The English department at the University is getting hit hard with budget cuts. What’s new, right? It turns out, a lot.
Both the literature and the environment and the film studies programs in the English department are going under, according to their directors. David Gilcrest, the director of the literature and the environment program, and Sean O’Brien, the director of the film studies program, both received letters of non-retention before the semester started in January — meaning they’re losing their jobs, and they said those programs will end without them.
Literature and the environment is a concentration option within the undergraduate program in the English department. The graduate option is called Ecocriticism but is taught by the same faculty members as literature and the environment. Ecocriticism will stay for now, but without Gilcrest, multiple English faculty members expressed doubt that it will be able to continue.
“By not maintaining the staffing for our program, we won’t be able to continue offering the program,” Gilcrest said.
“It’s in humanities classes where we address where our values come from, what our ethics look like,” he said. “The decisions [the administration] made are diminishing our actual strengths.”
Dean of Humanities and Sciences Chris Comer told the Missoulian in February that he didn’t believe any program directors were cut. This was after both Gilcrest and O’Brien had received their letters of non-retention in January. O’Brien will teach part-time next year so students currently in the film studies program can finish their degrees or minors.
Professor Robert Baker, the associate chair of the English department and the director of graduate studies for literature, English teaching and creative writing, is the man with the numbers. He said no positions have been filled since at least December 2016, when former University president Royce Engstrom stepped down.
“We’ve lost two to retirement [since Engstrom left office], two layoffs already and we’re losing another to retirement. So that’s five,” Baker said. “And now we’re worried we’ll have six more.”
The English department, which currently has 28 faculty members, is supposed to cut six more full-time positions, but that’s more complicated than it might sound, Baker explained. A professor or lecturer isn’t always full-time, and many faculty members in the English department are on half-time contracts or on semi-retirement contracts, making them less than one full-time equivalent, or FTE. So that proposition could mean more than six faculty members.
“Further cuts of 6.0 FTE, especially if FTE is taken literally, would absolutely not be bearable,” Baker wrote in an email to the Kaimin. “We have already lost 6.0 FTE (four people have retired and two will be laid off after this spring) since 2015.”
Gilcrest, who has been teaching at UM since 2003, said the extremely short notice likely won’t give him enough time find another place to teach in the fall.
“I and others are facing a very grim prospect,” he said. “This place has been home … It’s very challenging to think about doing something else.”
The literature and the environment’s graduate option, ecocriticism, has been growing since its inception in 2016. Gilcrest said a majority of graduate applications coming into the English department had marked the Ecocriticism option.
One way that UM has been trying to save money in the midst of the budget crisis is by not filling positions after professors or lecturers retire.
“Administration has clawed back every cent [through] retirements,” Gilcrest said.
O’Brien started the film studies program in 2007 and is the only lecturer teaching exclusively film studies at UM.
“We are not accepting new students into Film Studies, and I will return part-time next year to make sure that those currently signed up for the film studies option and minor get through the program,” O’Brien wrote in an email to the Kaimin.
“The budget shortfalls are real, and I have no easy answers,” she wrote. “One possibility is to incorporate the interdisciplinary Film Studies curriculum … into the Media Arts Program, although that conversation has not yet taken place.”
O’Brien has a Ph.D. in philosophy and wrote in her bio on the UM staff page that “philosophy and film make great bedfellows.” She said she uses her knowledge of film studies and philosophy in crafting all the philosophy classes and the film studies classes she’s taught at UM.
Beverly Ann Chin, professor and chair of the English department and the program director of the English teaching program, said that just because the film studies and literature and the environment programs have falling numbers, doesn’t mean they’re failing programs.
“These two programs at the undergraduate level are the two programs that have been the most directly affected by non-renewals,” Chin said. “[The non-renewals] put the FS program as a whole in the position where we have to teach through … Literature and the environment rests heavily on David Gilcrest.”
Gilcrest and Chin both mentioned that many positions haven’t been filled after faculty left them.
“Nothing has been filled for a long time,” Chin said.