The English department adopted a program to restructure the major in April 2011 and is undergoing preparations for the new curriculum, which is set to commence in fall 2013.
The program is aimed to shift the major's focus to place greater emphasis on learning outcomes and how students shape themselves and their career paths through English courses.
"Last year, we re-examined the whole structure of the English major," said professor Paul Schacht, chair of the English department. "Our categorical distribution wasn't necessarily producing coverage."
"Coverage itself seems problematic as a goal, in part because it encourages you to prioritize in terms of things like regions or time periods, when maybe that's not the most important thing for us to be highlighting as a major," he said.
The proposed curriculum will be divided into 100-, 200- and 300-level courses. Upon completion of a 100-level course students will continue on to the 200-level, in which they will be required to take two courses, and the 300-level in which students will be required to take four. The major will require a minimum of 10 or 12 courses, depending upon the school's decision of the implementation of four-credit courses.
At least one course in three broad historical divisions will also be required: early to early modern, early modern to modern and modern to contemporary.
"We decided that we would allow the category idea to survive a little bit here," Schacht said. "It is still important to us that students spread themselves out over time a bit because that's part of what's involved in relating texts to history."
A mandatory self-reflective advising mechanism will accompany these changes. Students will maintain a written document on the web to make connections between their current, past and future courses. The write-up will be a graduation requirement.
"In the current major, students choose their courses based on the logic of distribution … It will be replaced by the logic of discovery," Schacht said. "The expectation is that, from the moment you declare your English major, you need to be thinking somewhat systematically about what your goals are, what you expect to get out of a degree in English."
The introductory 100-level courses will introduce students to the basic reading and writing skills expected of an English major.
"These courses will include closely analyzing texts, relating the formal features of texts to their meaning and understanding how one text is related to the universe of literary texts," he said.
Schacht explained that the 200-level courses will guide students in relating texts to history and in understanding these texts in "social and political contexts: how texts are related to constructs like race, ethnicity and gender."
Three hundred-level courses will provide students with a mastery of an author or narrowly defined topic and an understanding of the views of critics and authors in relation to students' criticism.
"When you write a paper, the expectation will be … that you write in such a way that you show you're engaging with the conversation that critics have already been having about this issue and the texts," Schacht said. "It can't be just you and the texts. It's you, the text and those who already have had something to say about the text."
"That is an important part of what it means to be practicing the discipline of English, whether you're a student or an academic," he said. "Our skepticism about coverage isn't unique to us at all. It's in sync with the way people are increasingly thinking, not just about English, but about higher education in general."