’s the curricular revisions in Eng. 160 and 161 – will be the major challenges of the coming year.

Fortunately we have more control over meeting those challenges than we do over some of the others, starting with the fact that classes are about to begin while the state (hence the university, hence the English Department) doesn’t have a budget, and continuing through the fact that when we do finally get a budget, it’s likely to be a significantly reduced one. The situation probably isn’t helped by the fact that our sister campus downstate seems committed to inventing new ways of making the University of Illinois look foolish (UIC’s new motto should be “It wasn’t us”).  And, of course, negotiations have begun on new union contracts, a process in which our faculty, students and staff will, I imagine, continue to take our rational and activist interest.

But in the midst of financial bad news comes one very good piece of financial good news. Daniel A. Lindley, Jr. and Lucia Woods Lindley, who for many years have supported the Department (and in particular English Education) by providing funds for the annual Woods-Lindley Award, have given us an endowment of $100,000 to support that award indefinitely. Many CPS mentors and UIC students have already benefited from their generosity. It’s wonderful to know that there will be many more.

We are also very grateful for a significant gift last year from Beachwold Partners, L.P. in New York, and, of course, it would be wonderful if others were to be inspired by these examples.

In the meantime, however, we ourselves find lots of inspiration in the UIC mission itself. We know that although the economic challenges we face can be daunting, they bring with them distinctive advantages-- above all the opportunity to do serious intellectual work with and for a student body that comes to school with a powerful sense of the reality of our society and that is as committed to the value of public education as we are.  Over half of our undergraduates are Pell eligible (google those numbers for every other research university in Illinois – or anywhere -- and you’ll see how exceptional they are) and all of our students display what Chancellor Amiridis usefully calls grit, a spirit of toughness and commitment that we like to think rubs off a bit on our faculty as well.

So, welcome again to the new school year. To the faculty, a special welcome to a Department that not only better understands the contribution of every member but has made that understanding part of its by-laws. And to our students, a special welcome to a Department committed to doing and helping you to do intellectual work that will make a difference.

 

Walter Benn Michaels
Professor and Head

 

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