Sunday, May 1, 2011
When I first heard about this project, back in the fall, I was astonished by the hubris of the faculty involved. They circulated a document that listed courses that would be offered as part of the project, including a few in my department. Yet I had not been approached about participating, nor had anyone in my department. I talked with others in my college and in CSM, and they, too, had been surprised to learn that their courses were being targeted without any consultation. I can't speak for the others, but for me the issue brought to the surface the ways in which the liberal arts and humanities are often deemed an "afterthought" on this campus. We offer GE courses to be tolerated rather than valued, and our disciplines aren't seen as important in their own right. And so this lack of consultation read more like a hostile takeover than an invitation to collaborate.
When Linda approached me again in winter quarter, inviting me to participate, I agreed to do so for a couple of reasons. First, I don't want English to appear stubborn or obstructionist; we aren't. We have partnered with other disciplines before and so aren't against such collaboration. And second, I wanted to learn more about the project to discover what sorts of ways we might be able to participate.
I've thought a lot about the differences in disciplines since I've been at Cal Poly, because this is the first time I've been on a campus that doesn't inherently and explicitly value the liberal arts. I attended a small, liberal arts college as an undergraduate and did my graduate work at UNC where, like many universities, the liberal arts shared a college with the sciences (College of Arts and Sciences) and thus were afforded more respect. Coming to Poly was a dramatic shift in my understanding of what a "university" was, and the last 14 years have caused me to become more defensive in my professional life. I often feel like I have to justify and defend my discipline, in large part because so few seem to understand what it is we do. We teach grammar, yes, but that is so small a part of what we do--most people, though, think that's all we do. The first thing someone says after hearing what I teach is almost always, "I'd better watch what I say since you're an English teacher." This sort of thinking about my field limits and narrows it, and it's difficult not to react badly to statements like this. But I also realize that I need to do a better job of explaining what my field is and why it's important. Perhaps it's hubris in me that expects others to innately understand my discipline.