Welcome to the 2014-15 School Year:

Welcome, everyone, to the 2014-15 school year of the Mercy College Master of Arts in English Literature program. I hope all of you have had a fine summer and are returning (or coming for the first time) to our virtual campus full of curiosity and energy.

For some of you this online learning environment might be a new thing. Even for some of you who have been with us for a time, the online learning environment presents its own set of challenges. I hope you’ll keep an eye out for one another in your virtual classrooms, for anyone who seems to be struggling with the technical (or other) aspects of virtual learning, and that you won’t hesitate to reach out to one another to say hello and see if you might be of some help. Of course there are a number of technical support features available (look in the left-hand menu of your Blackboard sections for helpful links). And you should feel free to contact your professors with specific issues and questions. But even just a note to another student through the Blackboard email feature can sometimes make the difference between a student feeling like they’re on a virtual island, and feeling like they’re connecting to the course and to the student community.

One thing I’d like us to work on increasing this year is the feeling of an online student community. And toward that end the faculty are working on some initiatives behind the scenes (still trying get approval for an informal, non-Blackboard real-time chat room for all MA students). In the meantime I encourage each of you to try and build your own student-to-student connections in the class and outside of it. Trade email addresses, trade phone numbers if you’re comfortable doing that; create informal study groups on your own, through your own email or skype exchanges.

Of course all of you should know that as the Program Head I am here for you. And each of you can write to me at any time if you have any questions, issues, worries, or comments concerning your experience or progress in the program. Additionally, although each of you has an academic advisor, I can also assist each of you in understanding program requirements and course selection. I’m happy to hear from you, and happy to talk or (much more easily) trade emails. I work with the advising department to try and make sure each one of you is taken care of and is on track for the degree. Just think of me as your personal faculty advisor.

Let’s talk about some program news:

As those who read this blog know, we’ve been working behind the scenes here on a slightly evolved program structure that will give you more freedom and choice when it comes to determining how you will earn your degree. That was approved by the College this past spring and I’ve received word that the Registrar is updating our program information in her system right now, and that the new structure will take effect in Spring 2015. How will that effect you and your progress toward the degree? Either not at all, or only positively. The changes only expand the options students have for meeting degree requirements.

So for example all students in the current/old structure are required to complete ENGL 510, Theory and Practice of Expository Writing. That’s a fine class, and we’ll still continue to offer it. But it’s always bothered some of us here that there are no alternatives to it. It can provide invaluable preparation for students who aspire to teach composition and expository writing, but that doesn’t describe the ambitions of every student in our program. Some of you are creative writers and are here primarily to hone and inspire your craft. Some of you are really here just for literary study, and might not want to devote one of your ten required courses to a class more associated with a Composition and Rhetoric pursuit. We know for a fact that many of you agree, based on the surveys and polls I sent around last year (I sent survey links to all of the student email addresses on file with Mercy). And so in Spring 2015, rather than being required to take 510, you will have a choice of courses to take to complete what we’re calling your “Writing and Literary Forms” requirement. You may take 510 to meet that requirement, or you may elect to take Advanced Creative Writing instead; or to take any one of the literary forms courses we offer (on the epic, poetic, essay, narrative, and dramatic forms). All of the upcoming changes will be just like this: expansion of choices. No one will lose anything. All completed or in-progress work will count toward your degree as it has.

Throughout this school year I will post updates and other information about these changes on this blog, as they are implemented. Once we have the final word from the Registrar I will finalize the draft of the Student Handbook currently available on the left-hand side of this blog, and will replace that draft with an official Student Handbook that will detail every little thing you might want to know about all of this. And as we roll out the new structure, you can and should of course contact me personally at any time with any questions you have about any of it. I will make sure you’re taken care of, and that your progress to your degree will be clear.

Upcoming course offerings:

Within the next week I will be posting here the Spring 2015 course offerings. There will be seven courses total. In addition to some program standards, we’ll be running a selection of eclectic courses which I hope you’ll find interesting. As a quick preview: Professor Sax will be running a Magic in Literature course. Professors Sax is one of the world’s foremost scholars on animals in literature, and on esoteric, hermetic, and mythological literatures. Dr. Kilpatrick, who over the past year has presented and attended conferences from Istanbul to England on topics involving the philosophy of sport, will be leading a special running of the course Sport Literature. Professor Dugan will be running a new course focusing just on the writings of Henry James and D. H. Lawrence. And Professor Emeritus Donald Morales will do our program a great boon when he returns to teach a course on the subject and literature of Afropolitanism, on which he has been presenting this year at conferences in Ghana, England, and Finland. Check here soon for a complete list of Spring 2015 courses, and for more details about what each one of these courses will cover. I’ll also share with you the day and time that spring registration opens.

As you proceed into your classes this school year, I want each of you to recognize and be proud of the fact that you are an adventurer, are an explorer. It takes a certain courage and an adventurous spirit to pursue a graduate degree in the arts. As with adventurers from ages past, it’s likely that some of you have people in your life who don’t quite understand or appreciate your pursuit. It’s often difficult to explain to someone else just why literature and the study of it is so important to you; why your pursuit does matter, deeply. There are some practical ends that the M.A. can lead to: with it you can apply to full-time professorships at junior colleges and other teaching opportunities; it can look good on a resume when applying to traditional English-based careers like editing, publishing, and various writing positions. But aside from all of that, and very often before all of that, I think the first burst which propels someone into graduate literary study is a pure love of literature, of words, of writing, and of thinking. You don’t have to explain your love of these things here among the virtual halls and your fellow students and faculty. You are among friends. You have only to get into the joyous work of reading, thinking, discussing, and exploring these things together with one another. Have a great year everyone,

Christopher Loots
Program Head, Master of Arts in English Literature