By Jennifer Chu
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is known for its many programs supporting higher education, and especially for strengthening humanities research at select schools. Rutgers now joins the list of premier institutions receiving support, with a $1 million grant from Mellon to fund three major initiatives for Rutgers English.
According to English Department Chair Richard E. Miller, the grant will fund two programs important to the growth of the Department, and one special event aimed at advancing the discipline nationwide. First, the grant will provide support for hiring three distinguished literary scholars to teach at Rutgers. Second, the Department will begin offering summer stipends for graduate students working on their Ph.D. dissertations, making graduate study at Rutgers competitive with other top-tier programs. Finally, Rutgers will host a national conference in 2006 on "The Futures of English," inviting scholars from around the world to participate in a unique exploration of the various directions literary studies may take in the future.
Barry Qualls, Dean of Humanities for FAS, noted that getting the grant is an accomplishment in itself: "The Mellon Foundation has been supporting departments that they believe can reach an even higher level of national distinction and can make a signal difference in setting the national perimeters of the discipline," he said. The Graduate Program of Literatures in English at Rutgers is one of the top twenty programs in the nation, and has an excellent record of placing graduates in academic and private-sector jobs. English is also one of the most popular undergraduate humanities majors at Rutgers, thanks in no small part to a faculty filled with award-winning teachers and scholars.
According to Professor Miller, Rutgers is a particularly suitable place for a conference on the futures of the discipline, with its dual role as a state school and a top research university. The English Department is recognized for its strength in traditional literary study, but also for being committed to the study of emerging literatures (like African-American and postcolonial studies), cutting-edge writing instruction and teacher training, and various interdisciplinary projects.
Rutgers President Richard L. McCormick's emphasis on interdisciplinary research and excellence in education throughout the University were part of what interested Mellon in Rutgers in the first place. President McCormick attended the Department's welcoming reception in September to congratulate Rutgers English on a successful year in general, including the grant. He cited the Graduate Program's excellent record of placing Ph.D.s in academic jobs, as well as the unprecedented 2003 awards "sweep," when English Department professors won every major faculty award, for teaching, for research, and for combining scholarship with teaching. "The English Department is one of the jewels in the crown of Rutgers," he said. "I know that's a cliché," he added jokingly, "and I know what you English teachers say about clichés in your student papers, but it's true."
"We're thrilled to have this opportunity," said Professor Miller, "and pleased with the support from President McCormick and FAS that made our proposal possible." Professor Miller noted that preparations for all three initiatives are well under way. "It's been a remarkable year for the Department," he said, "and this great news makes it even more exciting."