Through years and tears the English department had many fine secretaries, most serving for two or three years. Easily one of the most long-serving and colorful was Joyce Baggerly, secretary for thirteen years from 1989 to 2002. She had been a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, and although she did not wear her uniform as secretary, she might well have. Always fair, efficient, and even compassionate when absolutely necessary, Joyce did not suffer fools gladly, nor did she tolerate pompous BYU bureaucrats nor whining, conniving students. Given her voice echoing down the halls from the office, her military manner, and her belief in rules and policy, Joyce was a much-loved presence in the department office, and her retirement was much regretted.
After serving as associate academic vice-president for five years, Neal E. Lambert was called as a mission president. After returning from his mission, and only after a year of getting back into scholarship and teaching, Lambert was appointed the new chair in 1991 to succeed Bert Wilson. However, this was not an easy time to be chair. A political polarity between liberals and conservatives had developed, focusing on feminism, abortion vs. pro-life, and cultural studies. The national press and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) had become involved in airing departmental problems. Even BYU’s accrediting associations began to raise questions about department issues. Through correspondence, General Authorities told Lambert to solve the department’s glaring problems. A brief anecdote illustrates the extent of Lambert’s distress: A faculty member looking through his office door one day and seeing Lambert staring out the window quipped, “Don’t jump, Neal. It isn’t high enough.”
However, all was not lost. Although involved in solving problems, Lambert worked to emphasize scholarship by hiring only the most promising new faculty, particularly women at equal salaries with men. At this time there were no important curriculum issues. Lambert started the discussion in the department that would eventually lead to the language faculty moving to the Linguistics Department. In 1989, Rex E. Lee became BYU’s tenth president. Far-sighted, he along with his academic vice president, Todd Britsch, gave Lambert and his successors needed support, as did Randall Jones, then dean of the College.
Through the years, because of the generosity of faculty, families of faculty, and other friends, the department was able to establish a gratifying number of student prizes, awards, and recognitions, which are presented at an annual English Department Awards Banquet. Those include the following: Writing Awards—Elsie C. Carroll Essay Contest, Hart-Larson Poetry Contest, Ann Doty Fiction Contest, Criterion Prize for Literary Criticism, Locutorium: A Place for Criticism, Thayer Freshman Writing Award, Vera Hinckley Mayhew Creative Arts Contests (poetry, short story, essay), Writer’s Portfolio Contest, William A. & Hannele B. Wilson Folklore Collecting Prize, La Verna S. Clark Creative Writing Scholarship, Carolyn Barnes Poetry Award, and Academy of American Poets (BYU Chapter) Contest; Academic Awards—Orea B. Tanner Memorial Award, Mae Blanch Award, Edwin M. and Dessie W. Thomas Scholarship Awards for Excellence, Oleta Jex Bybee Scholarship, Naoma Rich Earl Scholarship, Alberta Huish Christensen Schoarship, and English Teaching Student of the Year Award; Awards for Graduate Students in English—Ed M. and Minnie Berry Rowe Award for Excellence in Teaching, Parley and Ruth Christensen Memorial Awards, and Clinton F. and Naomi B. Larson Scholarship. At the banquet the department also awards to three deserving full-time faculty for excellence in teaching, research and citizenship.
In 1995, C. Jay Fox replaced Lambert as department chair, and C. Jay Fox was appointed (the provost and the academic vice-president required two hours to convince him to accept the appointment). During Fox’s tenure the department started awarding faculty research grants, established an annual department retreat to discuss curricular concerns, formalized the faculty mentoring process, and went through a highly successful accreditation report and graduate program review. Fox chaired a college committee to establish guidelines for teaching literary texts. John Tanner, associate academic vice president and member of the department, added guidelines for visual material, and the resulting document became university policy.
Because the department had become so large (1,224 majors in 1995) and specialized, Fox continued former chair Neal Lambert’s discussion with the faculty about the merits of dividing the department.
As in the past, the department continued to hold the annual potluck dinner and Faculty Follies at Timp Lodge above Sundance in Provo Canyon, including mini-musicals, satirical pieces, even at times genuine talent. Two memorable performances were Elouise Bell dressed as Brunhilde (horned helmet and knee-length blonde pigtails) singing in duet “Indian Love Song” with Jack McKendrick, and Karen Lynn Davidson dressed as a gypsy and playing the violin to her dancing bear (again McKendrick in appropriate costume). Using the same gifts listed above, the department faculty also sometimes entertained students for an evening.
On a much more sober note, critical theory has a long history as a part of English studies. Moral criticism was perhaps the first, as critics as far back as Aristotle tried to understand the purpose of literature and its impact and value on the moral life of its audience and the general public. Over time, other critical approaches have included formalism, New Criticism, structuralism/semiotics, neo-Aristotelian, Freudian, Jungian, and Marxist criticism in the 1930s; reader-response, post-structuralism/deconstruction, and feminism in the 1960s; and gender studies, new historicism, multi-cultural studies, and post-colonial studies from the 1970s to the present. There were no clear demarcation lines for these various critical approaches, many of them overlapping and either continuing or waning. Sometimes popular and sometimes not, critical theory eventually became highly politicized and philosophical. However popular various critical approaches became, some faculty were less enthusiastic about them, arguing that criticism had become more important than literature, the literature useful only as a means to discuss criticism. David Cowles, with help from other faculty, created a theory reader which helped generate understanding and acceptance of various critical approaches favored by the faculty.
The faculty favored or reflected these approaches in teaching; however, in the early 1990s some felt that the department was not keeping current and also not introducing English majors early enough to critical theory. The upshot was that new majors taking English 251 (Fundamentals of Literary Interpretation and Criticism), a required introductory course, had to attend thirteen lectures, one each week, on a different kind of criticism. This lasted for several years, when the lectures were dropped in favor of a more general approach to criticism, with the students being introduced to two or three critical modes, depending on an instructor’s interests.
The early 1990s also saw an increasing number of retiring faculty who had been hired in the decades after World War II, including Gordon K. Thomas, Frank K. Horton, John S. Harris, John A. Thomas, David L. Evans, Elouise M. Bell, Byron W. Gassman, Darwin L. Hayes, Joyce S. Hooker, Susan E. Ream, Charles D. Tate, Soren F. Cox, Richard G. Ellsworth, and Ray S. Williams. New faculty hired at this time were C. Penny Bird, A. Keith Lawrence, Cynthia L. Hallen, Jesse S. Crisler, Christopher E. Crowe, Lance E. Larsen, Daniel K. Muhlestein, Brandie R. Siegfried, Gideon O. Burton, Nancy L. Christiansen, Louise R. Plummer, Don W. Chapman, Zina N. Petersen, Joyce Nelson, Peter J. Sorensen, Claudia W. Harris, Paul J. Baltes, Gail T. Houston, Cecilia Koncher Farr, Brian K. Evenson, and Michael N. Madsen.
In hiring, the department searched for new faculty who would be strong department citizens, teachers, and scholars. Regarding scholarship, the department looked for those who had already as doctoral students begun to publish and had a projected research and publication schedule that would enable them to pass rigorous third-year and sixth-year reviews in scholarship, citizenship and teaching, before receiving continuing status. Moving toward more scholarly specialization during the previous twenty years, most faculty had begun routinely presenting papers at scholarly conferences, publishing articles and creative works in journals, and authoring an increasing number of books published by scholarly presses. The minimum department expectation became one solid scholarly article or creative piece per year, with some faculty publishing two and three. When a faculty member publishes a book, he or she is recognized at an informal luncheon where a colleague introduces the work.
Merrill J. Bateman became president of BYU in 1996. Because Bateman was the first General Authority to serve as president, there was some faculty concern about how future decisions would be made and university policies and programs developed. In an early get-acquainted-with-the-president college meeting, a concerned member of the English Department asked Bateman if, in fact, all discussion with the administration was at an end because all of his decisions would be inspired and therefore never subject to question. Smiling, Bateman said no, they would not be—much to the relief of assembled faculty.