At the start of spring semester, Dr. Amy Watkin will step down as chair of the English department and assume a new role: director of First-Year Experience.
Watkin’s new role at Concordia will come with new responsibilities, including recruiting inquiry seminar professors, helping program fall orientation and FYT labs, working with the enrollment office on events for prospective students, coordinating the best inquiry research project evaluation process, and making the inquiry seminars and oral and written communication classes more cooperative with each other.
In addition to her new duties, Watkin will continue teaching three courses a semester.
“My duties and commitments to the English department don’t change, except for the fact that I won’t be chair anymore,” Watkin said. “English and Women and Gender Studies courses are the reason I became a teacher in the first place.”
Because of this, Watkin says she will report to both the new department chair as a professor and to the associate dean as director of First-Year Experience. While she has to step down prematurely from her position as chair, Watkin considers her new position to be the best of both worlds.
“It feels like the perfect fit for me. [First Year Experience] is something I’m passionate about, I get to work with wonderful colleagues who are great at their jobs, and I get to continue teaching the courses that I love. This position can also allow me to interact with students in new ways, as well, which is always great,” Watkin said.
According to Dr. David Sprunger, English professor and previous department chair, hiring someone to strengthen courses specific to first-year students has been a long time coming.
“We’ve said for a number of years that it would be great if we had someone who’d help make that a program, or that people saw how all the classes connected as a program,” Sprunger said.
Every department has their own protocol for the length of a chair’s term, but the English department has established a consistent trend over the years.
“A normal term is three years. And it’s been our tradition in the department that people serve two of those three year terms,” Sprunger said. “Some departments have had the same chair pretty much for the whole 25 years I’ve been here.”
So far, a replacement for Watkin has not been selected. Whomever is elected as chair must be good at balancing a variety of projects in addition to their classes; the chair’s responsibilities include organizing the classes offered by the department, planning the next semester’s schedule, and managing the budget.
Chairs also represent and protect their department when the college is ready to make changes, view and respond to complaints with the department, and, most importantly, create a vision for the future of the department.
“The chair has some sort of vision for the department, that not just keeps the department moving smoothly as it’s always been, but has some ideas for how to help the department move in new directions that would be beneficial to the department and to its students and to the college,” Sprunger said.
With all these tasks needing to be done, it may be most convenient to have a previous chair finish Watkin’s term, but that’s another complication: many of the most recent chairs have already picked up additional responsibilities on campus. According to Sprunger, Dr. Jonathan Steinwand, a recent chair, has since taken on duties with the environmental studies program and with Fulbright scholarships, and Dr. Joan Kopperud, Steinwand’s predecessor, is now working on the PEAK and Integrative Learning initiatives.
The position does not have to go to someone who has already served as chair.
“There may be other people in the department who want to be chair, so we’ll have to see what happens with the dean,” Sprunger said.
Sprunger also said that the process is complicated by Watkin’s early resignation. Watkin started her first of two terms as chair in the fall of 2016; because the English chair is usually held for six years, the department was not prepared to pick a new one.
“We’d like to have a new chair chosen as soon as possible,” Watkin said. “English faculty will meet with our division chair to discuss possibilities, and then reach consensus on who should be our next chair. That decision then goes to the dean.”
While the administration sorts out Watkin’s replacement, students are excited for Watkin’s future with First-Year Experience. Senior English major Ali Froslie has had experience with Watkin as a professor and an advisor.
“From what I know of Dr. Watkin and what I know of the position … I think she’s a very good fit, because she has a very welcoming, warm personality,” Froslie said. “I am excited for the incoming freshmen students.”