All posts by madirector

Course Offerings: Summer 2014

Registration for the summer opens on March 5th at 9:00am Eastern time.

As of this moment we’re planning to run five courses over the summer. This is an ambitious amount of courses, as summers tend to have low enrollment (many students, like many professors–like me–follow the traditional fall/spring schedule). It is therefore highly possible that not all five courses will gain enough enrollment to actually remain open and run by the time the summer semester begins. Some may even be cut very early into registration if they attract little early interest. Two of the reasons I have five courses listed is to see (1) if in fact we have enough interest in summer courses to warrant this many courses, and (2) what courses students are interested in. If one of these classes fills up immediately and the other class attracts three students, the course with three students will have to close and this will also indicate that the first course is something our students want and the second course is largely not. I’ll use this information when scheduling future semesters. So here, as of this moment, are the summer listings:

  • ENGL 509, Perspectives on the Essay, run by Dr. David Kilpatrick
  • ENGL 510, Theory/Practice of Expository Writing, run by Dr. Sean Dugan
  • ENGL 514, 20th Century American Poetry, run by Dr. Alison Matika (Note that this might appear as “Major Authors” on your registration screen–that’s just the generic title associated with the code. It’s 20th Century American Poetry).
  • ENGL 515 DLA, Sport Literature, run by Dr. David Kilpatrick
  • [Sorry, administration cut this course]

  • ENGL 515 DLB, Advanced Creative Writing, run by Dr. Celia Reissig-Vasile (This might show as “Special Topics” but again, as with the 514, that’s the generic title for the course code. It is Advanced Creative Writing).

A note on the new MA Program requirement structure

As some of you know, I’ve been working on a slight revision to the current structure of the program. The revision has been approved by the many layers at the College and will be implemented in fall 2014.

The reason for this (minor) revision is two fold.

For one thing, I and the previous three Directors have all felt that the current structure, which though generous in electives, requires that all students take a relatively strict sequence of required courses. The courses it funnels you toward are valuable for building a comprehensive foundation of literary knowledge. However not everyone is here for the same reason, and not everyone wants the same thing out of the program. And so we felt was time to open things up a little and give students more freedom to customize their individual paths toward the degree. Some things will still be required–everyone will need ENGL 500 Theory, and everyone will need ENGL 516 Thesis Seminar (which will be renamed to the more accurate Master’s Thesis Tutorial). But more choices will be added for fulfilling the other currently required areas.

The second reason is because I sent around a survey to current and former students in the fall asking for feedback on this, and the response was almost unanimously in favor of this evolution.

Going forward, the program will still continue to offer all of the courses we currently offer. And so in the future a student will still be able to earn the degree in exactly the same way you are currently required to earn the degree. But you will now have the choice over whether to take the traditional sequence or a more eclectic sequence.

We are working to implement this new structure in fall of 2014. Students have nothing to worry about concerning this implementation: the change will be seamless and everything about it will take place behind the scenes and without any of you needing to do anything at all. All currently met requirements will of course still count. All you’ll find next year is that you may have more choices about how to meet your remaining requirements. This is a pro-student evolution of the program.

You can get a look at the new structure in the working draft of the 2014-15 Graduate Student Handbook downloadable from the left-hand side of the screen. You will see all sorts of new courses in the curriculum section, with new and different numbers for some existing courses. Please keep in mind that this handbook is a prototype and is not currently implemented. The new courses, the renumbering of courses, the new 30-credit degree structure in there: none of this is in the official system and won’t be until next year. And some of this could still change. I mean to say if you go asking your adviser about any of this they will have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about because I’m giving you a look at something which is still technically in development.

I just wanted to keep you all updated on the latest and give you a look at the handbook prototype.

The Comprehensive Exam

The Comprehensive Exam is an essay exam which all students must take and pass in the time between the penultimate and ultimate semesters in the program. All students preparing to enter their final semester and hoping to take their ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial  must pass the Comp Exam in order to do so. The Comp Exam therefore functions as a gateway to the final semester.

So how do you take the exam? Upon completing your penultimate semester, contact me ( and request the Comp Exam. I will then send you the exam instructions as an attachment. You then have ten days in which to open the attachment and respond to its instructions. There’s no big secret here: the exam asks you to write two essay responses to your choice of a list of topic questions. The questions are phrased in a way where you can apply anything you’ve studied in the program to your answer. Students don’t always read the same exact materials over the course of the program and this is taken into account in the phrasing of the questions. The questions don’t exactly “test” you as much as they give you a platform to really show us what you know and how you think.

Though you have a ten day window in which to administer the exam to yourself, the exam itself only allows four hours. This gives you time to write two brief essays that show what you know. The exam is administered on the honor system: we trust students on their honor to adhere to the four hour limit, and to keep the questions confidential.  The essay responses must be returned within ten days at which point faculty in the program will assess them.

How to register for the ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial

Anyone getting close to the end of the MA program needs to start thinking about the ENGL 599 Master’s Thesis Tutorial. Let’s look at some basic points about what it is, what you have to do to enroll in it, and what you do once in it:

  • The course is a three credit course and is a requirement for the 30 credit MA degree.
  • The course is always taken during whatever you intend to be your final semester in the program.
  • The course is actually a one-on-one tutorial between one student and one professor, during which the student must write one 25 page thesis paper on a topic of her or his choice operating under the guidance of the mentor.
  • To pass your course your thesis paper must receive final approval from your mentor and from a second reader, appointed by your mentor. Both the mentor and second reader might request or require revisions to your thesis paper during the course of the seminar semester.
  • You enroll in 599 using a different process than for any other course in the MA program:
  1. First, during the semester prior to your final semester, think up a general topic or idea for your thesis and write it down. Your thesis topic can be based on a paper written for another course earlier in the program; you can even use that paper as the first draft for your thesis paper.
  2. Contact any professor in the program and ask the professor if he or she would be your Thesis Tutorial mentor. Include your general topic idea with your request. If s/he says yes, you will then work up a more formal thesis proposal with that mentor; If your selected professor cannot mentor you, you can either ask another professor or can contact me and I will assign you to a mentor.
  3. In the meantime, be aware that all students must take and pass the program’s Comprehensive Exam in the time between the penultimate and ultimate semester in the program. So while you’re developing your thesis proposal with your mentor, also start thinking about the Comp Exam which you must request from the Director upon completing your penultimate semester. Students must complete their Comp Exam before beginning their 599. Those taking 599 in the summer or fall can request the exam when the spring semester ends; those taking 599 in the spring can request the exam when the fall semester ends. The program director typically keeps track of these things and sends out the comp exams to students about to take 599; but own your education, and be responsible for your timing: it is ultimately your responsibility to request the exam of the Director at the correct time.
  4. Once you have developed a formal thesis proposal under the mentor’s guidance, and once the mentor deems it acceptable, the mentor will contact me and I will automatically enroll you in a 599 course with the mentor as professor. It is therefore impossible to be “closed out” of a 599 as each is opened on an individual basis. The only way a student who needs to be in 599 Thesis Tutorial might not get into one is if the student doesn’t do these four steps in a timely enough fashion to have this all settled by the start of the final semester. So plan ahead. As always, contact me directly if you have any questions about any of this.

I’m Here to Help

All students in the MA program should know that as the Director I’m happy to help each of you with any questions or issues you might have about anything related to the program. Each of you has a Student Services or Graduate Admissions adviser, and I know a few of them and the few that I knew are very good. But I can also advise you on course selection or look over your transcripts. Don’t hesitate to drop me a note at anytime if you have a question. Sometimes I know things that advisers don’t. I want to help make your experience in the program the best that it can be. So don’t hesitate to drop me a note if you’re ever in need. Again:

Welcome to the 2013-14 School Year

September, 2013

Welcome, all you masters students, to the 2013-14 school year of Mercy College’s Master of Arts in English Literature program. This is Professor Christopher Loots writing as the new head of the MA program. Before we move forward into our new year, please let us recognize the hard work done by Dr. Richard Medoff, our exiting director who moves on to become Chair of Communications and Arts. I would also like to recognize the continuing work of all our graduate faculty: Dr. Boria Sax, Dr. David Fritz, Professor Celia Reissig-Vasile, Professor Adam Fitzgerald, Dr. Sean Dugan, Dr. David Kilpatrick, Dr. Kritsen Keckler, Dr. Yunus Tuncel, and Dr. Alison Matika, our newest member.

This letter marks the first of what will be periodic letters from me concerning program news, upcoming courses, things to keep in mind when proceeding toward your degree, etc. I will also reach out to you now and then for feedback and news about any scholarly or creative achievements you may be earning.

On that note, please consider this an open invitation to share with me any such activity. This can include, for example, any English literary conferences you might be attending. I know we have a number of active poets in the program, some of whom are out there in the community participating in poetry events, open mic sessions, and other such creative endeavors. Please let me know about any participation in such things. I know we have many creative writers in the program. And all of you are scholarly writers—you write scholarship every semester when you write your term papers. So please let me know if any of you see any of your creative or scholarly work published or recognized. I would like to maintain a view of all such activity going on within our program’s learning community, so that we might celebrate it in future announcements such as this, and so that it might inspire and encourage us all. I also want to share such things with our Dean, and the surrounding Mercy College community. Just drop me a note at

Our graduate student body includes many traditional literary scholars, some of whom aim to teach at community college, or to adjunct at senior (4 year) colleges. Both of these pursuits can be pursued with the M.A. Some of you aspire to pursue a Ph.D. after the M.A., perhaps in hopes of one day applying for faculty positions at senior colleges. If any of that describes you, it’s a good idea to try and get involved in conferences, as they’re good for a resume (or curriculum vitae–CV–as we call them in the field). At the same time, though, our masters students come from a variety of life-situations, not all of which involve time for or interest in these traditional academic and literary pursuits. And that’s okay. You all have your own varied reasons for being in the program, and your own private ideas of what you hope to achieve through the program. Some of you are here to explore literature as a supplement to your life, family, or career. Some of you are already in education, are teachers who are here to strengthen your existing subject knowledge, or earn credits that might enable you to earn more or be eligible for promotion. More than a few of you are poets and creative writers who know that one of the only trusted ways to improve your own writing, other than writing a lot, is to read and study the great writings of the past. Some are here because the M.A. is a useful degree for aspirations in many fields such as editing, publishing, journalism, copy writing and editing, etc. On some level all of us are here out of love for literature; or as one of you put it so brilliantly in a course introductory thread: the “world seems brighter, sharper, and more enriched when studying literature and the arts.” Indeed. No matter your reason for being here, if you are here, you’re in the right place.

For if I may, I think beneath it all, we might also be here because at some point in our lives we heard what Gatsby heard when he listened for one last moment to that tuning-fork struck upon a star. There is great meaning and mystery in all of literature, as much as in all our lives, the exploration of which involves traveling what Whitman called the journeywork that connects the stars. As students of literature, we know that not everything can be measured or quantified, and that perhaps the most meaningful things are the things least quantifiable, most ephemeral. Masters of Arts students, you walk forward in a world where art and literature are at risk of being devalued because their value is neither obvious nor easily weighed. I applaud you for caring, and for carrying forward the study of literature. By doing so you are part of a long and storied procession of scholars just like you, stretching back to ancient times.

And so on behalf of all the graduate English faculty, welcome, again, graduate Mercy literature students, to the 2013-14 school year. As you go out into your classes this fall, I would only encourage you to make the most of this time, of these weeks and months ahead. In an online program such as ours, much power is in your hands to make of this experience what you will. So read, think, write, discuss, and have fun exploring together.