Major Changes come to the Department of English and Foreign Languages

Changes are coming to the Waynesburg University Department of English and Foreign Languages for the 2024-2025 school year in the wake of revisions to the general education curriculum.

University Provost, Dana Cook Baer, said that the changes to the general education curriculum have been in the planning stage for about seven years among committee meetings, board approval, faculty approval and Student Senate approval. 

“English 102 and the literature general education requirements were both changed,” Baer said. “The literature class is still a gen-ed option, but will no longer be mandatory for students. The English 102 class is also no longer required.” 

Speaking about the purpose of these changes, Baer said, “The way that the new gen ed curriculum was built was to provide more flexibility and freedom for students to select classes and kind of tailor the curriculum.” Additionally, Baer explained that many of these decisions came as a result of the assessment process, “where we’re constantly looking at policies, processes, how we’re doing things, what we’re doing well, where we need to make changes and some of that impacts curriculum and personnel.”

As a result of these changes and assessments, Baer said, “So, that kind of precipitated the difficult choices that we had to make in relation to faculty members. So it was not about their performance, [or] about their value. It was really about some of the hard decisions that we needed to make so that we could provide a quality learning experience to all students in an affordable way.” Baer declined to name anyone.

However, Jill Moyer Sunday, chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages, said her contract was not renewed. She added that two more Department of English faculty members were each given one more year to teach. She said the reason for this was because they were tenured faculty while she was not.

Sunday mentioned that she had concerns regarding who would fill the role of department chair after her departure. “There have been no discussions with us about what will happen next,” she said. “Usually when a chairperson leaves, somebody is appointed as succession.”

Regarding this process, Baer said she was in talks with the other department chairs about selecting a successor to Sunday and that, “If there’s a department, there’s typically a department chair. That’s our organization… sometimes it’s an interim department chair.” 

When asked about the student perspective on these changes, senior professional writing major and student Executive Editor for the University’s literary magazine, Muse & Stone, Jay Komoroski, said, “A bunch of the freshmen, they’re worried. Some students are worried. Some of them were asking me, ‘Should I transfer?’ depending on what happens. Because they came here for these professors, these courses and these programs, and if that’s changing and they aren’t getting what they wanted, where are they going to go?”

Concerning the current degrees and classes offered at the University, Baer said there have been no changes or reductions to the curriculum for English majors at this point. However, she said that departments and faculty do change, and “At any point in time, we can’t predict or foresee what those changes might be.” 

Another concern expressed by Komoroski and by junior professional writing major Hailey Mark, was whether department consolidation would be in the future of the Department of English and Foreign Languages.

Addressing this concern, Baer said, “Again, [it is] not uncommon to assess how we operate institutionally, and so one of those conversations is, ‘are we organized, in the academic area, in a way that best serves the needs of students and faculty and the learning experience?’” Adding to this, she confirmed that department consolidation is being considered by the administration with the goal of enhancing the programs to provide the best education for students. 

Sunday said that people should not be alarmed by potential consolidation since it is a common occurrence in higher education. She said that one department can have many divisions and, “It really is kind of good because you get a lot of synergy and a lot of collaboration. But because we’ve been halved, as of next year, next May there will only be three people in the English department. I worry about that.”

Sunday also said that with her departure, the Writing Matters Program, a two-semester, structured program designed to build writing competence through practical writing experience, would cease to be active. She explained the program would no longer be viable given the changes made to the general education curriculum, as well as due to the lack of faculty.

Another concern Sunday is who will serve as the Writing Program Administrator. Speaking about the future of the program, Stefanie Wielkopolan, the part-time undergraduate Writing Center Administrator, said, “I have no idea. No one has talked to us about what that would look like, or about how the Writing Center would go on.” She said, “I found out about Jill from Jill, and that’s all the communication we’ve gotten.”

When discussing the program’s future, Baer said there would be “no reduction in the services that we’re going to provide from the Writing Center.” She said that the Writing Center would formally operate under The Pathways Center and that its Director, Sarah Bell, will take on an administrative role in the Writing Center’s structure.

Another concern voiced by Komoroski and Mark was what would happen to the advisees of the professors leaving the University. 

Sunday said she quickly transferred her advisees to other academic advisors after she found out about her impending departure. For students changing advisors, Baer said the school takes their different callings, purposes and interests into consideration when connecting them to their new advisors. 

Students of the Department of English and Foreign Languages, including Komoroski, Mark, junior professional writing major and Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society Vice President Sydney Smiley and junior professional writing major and Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society President Olivia Sanvicente, all said they were frustrated with the University’s communication throughout these changes, noting how there was no formal announcement that came to the students from the University.

This frustration was not limited to the students. Sunday said, “I and the other people involved were blindsided by the decision.”

Speaking about the chance of an official statement from the University concerning these changes, Baer said, “I would say as of right now, I don’t anticipate there being a formal statement.” Additionally, she said, “As students were writing to me, I offered to meet with them.” Regarding her reasoning for this, she said, “I think that’s a far better means of communicating information is to sit down and have conversation with people.” 

Smiley said she met with Baer. She said while the meeting was productive, much of the information she received was already out on campus through word of mouth, and she wanted answers as to why faculty members were being let go.

Freshman professional writing major Anne Cramer and freshman english secondary education major Sara Van Reymersdal accompanied Smiley to show support, but according to Van Reymersdal, they were not let into the room since Smiley had been the one to schedule the meeting.

Van Reymersdal said she did meet with Baer later on, and while she did receive answers, she said she felt English majors were being disregarded by these changes. Van Reymersdal said she would be transferring at the end of the 2024 spring semester due to her noting that she saw the future of the department was “unclear” and the professors she came to the University for would be leaving.

Both Mark and Komoroski, who chose not to meet with Baer, said they felt that any further meetings would be unproductive given what information they had, as well as their inability to affect the changes being made. 

Despite this, Mark said that for the coming school year, “I think the best thing that we can do is just be there for the freshmen, remember what we were taught and the wonderful things that we got to learn from the professors here and try and pass that on and really just kind of keep their passion for writing and English alive.”

Regarding the future of the University’s English students, Sunday said, “I know this department. One of our hallmarks is our care for our students, and that they have what they need.” She added, “That’s what I can assure them from this department.”