Departmental Distinction Guidelines

I. Departmental Distinction at St. Olaf College

Each department’s faculty may award “Departmental Distinction” to selected graduating majors at Commencement.  The department’s faculty determines the criteria for such distinction and the special opportunities that will be made available to encourage students to develop special abilities and achieve distinction, subject to guidelines established by the Special Studies Subcommittee and administered by the office of the Associate Dean of the College.

Departmental Distinction should go to those students who have those qualities most valued in their discipline.  The definitive criterion is the student’s demonstrated ability to produce independently work of the highest scholarly or artistic standard consonant with his or her training.

II.   English Department Policy on Departmental Distinction

The Department of English seeks to foster an understanding of, and appreciation for, the nature and function of language and literature; to promote knowledge of literatures written in English; and to teach the skills of critical thinking and verbal expression.

In the awarding of departmental distinction, the department recognizes those students who have maintained a strong academic record in the discipline and who have engaged in literary or linguistic activities of distinction.

Departmental distinction will be awarded on the basis of:

1)    the candidate’s overall record in the discipline, and

2)   on a written project submitted by a candidate in his or her senior year.

III.   Procedures

A.  Eligibility

To be eligible to be a candidate for departmental distinction, a student must have completed a minimum of seven graded courses in the major, six of which must have been taught by St. Olaf College faculty. The combined GPA of all graded courses in the major taught by St. Olaf faculty must be 3.5 or above. Students may apply at the beginning of either the fall semester or the spring semester of their senior year.

B.   Distinction Project

The distinction project may either be a piece of critical writing or a creative project.  If it is a piece of critical writing, it must not exceed 7,000 words in length (approximately 25 pages, excluding notes, bibliography, illustrations, and appendices).  A word count of the main body of the text must be included.  Both critical and creative projects must use a 12 point font or larger.  Creative projects submitted for distinction should constitute a significant body of work; generally speaking, we recommend 12 pages (or more) of poetry and 18-40 pages of prose. In the case of creative projects, students are encouraged to devise and discuss an appropriate undertaking both with their supervisors and with the Departmental Distinction Coordinator. Students considering distinction are encouraged to examine past projects, which are house in the English office.

C.   Paths to a Distinction Project

Most distinction projects that comprise a piece of critical writing have their origin in course work.  English 399 is a particularly good opportunity to start a distinction project.  (Note:  Students who may wish to take this path to distinction will need to take English 399 no later than the Interim of their senior year, that is, the spring of their junior year or the fall semester or Interim of their senior year.)  Projects may also have their origin in other courses, or in personal or independent reading.

A particular writer, work, theme, critical issue, or genre attracts a student’s attention, and he or she decides to pursue further study in the area.  This can be done in two ways, either under formal or informal supervision.  In both cases, the student must choose a faculty member from within the department who is willing to supervise the project.

Creative projects, like their critical counterparts, might have their origin in creative writing courses, or in a student’s own independent writing.  They too can be undertaken either through formal or informal supervision.

“Formal supervision” means Independent Research under the direction of the faculty member.  An IR is best done in the fall semester or the Interim of the senior year.  It can also be done in the spring semester of the senior year, though the deadline for submission of the completed project is in April.

“Informal supervision” means the student works with the faculty member not within the framework of an IR but on any basis that is agreeable to them both.  In other words, it is not necessary to take an IR to complete a distinction project. If a student’s distinction project has originated in a class, the department strongly recommends that the student find a supervisor other than the instructor of that class.

D.  Evaluation

Distinction projects will be evaluated by a three-person departmental committee.  The Departmental Distinction Coordinator, in consultation with the department chair, will establish this committee and name its convener.  If a member of the committee is the supervisor of a distinction project being considered by the committee, then he or she will be replaced on the committee for the evaluation of that project.

The evaluation committee will receive the completed projects within a week of their submission. The committee may, if it wishes, ask for revisions or changes to be made in projects, but these should be of a kind as will enable a project to be completed by the date set for the committee to make its recommendations to the department.

The committee, through its convener, should deliver its evaluation to the department. This recommendation must then be endorsed by the English faculty as a whole for a student to be awarded distinction.

IV.   Timetable (2013-2014)

The Department will notify junior majors informing them of the criteria, procedures, and timetable pertaining to departmental distinction and inviting them to become candidates for distinction.  Students who feel that they will meet the eligibility requirements for candidacy might begin planning their work at this stage (selecting a possible supervisor, registering for an IS or IR, and so forth).

Monday, October 28, 2013 (Senior Year)–Fall Application Deadline:  Students who have met the eligibility requirements may submit their application to the Departmental Distinction Coordinator by this date.

Friday, February 21, 2014 (Senior Year)–Spring Application Deadline:  Students who have met the eligibility requirements may submit their application to the Departmental Distinction Coordinator by this date.

Monday, April 14, 2014 (Senior Year)–Project Deadline:  By this date three copies of the completed project must be submitted to the Administrative Assistant in the English Department.

Monday, April 28, 2014 (Senior Year):  Evaluation Committee reports to the Department.

Friday, May 2, 2014 (Senior Year):  Candidates who are recommended for distinction are notified by this date, and the Department forwards its recommendations to the Registrar’s Office.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 (Senior Year): Candidates who are recommended for distinction must bring one complete, clean copy of their project to the English Department Office by this date.

V. Departmental Distinction Coordinator

Coordinator for 2013-14: Karen Marsalek

September, 2013