ESA Meeting 3/7/2016 Agenda and Minutes

ESA Meeting
March 7, 2016, 5:00-6:00pm
Room 5409

  • Approve minutes from 2/8/2016 ESA meeting
  • Announcements:
    • Travel Grants: list of recipients
    • ESA history project: Jason Nielsen and Paul Hebert will talk about what they’ve been working on for their grant to produce a history of the ESA
    •  Committee descriptions requested: review criteria for turnover meetings
  • Committee Reports
    • Highlights:
      • Conference: updates
      • Alumni: plans for fundraising for next year
      • Admissions: numbers update
      • Placement: survey results & further updates
      • Friday Forum: call went out, any proposals in the works?
      • Recruitment: Open House Friday, March 11
  • Discussion & Vote: After the ESA-hosted GC popular assembly on February 22, a resolution was drafted by the ESA to address concerns about strikes, contracts, workloads, etc. Vote to pass this resolution [see document on ESA-L and ENGDEPT-L].


Meeting Minutes

Present: Meira Levinson, Esther Bernstein, Liz Goetz, Conor Tomas Reed, Shoumik Bhattacharya, Paul Hebert, Patrick Smyth, Rebecca Fullan, Seth Graves, Christina Katopodis, Jason Nielsen, Anna Zeemont, Erin Andersen, Chris Eng, Danica Savonick

Approved minutes from 2/8/2016 ESA meeting

Announcements & Discussion:

Travel Grants: list of recipients: Last year’s Alumni Committee raised $1450 from their appeal; based on discussions of previous ESA meetings, we decided to award $100/student. One 7th year and one 8th year student applied and were prioritized in receiving funds; the rest of the grant recipients were chosen on a first-come, first-serve basis.  The list (distributed earlier over the ESA & English Dept. listserves) is great to see because it’s an interesting, informative sample of student work and projects, and it’s wonderful to see how our alumni are funding current students in their research and doctoral work.

ESA history project: Jason Nielsen and Paul Hebert discussed what they’ve been working on for their grant to produce a history of the ESA. Last semester (fall 2015), they focused on archival research, working to gather and reconstruct ESA minutes and assorted documents from the past ten years that are informative regarding ESA history (what was happening, what issues were being discussed) but which, until now, have been largely unknown/unseen. Paul and Jason are now (spring 2016) moving towards collecting pre-2006 minutes, and towards getting an oral history and narrative breakdown regarding what was happening in the ESA year to year.  

 Overall, the emerging narrative is incredibly informative, and helps reveal program issues that are recurring, different responses/options taken at different points in the past, shows records of different perspectives on these issues, and these issues’ wider contexts.  Jason & Paul have already begun posting these recovered minutes to the ESA website, as well as lists of yearly administrative bodies. There will be a special page on the website devoted to these updates, and they’re hoping to add audio files and narratives organized by year. They hope to complete these aspects of the project sometime in April.

Committee descriptions requested: Esther reviewed the criteria for: 1) brief committee description updates for 3/10; and 2)  longer committee descriptions for the May turnover meetings. She explained the reasons for both these things: 1) the immediate, short updated committee descriptions will provide current, accurate descriptions of committee responsibilities; this both aids general transparency and helps nominees for next year’s ESA know what they’re agreeing to, responsibility-wise. Since the elections process begins shortly, this is timely. 2) the longer committee descriptions for May provide fuller narratives during the hand-over process, ensuring smoother transition from year to year and hopefully better facilitating long-term projects (e.g. comps restructuring or course assessment form revisions) that can otherwise get lost over the summer and between committees.

Discussion & Vote: After the ESA-hosted GC popular assembly on February 22, a resolution was drafted by the ESA to address concerns about strikes, contracts, workloads, etc. Vote to pass this resolution [see text below]. Unanimous vote to pass (14 yea votes – Hilarie Ashton and Sean Kennedy by proxy in addition to above listed as present.)

PSC Strike Pledge: discussion & request for signatures


Committee Reports:


The website is be up and running. It’s

We’re still finalizing the schedule, but we’ll have that settled and on the website within the week.

Our updates are as follows:  

  • Thursday, April 7, there will be an opening panel in the evening at the Museum of Morbid Anatomy, followed by a guided tour of their current exhibit, and a reception.
  • Friday, April 8, we have 28 confirmed panelists, from within the GC and around the world, in addition to a performance art collective, a visual artist, and two keynote speakers(morning and evening).
  • Our budget is balanced, our posters are designed, and everything appears to be in place for a successful conference.

Admissions & Financial Aid

The admissions committee read 243 applications this year. 20 offers of admission were made in the first round. Representation across fields is very wide: 16 different fields are represented in the 20 initial offers of admission alone.

The experience of reading through and commenting on applications was very well organized and very time consuming. Each member of the admissions committee read over 40 applications, commenting on strengths and weaknesses, as well as evaluating 20 PEF-eligible (Provost’s Enhancement Fellowship) applications (replacing the MAGNET fellowship). In a meeting of the entire admissions committee (students and faculty), three applications were selected for forwarding to the Provost’s office for this program, which seeks to increase the diversity of the student body at the GC.

Student committee members were encouraged to share their comments at every stage of the selection process (that is to say, before meetings took place, at the large group meeting, and in the sub-committee meetings that followed it). Faculty were receptive to student input and supportive of (what seemed to be) the two main objectives of student readers: first, to increase diversity in the student population, and second, to advocate for students in the CUNY Pipeline program and/or students who demonstrated a vested interest in CUNY and the current work of English department students and faculty.

Friday Forum

We were in touch with Mario about the form and deadline for the spring (due April 1) and sent this out to the ESA, along with advice about proposals based on the fall meeting. We also asked the ESA if anyone wants to propose one or several events in 2pm slots in current student areas of need. We will meet with the faculty committee once the proposals are received in April.  

Better to Speak wants to organize an event early in the fall semester regarding gender/race/etc – if any other students want to be involved, let Christina know.  The submission deadline is 4/1.


In the past month, the recruitment committee has begun to bridge contact between admitted prospective students and current students who have elected to be contacts for school- and field-related questions. We’ve also made big plans for Friday’s Open House, which includes a day-long program with lunch and coffee events for prospective students, leading up to the main event at4:00 in the English lounge, which features a panel of current students. All are encouraged to attend at 4:00 to connect and chat with folks! 

Course Assessment

We continue to hold off on making changes to the form, including the ones discussed in the fall, because we haven’t come to a consensus that the changes are necessary.

Committee members observed two things in aggregating assessments this year: that students give widely different responses to the question of how much time is devoted in class to lecture/discussion/student presentations and that some students answer in a somewhat coarse tone given that the assessments are made publicly available. Perhaps this means that that question and a disclaimer about respectfulness of tone/the fact that these are publicly made available and used in job searches should come up in the future. Perhaps these concerns can simply be listed in the letter to next year’s committee. One student recommended a switch to percentages as opposed to rankings in the time distribution question. But how to aggregate that would require some thinking.

It was recommended to us that the evals would look more official on department letterhead. We all agree that this change would be fine going forth.

A point was raised, at the ESA meeting, that it’s worth clarifying to students that the assessment-form responses will be posted and available online (limited to ESA logins) as well as available in hard copy in the lounge, where anyone can read them.


Waiting for updates on committee descriptions and reports. Nominations should open by March 10 or 13 and the ballot will open in early April.

Curriculum Committee

Logistics of genre requirements for the exam: inclusion of a teaching statement or syllabus (or both), and what that might look like. Some committee members would rather place emphasis on genres students will be asked to do in first year coursework (and aren’t sure if it’s fair to ask students who haven’t taught to develop a syllabus or teaching statement), while others see the production of a syllabus as good professional development given that they’ll be starting to teach immediately following the “exam.” The syllabus came under question due, in part, to the fact that’s it’s tough to assess a course syllabus as part of an exam that’s supposed to look at the broad research/intellectual foci that the “exam” purports to assess. Looking at possible specific elements of the syllabus (an intro statement, example exercises, assignments, etc.), it was decided that all parts of the “exam” would be due at the same time, so that they can be read in conversation with one another. It also looks like there will be a possible conference, of sorts, at which students can present the conference paper they’re required to write for the “exam” (discussed in the February meeting as well). The conference audience might be limited to the first-year cohort (i.e. fellow exam-takers) and to the faculty members assessing, but this is still in the works.

The rationale for the syllabus and lesson plan is to push students more towards things/work they want to do in the future rather than assessing them based on work they’ve done in the past.


Plans underway for getting the stamp discussed in Fall 2015. New notebook to be purchased with more effective check-out system. A number of people have been checking out and using books already, with the temporary system. Donations keep coming in. Nancy directed a sizable donation to the ESA library when someone wanted to clean out their library.


The committee will be meeting within the next two weeks to formalize goals for the spring semester, including possible redesigns for the website and how to better keep the site current. Patrick Smyth discussed Zotero library with Erin Glass.  Patrick will be taking Zotero for the website.  The plugin has been described as “kind of awkward and need[ing] a lot of manual manipulation.”

Dale Ireland and Charlotte Thurston are working on the site’s accessibility.  Dale is working on a protocol that would make all text, images, video, and sound files uploaded to the site accessible.  She has also joined a faculty teaching circle on universal design to augment her online teaching [and design] certificate.  Dale and Charlotte will be working within the guidelines of the Web Accessibility Initiative and the Americans with Disability Act.  Presently, much of the site is inaccessible.

Faculty Membership

The faculty membership voted to move forward with a job talk in the fall for a candidate in the search for an appointment in African Diaspora/ African American Literature. Allison Pease has been invited to give a job talk in the fall.


Elissa has been inquiring regarding what sort of teaching resources people might like to have on the ESA website, which was something we discussed in our first editorial committee meeting. At that time, everyone agreed that perhaps a series of FAQ sheets listing important resources and contacts available at each campus would be a good thing. Elissa sent an email to her cohort (because they are in their first year of teaching) and also posted a query on the Teaching at Queens facebook site. Have not gotten much of a response yet, but it hasn’t been that long, so we’re still hopeful.


Chris Eng was present and reported that in the fall, Placement compiled a survey on student satisfaction regarding the program’s current placement efforts.  The committee is now working to condense the survey results to a general report.  They are first sending that report to the faculty members of the Placement Committee, and then will distribute it to students/faculty at large.  

There were 31 responses; most disagreed that the program was doing an effective job of placement.  Chris emailed the other student committee members with ideas re. ways to improve, e.g. events/workshops that could begin as early as this semester, and the committee is hoping to meet soon.


We’ve met once as a committee, so these goals and assignments may have changed or be different when we do meet again this semester.  We talked about connecting the diversity committee to the work of other standing committees in the program, and this task was mostly given to faculty members on the diversity committee who also are on other committees.  Another faculty member was tasked with working on mentoring/professionalization: establishing opportunities for alumnae/ni of color and other minoritized people to connect with current students, creating opportunities for vertical mentoring.  The students on the committee have done recruitment work, including reconnecting with Pipeline program to make sure that CUNY undergrads are linked to our program in specific ways.  We are also working on recruitment via Admitted Students Day in March; several of us on this committee will meet with prospective students for lunch and talk to them about our work and experiences at the GC. Students on the Diversity Committee are also working to circulate information regarding MFFC and Women of Color Network to program for new students

This semester, Kandice has said we will meet more regularly, and take up the sketching of a longer term (5 year, perhaps) plan for committee objectives. Kandice is currently drafting a revamped mission/objectives statement for this committee, which we will then contribute to as a group.  

Becky, who was present and reported on all the above in person, added that the committee would love to hear ideas/feedback regarding what students would like to see happen in a 5-yr plan. The point was raised that it’s not entirely clear what the diversity committee is supposed to do – i.e. where it interacts/overlaps with other committees (e.g. recruitment).  Esther suggested that if the essential work the Diversity Committee does is to act as liaisons and put people in touch with each other – i.e. coordinating between various committees, and ensuring that the goals/values of the Diversity Committee, and of the program’s commitment to diversity are met – if so, then perhaps the diversity committee would function better simply as coordinators (i.e. have 1 member of each committee be a “diversity liaison” between that committee and the other committees/liaisons), rather than functioning as a totally separate committee. Discussion about how that might be implemented followed.

Executive Committee

Ongoing Effects of the Budget Shortfall on the English Program:

  • Mario reported meeting with President Robinson recently. Meeting was a response to the letter sent by Mario on December 7, 2015 regarding the GC’s response to the budget crisis, particularly as it might impact student funding at admissions and dissertation stage and college-appointed faculty. This letter was signed by 28 others, primarily other Executive Officers and Certificate Program Coordinators. Mario reiterated to President Robinson the spirit in which the letter was sent. President Robinson noted that the letter did not offer possible budget solutions. Mario reported he is attending an upcoming meeting with Professor Robinson and others. Focus of upcoming meeting is an update on the GC budget.
  • Proposed MA degree programs: Mario advised that in the meeting with President Robinson, the idea of programs creating MA degree programs was raised again. This topic also came up in a meeting between President Robinson and APOs. Rationale is that MA programs would generate revenue, help fill under-enrolled courses, and aid in maintaining number of course offerings. Mario was advised that potential MA programs would not compete with MA degree programs at other CUNY colleges and that new MA programs might be interdisciplinary in nature and might draw upon program strengths.
    • Ideas for possible programs mentioned included Queer Studies, Africana Studies, and Graphic Narratives, as well as a program related to publishing or with a connection to internship opportunities. Question was raised whether or not possible discussion around ideas for MA programs would be later extended to the whole program, including students, and Mario said it would.
    • Mario advised by President Robinson that any revenue generated by MA programs administered by English would be credited back to the program.
    • In context of discussion around new MA programs and/or new Certificate Programs, ideas further raised including the possibility of Saturday courses.
    • Possible concerns raised included questions of staffing and support. Specifically, depending on nature of new programs, would students in new programs be administered similarly to or differently from students in currently existing programs? If new programs are geared towards a “service model,” this is a very different situation than existing culture of program and institution. What are staffing or labor issues? What kinds of support for new students might be necessary (the GC does not a Writing Center, for example)?
  • Course units: Mario said the program has 53 course units allocated for next year: 45 courses are scheduled; 4-5 units to be used for next year’s Deputy Executive Officers; and approximately 3 for Independent Studies. Last year, program advised to cut course offerings for college-appointed faculty, but Mario was advised that course units next year could be used as program decides.

Reminder: Students encouraged by Nancy to apply for the Diana Colbert Innovative Teaching Prize. Few students typically apply.

  • Diana Colbert Innovative Teaching Prize:
    Due Monday, April 4. English Program students at any Level are eligible to apply by submitting 3 copies of the attached application packet to Boroka in room 4409. E-mail submission will not be accepted. The Diana Colbert Innovative Teaching Prize honors excellence in course design in three areas: nineteenth-century literature and culture, African American literature and Africana studies, and politics and literature.

No report:


ESA Resolution:

CUNY Solidarity Resolution: Respect Student and Adjunct Demands

A joint effort among CUNY students, faculty, and staff is necessary to reverse the continued attacks on public higher education. The English Student Association (ESA) makes the following demands of CUNY, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), and the Graduate Center English Program. By passing this resolution, we members of the union—adjuncts, instructional technology fellows, teaching fellows, and writing fellows—show our commitment to and genuine solidarity with the most exploited members of CUNY: students and adjuncts.

● We call for the CUNY Board of Trustees to vote for an immediate tuition freeze and roll-back of the 2011-2016 tuition hikes, and for the PSC to pressure the Board to act by making this a central demand in its contract campaign. In advocating racial and economic justice for the working class, the CUNY Board of Trustees and the PSC should refuse to let CUNY fund faculty raises with student tuition increases.

● We call for the PSC to make significant progress toward pay equity for adjunct faculty by increasing the base pay to $7,000 dollars per 3-credit course, and to make this a central demand in its contract campaign. Within the last few years, the Modern Language Association (MLA), Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), and CUNY Doctoral Students’ Council (DSC) have advocated a $7,000 starting salary for 3-credit courses. By refusing to accept pay disparity between CUNY adjuncts and other faculty, the PSC and CUNY can end the reliance on adjuncts as cheap exploitable labor, which harms our students, our union, and our university.

● We call for the PSC to demand real and comprehensive job protection for all through a seniority system by date of hire that doesn’t introduce additional evaluations into the process, and to make this a central demand of its contract campaign. This would prioritize the demand that adjuncts earn a Certificate of Continuous Employment after teaching an average of twelve contact teaching hours a year in the same department in any five of the previous seven years that entitles them to teach a minimum of six contact teaching hours per semester.

● We call for the PSC to demand the elimination of the cap on the number of courses adjuncts can teach at any single CUNY campus. Current restrictions prevent adjunct faculty from teaching courses at campuses where they are already established and when there is still a need.

● We call for the Graduate Center English program to begin a strike fund now in case the payment of those who are part of the English program community, including students and staff, have their pay jeopardized by striking. Prior to 2007, when tuition remission was granted to students teaching at least one class at CUNY, and prior to 2015 when all incoming English program students were funded at the same level by the Graduate Center, the English program routinely worked to “top-up” student funding so that it was equal and to pay tuition costs for its students. This call by the English Student Association is thus in line with the English program’s history of standing with and supporting its students to the best of its ability.

● We call for the English Program Executive Committee as the governing body of the Graduate Center’s English program to formally resolve, in the name of the English Program, to support its students advocating for these demands.

We want students and faculty to take action—even strike—to support a different kind of contract campaign that can express our needs. Strategically, we encourage similar resolutions to be passed in other programs across the Graduate Center and CUNY to cohere collective strength where we study and work that can build upon individual strike pledges that many of us have already signed. In addition, we encourage the English program to build bridges with broader Graduate Center staff (such as security guards, dining services employees, and maintenance workers), including the call for a $15/hr minimum starting wage, which SUNY workers are set to receive but not CUNY workers.

The addition of these demands will strengthen our ability to negotiate, fight, and win.