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04/05/94

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Senate endorses undergraduate Comparative Literature major

The Faculty Senate has approved a new undergraduate major in the Department of Comparative Literature, effective next September.

The senate unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Committee on Undergraduate Studies on Thursday, March 31.

A report detailing the proposal said that Comparative Literature got its start as an interdisciplinary program granting doctorates in 1969-70.

In 1970-71, the program initiated an undergraduate honors concentration through Humanities Special Programs, which has required intensive work in two national literary traditions and a solid command of at least two languages not native to the student. It also requires a senior honors thesis, also administered through Humanities Special Programs.

The program was given departmental status in 1987, but creation of the non-honors undergraduate major was delayed because of preoccupation with budget problems in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

The field of comparative literature considers national literatures in relation to one another. It also studies literary criticism, poetics and theory, and the treatment of literature in relation to other arts and the philosophy of language.

No incremental costs are associated with the new major, the senate was told, because faculty already are in place.

The new undergraduate major will have two tracks:

  • Literary studies - The literary studies track will integrate in-depth work in a primary literature with extensive work in a second literature (in the original language) and complementary coursework in an outside field.
  • Interdisciplinary - This track will integrate in- depth work in a primary literature with the focused study of literature in relation to another art form, such as music, painting or film, or intellectual discipline, such as philosophy, history, linguistics or anthropology.

An honors program still will be available, but will be run by the department.

According to the department's proposal, no other major so well fits the needs of students interested in the "globalization" of the humanities and skilled in multiple languages.

During the senate discussion, English Professor George Dekker, who is also associate dean for graduate policy, said he initially "had some uneasiness" about the proposal, fearing it would poach on other majors. On reflection, Dekker said, this will be a "really attractive major in its own right" and would make the humanities at Stanford more appealing to top high school students who might have gone elsewhere.

English Chair Ron Rebholz also praised the proposal for being "extremely well defined" and "rigorous."

Responding to a question about how many students might be drawn to the major, English Professor John Bender, who holds a joint appointment in comparative literature, said that the honors program probably would continue to draw the two to seven students who have taken honors through Humanities Special Programs. As for the two non-honors tracks, growth in the second track is more likely than the first, which requires skill in two non-native languages.

"Over time we could easily work up to 20 or 25" in the second track, but it's all guesswork at this point," Bender said.

Representing Humanities and Sciences, Senior Associate Dean John Etchemendy said his only fear about the program is that "it might be too rigorous" and therefore not attract students.

On the financial side, he said that some have worried that the new program would draw teaching assistants away from other programs and departments. Teaching assistant allocation is based on enrollments within the school. If enrollments increase in comparative literature, they presumably are decreasing elsewhere, he said.

"Nothing could delight me more than if some of these courses became very successful and large," he said.

Humanities Special Programs reauthorized

In other action, the senate reauthorized the interdisciplinary Humanities Special Programs to nominate candidates for bachelor's degrees in humanities. The measure provides for the removal of honors in comparative literature because of the earlier vote turning it over the program to the Comparative Literature Department.

After much confusion over the proper length of the authorization, the senate unanimously voted for four years, with the stipulation that it later could be changed to seven years if necessary to coordinate with other program reviews.

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