The 2019-20 academic year was unlike any other in Florida Atlantic University’s 60-year history. The once-in-a-century Covid-19 global pandemic transformed the way we live, interact, work, teach, and study. In the middle of the spring 2020 semester, just as many students and faculty were poised to return to campus after Spring Break—Covid-19 forced all University courses and staff into remote modality, virtually overnight. Our English faculty did a magnificent job by quickly adapting their in-person courses to online formats, maintaining high instructional standards while making every effort to accommodate students who may have struggled with these remote modalities. The unprecedented changes to our ways of working continued through Summer terms, when all courses were taught by remote modalities. None of us, it is fair to say, have ever seen anything like it.
The Spring also brought more painful reminders of another virus that has afflicted our societies for far longer than Covid-19: systemic racism, as the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police demonstrated the persistence of racism and disregard of black lives in America. The police killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks, sparked a global wave of protests and activism for Black Lives Matter that has transformed the political landscape of America and beyond. At, FAU Dean Michael Horswell, Dean of the DFSCAL and Provost Bret Danilowicz each responded by holding urgent public discussions about the crisis of systemic racism and attacks on black lives, and many of our English faculty and students took part in protests and forums addressing these deeply-rooted problems. Despite being one of the most racially and culturally diverse universities in the country, there is still much work to do at Florida Atlantic—as at many other institutions—to bring about a truly just, diverse, inclusive and equitable university community. The Department of English does not and will not tolerate discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender identity, social class, sexual orientation, or any other identification. We are committed to excellence in educating our diverse body of students and to nurturing and fostering the educational progress and development of all students who enter our classrooms—be they virtual or physical—offices, and libraries.
Despite the traumatic events of Spring 2020, there is still much to celebrate and be proud of in the English department during 2019-20. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate all our graduates and award winners who are listed individually later in this newsletter. Here, I will mention some of the most significant happenings of the past year. We began the year by welcoming a new member of our distinguished faculty, Dr. Anthony Stagliano, who joined us from New Mexico State University, having previously obtained his PhD from the University of South Carolina in 2015. A scholar of rhetoric and a film and media artist, Dr. Stagliano’s research concerns the intersections of material theories of rhetoric, media theory, and theories of technology. His films and media art pieces have been shown in festivals and galleries around the world. In September, our colleague Prof. A. Papatya Bucak, who published her first collection of short stories, The Trojan War Museum and Other Stories, with W.W. Norton in 2019, gave a powerful talk about the “Creative Writer in the Academy” at the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters at the FAU Faculty Research Showcase. Prof. Bucak also launched the English department’s “Off the Page” series in September with a well-attended reading from her acclaimed short story collection.
In the Fall and early Spring we conducted successful searches for two new tenure-track positions, resulting in the hire of Dr. Timothy Miller, (Science Fiction and Fantasy) who received his Ph.D. from Notre Dame; and Dr. Regis Fox, (early African-American literature), who received her Ph.D. from UC Riverside and returns to FAU as a valued colleague from 2013-16. A heartfelt welcome goes out to Tim and Regis. We are also excited to welcome our new Visiting Instructor Dr. Kate Polak (Ph.D., U. of Cincinnati) and Post-doctoral Fellow Dr. Sari Carter (Ph.D., Vanderbilt U).
The English department suffered a tragic loss in Fall, when one of our most talented and hard-working MA students and graduate teaching assistants, Nicholas Polycarpo, was killed in an automobile accident on Nov 1. The memorial held for Nick by the English department, was an outpouring of grief and for a much-loved student and friend of many in the department.
In the Spring, before the pandemic moved all activities remote, Prof. Sika Dagbovie-Mullins, our Director of Graduate Studies, organized an international symposium on “Toni Morrison: Transnational Perspectives,” celebrating the life and work of the late Nobel Laureate whose passing in August 2019 led to numerous expressions of admiration and awe for the inspiring life and career of one of America’s greatest novelists. The symposium brought in scholars from around the country including keynote speaker Yogita Goyal from UCLA, and received excellent attendance from the University and local community.
One sadness of the pandemic-induced move to remote learning and working, is that we were unable to hold the traditional commencement ceremony for our class of 2020 graduates. Despite this lack of an in-person graduation ceremony, many members of the department contributed to a virtual “Congratulations Class of 2020!” page on the English department website, offering enthusiastic messages of congratulations to our graduating English majors and graduate students. Thanks go to Prof. Julia Mason for her hard work on this project. Also due to Covid, we were unfortunately unable to properly recognize the retirement of one of our longest-serving and most beloved colleagues, Prof. Mary Faraci. Mary retired in June 2020, after an extraordinary 47-year career at Florida Atlantic University. Our plans for a celebration to honor Mary had to be postponed, but we will bring her back as soon as we can for a festive reunion.
We know that the Fall 2020 will be very different from any previous start to an academic year, and that many challenges—instructional, financial, and logistical—lie ahead for our department, college, and University. Early in the semester, we also lost one of our valued faculty members, Gabriele Gutting. An accomplished and highly-popular instructor at FAU for over twenty years, Gabriele succumbed to breast cancer in late September. Only recently promoted to University Instructor, Gabriele was a thorough professional and dedicated teacher for English. She will be greatly missed by colleagues, staff, and students.
As we continue to offer most of our courses online for Fall, we will strive to create and sustain new and exciting learning environments and experiences for our students. We will also be offering a number of lower-division WAC and IFP courses in-person on campus, in a vital effort to engage the newly-arrived Freshmen and returning sophomores. While many of our planned events for Fall will not take place, or will occur in virtual formats, we look forward to engaging with you and coming back together as soon as it is safe to do so.
In the meantime, I extend a heartfelt welcome to all our new and returning faculty, staff, and students, and a sincere greeting and thanks to all our alumni. Let’s make 2020-21 a year to remember for the way we rose to meet these extraordinary challenges.
With all best wishes,
Professor and Chair of English