Page 2


Austin EACH SPRING, as the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin struggles with what seems to be a historic mission to insulate its professoriat from exposure to freshman and sophomore writing courses, a treacherous, sanctimonious, and hypocritical civil war the kind favored in academia litters the normally comatose corridors of Parlin Hall with more fatal back wounds and ethical corpses than a dozen good faculty dinner parties. The conflict may have different points of precipitation each year, but in the fall it always ends the same, as the tenure-track mandarins implement the classic strategy laid out by Mel Brooks in Blazing Saddles: “Gentlemen, we’ve got to come up with a way to save our phony baloney jobs.” In a department with over 150 regular and temporary faculty and 110 graduate $3.5 million annual budget \(highest at but it is always mastered. In 1983-84, the approximately 90 regular, or tenuretrack, faculty siphoned off $2.7 million of the departmental budget 84 % to teach only 25-30% of the 22,360 students processed by the department in the fall and spring semesters. Who taught the other three-fourths, including virtually all the lower division writing courses? A combination of graduate assistants \($.5 million in total college teacher known as “lecturers,” whose $.89 million in salaries didn’t even come from the department budget but was scrounged from unspent money elsewhere in the College of Liberal Arts. This is an imbalance that would seem to require justification. The one offered by the English Department is that teaching students 75 % of whose entrance tests reveal a need for composition instruction to write is a poor career option and intellectually suspect. Rod Davis, a former Observer editor, is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin and a prolific freelance writer. Anyway, it should have been handled in high school. At UT, as in a string of English departments from Tulsa to Oxford, the ticket to success higher salaries, fewer classes, research junkets, suburban homes, and choice parking spaces is not teaching but publication. Nor can one just publish anything, anywhere. The material must bear a genius for obscurity and, in the contemporary manner, utilize a jargon of criticism, as opposed to daily language, impenetrable by all but specialists. In the wars of academia, this line of activity is known as “literary scholarship.” It is distinct from and hostile to “composition,” which may include anything from freshman writing to advanced exposition and nonfiction. Although more students are affected in a concrete way by composition instruction, more professors yearn for the literary life, and the professors call the shots. Over the years, literary scholars have dominated the curriculum and jobs at English departments at UT and other colleges through their control of recruitment and budgets. They can, to paraphrase Yeats, pass along their ideas with their power. And they do. For the 5,000 freshmen who enter UT each fall, disproportionate funding raises a question of consumer equity. So, to the more than 5,000 freshmen each fall naively assuming they are paying for what they really need, the flight from composition instruction and the disproportionate subsidizing of “literary scholarship” in the English department raises at least a question of consumer equity. Those who show up this September, however, may take some comfort in knowing that the campaign last April and May to revamp the literary gerrymandering in the department was among the fiercest to date. It didn’t work, of course, but, as they used to say down at the Alamo, it got to where you could see which side of the line people stood on real clear, no matter what they said. Sneak Attack ONE MORNING during the second week last April, as classbound students struggled for footing in the crowded stairwells of Parlin Hall, the second-floor mailboxes of the faculty lounge were graced with a xeroxed notice from the newly-elected 11-member Executive Committee growing presence as teachers for the composition sections graduate students couldn’t handle and the regular faculty refused had become a serious irritant the last several years. The new EC, filled with ambitious young professors eager to establish power, decided the best way to avoid the professional embarrassments and liabilities of keeping around temporary, but voting, pseudo-faculty members was not to keep them around too long. All full-time years service, the EC memo said, would be pink-slipped, except as part-time nonvoting fill-ins. The problem would be solved by eliminating the workers. Not every lecturer appreciated the mercy inherent in this sacking. For a start, only a year before the previous record stating that, whereas lecturers were valuable to the department’s mission and whereas there ain’t no way they were ever going to get tenure, and whereas they were doing a good job despite low pay and overwork \(four sections per semester versus two, somelecturers were perfectly welcome to stay as long as they could take it and enrollment indicated students didn’t catch on. Dean Robert King had also said as much and had admonished the department to treat its thralls more decently. The new EC policy seemed to reverse that position. Kurt Heinzelman, associate professor of English and president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors statement as a “vile and deeply cynical document,” but even flattery could not make it palatable. A group of lecturers, regular faculty members, immediately undertook a month-long action to overturn, for the first time in recent memory, an EC decision. THE ENGLISH WARS By Rod Davis 18 SEPTEMBER 28, 1984