JANUARY 17, 2023 — The UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts (COLFA) recently celebrated a milestone: the 20th anniversary of its first doctoral offering, a Ph.D. in English. The program admitted its first cohort in 2002 and is one of 27 UTSA doctoral programs.
Since its inception, the program has foregrounded the needs of UTSA and South Texas. For the Ph.D. program at UTSA to gain approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), UTSA had to first demonstrate the need for a new English program in the state. While nearby universities such as UT-Austin and Texas A&M had more generalized English programs at the time, COLFA saw an opportunity to focus on literature and the cultural practices of San Antonio and surrounding Hispanic populations. This attention to borderlands cultures, otherwise underserved in literature, encouraged the THECB to approve the program.
The program’s unique structure emphasizes cross-cultural and transnational approaches to literature and language, and it requires that students take courses in U.S. Latinx literature, and rhetoric and composition. While UTSA students have written their dissertations on such diverse subjects as women in hip-hop, 19th century African American print culture, and rhetoric and composition pedagogy, the vast majority have concentrated on the literature and theory of the U.S./Mexico borderlands region, Chicanx literature and culture, and colonialism and decolonial strategies of resistance.
The program received a significant early boost with the hiring of faculty member Norma Cantu in 2000, now the Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor at Trinity University, the first Ph.D. Graduate Advisor of Record for the program. Cantu was instrumental in developing the program in its crucial early days and forging its direction. Other faculty hires at that time also included Sonia Saldivar-Hull in 2001 and Ben Olguin in 2000, scholars who specialized in Latinx literatures, women studies and critical theory.
“Moving the proposal for the English doctoral program through the various stages of approval proved quite a challenge,” said Mark Bayer, UTSA associate professor of English and department chair. “The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board questioned the need for a Ph.D. program in English amid a challenging national job market in the humanities and the presence of a well-established program at UT-Austin. The program required a unique focus to acquire approval.”
Bayer added, “The notion of cross-cultural and transnational literatures was originally conceived as the U.S., Mexico, Borderlands, but as interest in our program has grown over the years it has made a marked shift to a much more international approach and to address other previously marginalized groups—African American literature, for instance. We have been accepting more and more international students who bring their own unique perspective to the program and grow it in ways we previously could not have imagined.
Since the doctoral program’s beginnings, more than 50 students have received their Ph.D. degrees. The program’s first two Ph.Ds. were awarded to Lori-Beth Rodriguez in spring 2008 and to June Pedraza in summer 2008.
Graduates of the program have gone on to attain faculty positions at such institutions such as SUNY Oswego, Southern Illinois University and the University of British Columbia. Graduates also hold administrative positions as the deputy secretary for education in the state of New Mexico, program manager at the UT Health Science Center and assistant dean at Texas A&M. Today, 27 students are enrolled in the Ph.D. program, most of them fully funded.
“We look forward to seeing where the next 20 years of the English Ph.D. program takes us,” Bayer said. “With the number of high-quality candidates that this program is graduating every semester, we see a competitive future ahead of us for humanities programs at UTSA, in South Texas and across the country.”
Photos from the Twenty Years of the English Ph.D. celebration can be viewed online.
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