Alumni Appeal to Save SXU’s English Programs

[This letter was written as a plea to former students to solicit support for retaining the English and English Secondary Education majors at SXU.]

Dear Alum:
I hope this letter finds you well. I apologize for reaching out only in a time of need, and I hope you might indulge me by reading my plea to you. I am posting this blog as part of an outreach effort to my past students—so if you know of any friends who attended SXU with you, could you please forward this blog to them?
I am asking for help in saving the English and English Education Programs at SXU. The current leaders in administration have a different vision for the university than those of us who have built our English and humanities programs—specifically, the program you took when you were a student here. 
English, and by extension, English Education, are two of many liberal arts programs that are on the chopping block as the university seeks to restructure itself. Those of us who teach in the programs believe the thinking that has led to this decision is flawed—on many levels. First of all, we feel the quality of our programs makes a strong recommendation for their continuance. On a more pragmatic level, we feel we have had and currently do have enough students across our programs to make them viable. And even more pragmatically, we feel that the urgent societal need for teachers puts us in a position to grow and provide a strong formation for the next generation of English teachers throughout Illinois (and elsewhere). On a less pragmatic level, we believe that some of the traditional values of higher education—an immersion in the humanities, the cultivation of critical thinking, the study and pursuit of “the good life,” are still relevant to society and individuals alike as we face an increasingly uncertain future, one that needs a clearer discernment and appreciation of priorities.

[NOTE: the University is proposing to retain a form of English Education by moving the program over to the Department of Education, but without the English major, the content of the Secondary Education Program will likely be gutted, as the Education department lacks the faculty and resources needed to cover the range of material that our full major has contained.]
We feel that our society needs people who are educated in literature, language, writing, and culture, and that the work we do has value—for our students themselves, for the professions they work in, for their communities—and, for those who have become teachers, for all the students they—you—teach. I’m incredulous that I need to be making this argument. 
But at SXU, administrators are looking at national trends in higher education, and a few powerful people have jumped full force into a view of higher ed that is much more career and skill oriented—not to mention limited in options—than has been true in the past. These trends extend beyond SXU, and the movement away from a traditional liberal arts program is being propelled by many societal factors—including the impact of the Internet/social media; critiques of the expense of higher education; new perspectives on the value of a college degree; changing workplaces as a result of the pandemic; and more.
I hope you had a positive experience as an English or English Education major at SXU. I hope, in the intervening time between your studies here and your current situation, you have had moments of reflection, where a book you read, a paper you wrote, a discussion—in or out of class—prompted some intrigue and growth in your mind. I hope you can summon up the good will to remember the best intentions of your professors in providing formative experiences that stretched you, and helped you think and feel in challenging and supportive and innovative ways.
So here is my plea: Would you be willing to jot down a few words of support—something we can use to help our administrators see that they are being far too extreme in contemplating the elimination of liberal arts majors in English, Spanish, sociology, math, philosophy, and religious studies (for starters)? Please say yes, and, if you feel comfortable doing so, please share your testimonial (it doesn’t have to be long!) by simply posting a comment below in response to this blog entry. If you prefer to send a private message, you can email any of the professors still teaching in the program. I’ve included their names with links to their email addresses below. I also have links to SXU’s administration and Board of Trustees (who will possibly decide on program elimination as soon as its June meeting in a few weeks), and to our founders, the Sisters of Mercy.
I have had a blessed career at SXU as a professor, and my heart is breaking, frankly, when I see the changes we are experiencing—the loss of colleagues, the diminishing support for students, the disinvestment in programs to such an extent whereby the move to close them down completely is just a small sideways step after a long process of being worn down.
Ever the optimist, I hope for a better day, one brought on through action and persuasion—through good use of language and good stories. We have those things, and so, please do what you can, if you feel so motivated, to help us persist and continue our work.
And if you wish to contact me to just chat, please do that too!
Wishing you well–Angelo
Current English Faculty of the Department of Language ad Literature
Angelo Bonadonna
Norman Boyer
John Gutowski
Aisha Karim
Mary Beth Tegan

SXU Administration
SXU Board of Trustees
SXU Provost, Saib Othman

SXU Founders
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
• Conference for Mercy Higher Education (Julia Cavalo, Executive Director)

8 thoughts on “Alumni Appeal to Save SXU’s English Programs”

  1. I have been a part of the English department at four major universities in the Chicago area and while I do not compare those experiences against each other, contend that my education at SXU has truly shaped who I am as an English teacher today. Had it not been for professors like Dr. Boyer, Dr. Bonadonna, Dr. Karim and others who taught me the value of both mirror and lens in literature in addition to the power of voice, perspective, and authorial choices, my teaching would lack depth and dimension. The future of our world is at stake here – this decision will potentially deprive hundreds of thousands of students the opportunity to learn the communication skills, analysis skills, and critical thinking skills necessary to be true global citizens in an age when our society has expanded to encompass the entire known world.

  2. The English department at SXU provides an excellent and thought-provoking education that has undoubtedly made me the English teacher that I am today. Teachers like Dr. Boyer and Dr. Bonadonna inspired me to challenge my students. I know a young lady who I inspired to become an English teacher who is currently pursuing that degree at SXU, and I would be devastated to hear what restructuring or eliminating this department would mean for her. I hope the university rethinks this decision for the sake of our future leaders.

  3. The English program, specifically the English Education program, at SXU provided me with unparalleled preparation to become an English teacher at the High School level. Throughout my time in the program, I was exposed to not only a wide range of literature and writing experiences, but also best practice teaching methodologies. The faculty were experts in the fields of education and English, and were always looking forward and adapting to the latest technologies that were being implemented in schools. I specifically remember “building” webpages and how new this was in education at the time (2006-2010), and that experience 13 years ago unknowingly prepared me for pandemic virtual teaching. In my career, I continue to draw on my experiences at SXU even now, 11 years into my career. When I began teaching, even as a novice, I was well equipped. Within a few short years, I quickly became known as a “go to” model teacher for new teachers. Saint Xavier has a well earned reputation for producing quality educators. Teaching candidates from other universities (and I know having worked with student teachers from NIU and other colleges) pale in comparison. Most importantly, Dr. Bonnadonna and Dr. Boyer took personal interest in each student’s development as teachers and individuals and countless others will miss that opportunity if these programs are cut.

  4. Enrolling in the English Education program at Saint Xavier University was a life-altering and life-affirming decision, one from which I’m still reaping the benefits, ten years post-graduation. Not only did I receive a transformative educational experience, but I also honed a lifelong love of learning and practiced my pursuit of knowledge in a way that benefited me personally and professionally.

    The humanities programs at SXU are what make it such a special place to have attended. My professors modeled empathy, rigor, honesty, integrity, and pure humanity. I learned so much about being part of a community and being a positive contributor to society.

    To illustrate this, I’d like to highlight my thoughts on two of the English Education professors I shared experiences with during my time at SXU. The entire faculty is fantastic, but I had transformational experiences with both Dr. Bonadonna and Dr. Boyer that should be honored.

    Even though I moved over 700 miles away, I still recognize Dr. Angelo Bonadonna as my “second father.” Dr. Bonadonna’s courses provided rigor, high expectations, and, above all else, he modeled empathy. His dedication to the English Education program and to his students was second to none. I asked him to be my student teaching and capstone mentor because his teaching pedagogy matched what I hoped mine could be some day. I am the empathetic, loving, considerate, and rigorous teacher I am today because of his willingness to be present and dedicated daily.

    The passion and activism displayed by Dr. Norman Boyer lit a fire within me that has yet to be diminished, much less extinguished. Dr. Boyer used his platform as a professor in the English department to highlight important societal issues and foster discussions about social justice with the diverse population of students in his classes. One of the core missions and values of the Sisters of Mercy is the importance of social justice and critical concerns like human rights, violence, and racism — and Dr. Boyer facilitated these conversations daily. His advocacy encourages mine every day, and I fight for the rights of my students with the same tenacity and intelligence he has displayed because of this strong example.

    Ten years after my departure from SXU, I’m finishing my tenth year of teaching. I am an award-winning educator, and my students tell me I’m giving them the same transformative experience my SXU program and professors gave me years ago. I am continuing in the tradition of excellence, well-roundedness, and human-ness that was instilled in me through my English Education program at SXU. I would truly not change my experience for anything, and I hope this experience continues to be afforded to those who attend SXU in perpetuity.

  5. I graduated from SXU in 2007. Dr Bonadonna and Dr. Boyer had a huge impact on my education. I look back fondly at our discussions and feel like they helped form my foundations as an educator. I value my time spent in the English Education program, and I hope to see it continue at the University.

  6. My name is Sara Peace (Salman) and I graduated from Saint Xavier University with my major in English Secondary Education in 2017. Since then, I have taught at both the middle school and high school levels. As a teacher, you develop a lot of foundational skills in education in college, but it’s a fraction of what you can expect when you are actually teaching in the classroom. Yet, because of teachers like Dr. Bonadonna, Dr. Boyer, Dr. Teagan, and Dr. Karim- I do not just tolerate the ever-changing landscape in the educational world, I excel in it. The foundation, the knowledge, and the enrichment that I learned from my courses with those educators have shaped me to be a great teacher. The English department is more than just reading books- its exploration, its critical thinking, its developing ideas, its understanding the complexities of the world around you, its discussion, its sharing, its creation, and its universal in however you approach it.

    My journey at Saint Xavier gave me the support and knowledge to be where I am now. When I think of the all the good moments the first things that come to my mind are reading A Doll’s House with Dr. Boyer, A Hundred Years of Solitude with Dr. Karim, discussing Persuasion with Dr. Tegan, and with Dr. Bonadonna- there is no singular moment for me, because without him at Saint Xavier University I would not be the educator I am today. No matter what my classroom has looked like- every year I make sure we have weekly time for Silent Sustained Writing because of him. My journey as an educator would have been incomplete and laughable if it were not for the English department at Saint Xavier University.

    We already face a teacher shortage, where underqualified people are being put in the classroom and those that are qualified are underpaid and underappreciated. The answer is not strip away their education. An English teacher without an English background is not a teacher at all. How do you expect your future educators to stand in front of a room of students and be an authority on their subject matter when they never learned it themselves?! We need to be authorities on what we teach. The critical thinking skills and the way you explore texts are what allows us to be ready for any questions, discussion, or curiosity we get to nourish in the classroom. Education is a science, but English is an art… we need both to be great and we need both for our students to be great.

    I urge you to rethink the decision to cut these programs. The English program at Saint Xavier University was one I was happy that I got to experience and learn from all it had to offer. Without it, you are setting up a generation of Saint Xavier students to fail on paths after graduation.

  7. I graduated from Saint Xavier University in the spring of 2020, when the school was already beginning to make drastic changes in the once “School of Education” now “Department of Education.” That reduction was just the beginning, and now, upon hearing of SXU’s plans to reduce and eventually eliminate the Secondary Education/English Dept. at the university, I am, quite frankly, infuriated; Infuriated at the school for considering the removal of such an important program, but also, infuriated for our university’s founders and how its current leaders are no longer embracing and emphasizing its core values.
    How can the school preach “lifelong learning” if it is cutting the English Secondary Education program? This program alone instilled that in me as a student and current educator, to which I am able to instill those same values in my students now, thanks for my wonderful SXU professors.

    What would our world be without the promotion of critical thinking, empathy, and humanities in general? If SXU moves forward with this, the university is clearly showing it does not value its own mission any longer, and, in the process, further devaluing education just like the rest of the country has done in the past few years. I just can’t imagine SXU without this program. I can’t imagine having gone to any other university to become a teacher or taught by professors other than Dr. Bonadonna, Dr. Tegan, and Dr. Boyer, among others. It’s simply incomprehensible.

    My program and professors shaped me into the young woman and educator I am today, and it saddens me thinking there will no longer be a program available to SXU students with an interest in English/education.

    I often reflect on my time at SXU and my professors are ALWAYS the first things that come to mind: their grace, their intelligence, their passion, and their true dedication to their students. I recently found myself rereading their letters of recommendation for me and was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude for them and all they have taught and instilled in me as a student and educator.

    Their impact is greater than you will ever know. The English Education program made me who I am and, without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

  8. I have Family members who have graduated from this Outstanding University and have made impact in Education and their Community.

    It would be a travesty to deprive our young people if well-rounded Education —- Our Society needs Free and Independent Thinkers and not Followers. That was the Mission of the Founders, The Sisters of Mercy.

    DO NOT SURRENDER TO THE STATUS QUO – Stand Out With PRIDE and HONOUR — DO NOT DEPRIVE OUR YOUNG PEOPLE —- Our Beautiful Shall Reap the Benefits for Years to Cone!!

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