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The USF English Department: A Brief History

Written by William T. Ross

The First Decade: 1960-1969

During the first decade of the university, the English Department managed to become the largest department on campus with approximately thirty-three tenure track faculty and four instructors. By the end of the decade, the department had developed an undergraduate major, a Masters program, and was about to be approved for a PhD program. Perhaps not surprising, many of the faculty had doctorates from the University of Florida or Florida State, but there were also faculty from Ohio State, Stanford, Chapel Hill, Syracuse, and Michigan. In addition to staffing the Tampa campus, the department helped establish an English major on the St. Petersburg campus with four of its members in permanent residence there.

The most peculiar feature of the department during the first decade—and the hardest to understand completely in retrospect—was the formal division of the unit into two different departments answerable to two different deans. This anomaly occurred because the university as a whole was created by former administrators at the University of Florida, and one of the UF features copied was the College of Basic Studies. The Basic College was supposed to supply all the instruction for General Education requirements. Thus there was an English Department under the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Department of Functional English (i.e., first-year-writing) under the Basic College. In theory both departments had chairs and each did its own hiring. In point of fact, from the beginning, apparently, the chair of English chaired both units and the chair of Functional English acted as a Freshman Director answerable to the chair. The English Department chair controlled all faculty hiring and desirable candidates were simply assigned to whichever “department” had a vacant position. Unfortunately, above the departmental level, different faculty had to answer to different deans, and soon enough the dean of Arts and Sciences had more salary-increment money than the dean of Basic Studies. This condition soon became intolerable across the university and the Basic College was eliminated at the beginning of the next decade and all English faculty brought into the same college.

The Second Decade: 1970-1979

In 1970, the department welcomed three new assistant professors to the main campus and one to the St. Petersburg campus. These would be the last new hires for the decade, except for an outside chair (Jack Clark). (One other faculty member, Alma Bryant, transferred from another unit into the department in 1972.) The department also saw in 1970-71 its proposal for a PhD program approved by the Board of Regents. For the most part, the seventies were a time of economic hardship for English and the rest of the university. But the department managed to stage two scholarly conferences of more than usual interest in the middle of the decade. The Victorian Counter Culture (1974) actually had university funding and participation from outside the department. The Roaring Twenties (1975) was strictly a departmental effort. Also during that decade, the faculty redesigned its Literature major twice, finally arriving at a scheme that essentially stayed in place for the next thirty years. It also took its first steps towards offering a graduate program in Rhetoric and Composition.

The Third Decade: 1980-1989

At least during the early years of the decade, the hiring drought continued. But in 1982, Elizabeth Metzger, a rhetoric and composition specialist, was hired, presaging what was to be the dominant hiring theme in hiring for most of the decade. Robert Pawlowski arrived as the department’s second outside chair (in 1983) with certain hiring commitments from the Provost. Some of those commitments were actually honored, and four specialists in rhetoric and composition were hired during his term. (In his last year, he also hired two assistant professors in literature areas.) But the most significant faculty appointment during Professor Pawlowski’s tenure was that of Pat Rogers as the first DeBartolo Professor of the Liberal Arts. With Professor Rogers’ appointment, the department once again began having scholarly conferences, namely the DeBartolo Conferences in the Eighteenth Century.

With the new hires in rhetoric and composition, the department quickly developed an undergraduate major in professional writing, and MA and PhD programs in writing theory and pedagogy. It also revised its PhD program’s requirements to make them more consistent with up-to-date programs elsewhere. Halfway though the decade, it became the home of the Journal of Advanced Composition. Towards the end of the decade, with the appointment of John Holman, the department began its move toward establishing a respectable graduate program in creative writing.

The implementation of the Gordon Rule, a legislative mandate requiring all undergraduates to have two writing-intensive courses beyond first-year composition, swelled the department’s course schedule without a symmetrical increase in the size of the permanent faculty. Instead, the department became the largest employer of part-time instructors in the university.

The Fourth Decade: 1990-1999

The department continued hiring in this decade, but retirements outpaced replacements. The retirees were all from the literature program, but two of the replacements (including one full professor) were for rhetoric and composition and two more were for creative writing. Overall student enrollment continued to increase and, midway through the decade, the department also began hiring non-tenure track instructors. The result was a smaller tenured faculty than existed in 1970 at a university that had doubled in size and a literature faculty with far less depth in specialization. The department had no choice but to use advanced graduate students and adjuncts in upper-level courses, including courses in the major.