MC Humanities department reorganization will benefit students and faculty

Anderson Hall is the home of both the new Humanities Department and the Languages and Literature Department.

Photo by Emily Winsauer

Anderson Hall is the home of both the new Humanities Department and the Languages and Literature Department.

Anderson Hall is the home of both the new Humanities Department and the Languages and Literature Department.

Photo by Emily Winsauer

Anderson Hall is the home of both the new Humanities Department and the Languages and Literature Department.

During Maryville College’s 2009 Homecoming festivities, Alumni will have their first opportunity to become acquainted with the school’s new Division of Humanities, which has been reorganized over the last year to better serve students and faculty. An alumni get-together to introduce the new department will be held in the outdoor classroom on Saturday, October 17 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., or in the 2nd-floor lounge of Anderson Hall in case of inclement weather.

The new Division of Humanities offers majors in Religion, Philosophy, History and History for Teacher Licensure, with minors offered in those fields as well as Appalachian Studies, Medieval Studies, and American Studies.

In addition to all of those disciplines, the old Humanities division encompassed English/Literature, Foreign Languages, Teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), and Writing/Communication. Those courses of study are now under a separate division, called Languages and Literature, chaired by Dr. Susan Schneibel, who before was responsible for all the Humanities. Dr. Peggy Cowan, formerly the chair of the Religion department, is the chair of the new Humanities division.

Under the old system, the Humanities division chair was responsible for fields as diverse as Comparative Philosophy, French and Journalism. Various deans had considered splitting up the division for years, but now-retired Vice President and Dean of the College Dr. Bob Naylor made the final decision before he left the school in June of 2008.

One of Naylor’s most difficult tasks was choosing a title for the head of the new humanities division. He and the faculty tossed around some humorous ideas: the chair could be the “Philistrian,” a title created from the words philosophy, religion, and historian; or the department could be renamed “The Old, the Dead, and the Ethereal” in homage to the subjects studied. However, the college decided to keep the title of the position the Chair of the Division of Humanities.

Although the benefits to the students might not be felt immediately, the reorganization will empower the faculty members and the chairs of the divisions to take part in a more active, specific dialogue on how to improve the departments. For example, teaching techniques are more similar among the subjects of the newly-separated divisions – teachers of History, Religion and Philosophy share educational approaches that can be quite different from those used by professors of Writing/Communications or foreign languages.

“I think it will build a stronger sense of community within the smaller group of faculty,” says Humanities Division Chair Dr. Cowan. Also, she notes, it will give her an opportunity to work more closely with the younger faculty members in the fields of Religion, Philosophy and History, 4 of whom are in their first two years at Maryville College. Those 4 represent a significant growth in the full-time faculty, which grew from 5 members to 9 in the last several years; in the 15 years before, the number had held steady at 5.

Philosophy in particular has grown a great deal in the last several years. The Philosophy major itself is relatively new; the first was Sarah Hailey, class of 2007, who completed the major before it was in the official catalogue. Yet the whole department has experienced growth; as of the last count, sixty students have declared majors in Religion, Philosophy and History.

“As a division chair, I have more of a chance of knowing more of the [students in other] majors,” continues Cowan, who teaches primarily courses in religious studies. And, she points out, they’ll now be able to have division-wide social events, which are usually held at the homes of faculty members.

Even though they’ll be separated in name and function, the Division of Humanities and the Languages and Literature division will still be very closely related. The two departments share an administrative assistant, storage space, and a lounge, and work in close proximity in Anderson Hall, a warren-like assembly of classrooms and offices completed in 1870.

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