A third-year English major taking a grand total of two English classes over Fall Semester and Jan Term combined? Sounds like someone does not want to graduate on time.
In reality, there just are not a lot of English classes being offered right now, to the fault of no one except for COVID-19. Over the summer, a number of things impacted the English major, which led to a very limited number of classes being offered this Fall semester. To start, we had two recent retirements at the College: Professor Wendy Furman-Adams and Professor Charles Adams. Last year, also during the Fall semester, we had three candidates vying to replace Professor Adams, who was our expert on African-American Literature, who visited the College to teach mock classes to hiring staff and students. Unfortunately, all three of these potential hires fell through: two were offered higher-paying jobs at University of California, Irvine, and, when it came to the third candidate, the involved hirers could not come to a consensus about whether or not this candidate would be a good fit for Whittier College. This candidate ended up not being hired for the College, and Whittier College was left another professor short.
To shorten the list further, we have two English professors currently on sabbatical — a fully-paid semester permitted to professors once every seven years, to be spent conducting research. Both Professor Sean Morris, on a one semester sabbatical, and Professor Michelle Chihara, on a full-year sabbatical (which is allowed under half-salary), are currently not teaching their normal amount of classes. Another English professor, Andrea Rehn, had all of her teaching moved to the Whittier Scholars Program; Professor Bethany Wong has taken over teaching her usual classes.
Of course, the College ran into issues with the pandemic, as well. Our normal visiting professors for English — Professor Katy Simonian, Professor Katherine Durbin, and Professor Scott Creley, had to end their contracts with the College this semester due to budget constraints. With the decreased number of student enrollment, all thanks to COVID-19, the College, unfortunately, cannot afford to hire these rather popular visiting professors this semester. To find out a bit more about the College’s financial deficit, see “Running on empty: How Whittier is keeping its (virtual) doors open.”
On the bright side, as Professor Jonathan Burton was able to tell me, this is temporary, and English majors will have more classes to offer come Spring semester. Professor Morris will return from his sabbatical to teach three classes, and Visiting Professors Durbin and Creley will also teach classes in the Spring. As for our area of African-American Literature expertise, the English Department did end up finding a replacement hire for Professor Adams over the summer; Professor Douglas Manuel II will teach African-American Literary Tradition with a brand new class: “Protest Literature from the Black Arts Movement to Black Lives Matter.” In addition, Professor dAvid pAddy, who was supposed to lead a study abroad class come Spring, will now replace that trip with a remote instruction course next semester.
So fear not, fellow English majors, we will have a wider variety of classes to choose from next semester to stay on track for graduation. For now, focus on your current classes, and take care of yourselves during this time of COVID-19 and Zoom burnout.