Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More from the Virginia Tech English Department

I am reprinting from The Chronicle.

English Department Tries to Help Instructors and Students 'Get Their Bearings'

Blacksburg, Va. — Last semester, when Ross A. Alameddine came into Edward A. Weathers’s professional-writing class at Virginia Tech, Mr. Alameddine issued a challenge: “I’m going to be either an English major, business minor, or a French major, business minor,” he wrote in a note to the instructor the first day of class. “That decision depends on this class. No pressure.”

Mr. Alameddine liked the course enough to declare English his major earlier this semester. But when classes resume next week, he won’t be here to pursue that path. He was one of the 32 victims of Monday’s massacre.

Mr. Alameddine sat in the center of 12 students taking Kelly A. Pender’s technical-editing class this semester. Ms. Pender, an assistant professor of English, talked Wednesday morning about what would happen when her class resumes next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

“Ross was the kind of student who you wanted to be there every day because he made the class work,” said Ms. Pender, 32, sitting in her office in Shanks Hall. “I’ve dealt with grief in my life, but I don’t know how the class will proceed.”

Nick J. Kocz, a graduate teaching assistant in the English department, also lost a student, Emily Hilscher, in one of the classes he teaches. She died in West Ambler Johnston Hall on Monday morning.

Carolyn Rude, chair of the department, is trying to help young professors and graduate teaching assistants deal with the final weeks of classes. She has asked the university to send a counselor to talk to them.

“We teach 6,000 students in any semester,” she says. “That’s why it matters what English does. We have 33 dead, but we have 26,000 or more trying to get their bearings and reclaim their lives.”

Some English professors have decided to leave it up to students whether to take the grade they have earned thus far or finish their last assignments.

“My students had their final paper due on the 22nd,” said Carlos Evia, an assistant professor of English. “That’s not going to happen. I can’t push them.”

Mr. Weathers, the instructor who taught Mr. Alameddine’s professional-writing course, feels the same way: “I don’t know how after all of this I can ask someone to do a paper on the history of the American penny, or the role of peanut butter in the American diet.”

Mr. Weathers feels a particular loss, since it was his class that persuaded Mr. Alameddine to major in English. Mr. Weathers plans to send the note Mr. Alameddine wrote him on that first day of class, and all of his other writings, back to his parents. — Robin Wilson

Other links related to the English faculty:

Chronicle forum: "The English department should have done more to prevent the VT massacre"

CNN: Cho's [Playwriting] Professor to Classmates: Don't Feel Guilty

Chronicle: Poet Nikki Giovanni's Address (audio)

Meanwhile, let's not forget engineering:

Chronicle: Questions Abound for a Homeless Engineering Department