Through the donations of an endowed chair, Truman State University Department of English and Linguistics receives roughly $75,000 annually and uses the funds to bring in specialized education for students each semester.
The Clayton B. Ofstad Endowed Chair is a gift in honor of a former language and literature professor. After his death, his wife, Odessa Ofstad, chose to honor his legacy at the University with an endowment.
The donation is divided between the English and literature, linguistics, and creative writing programs within the department all receive a third of the $75,000 each year. The funds are earmarked for visiting scholars to travel to Truman and teach subject matter that Truman professors do not have the resources to teach themselves. Visiting professors can teach for seven weeks during the fall semester or one week in the spring.
“Typically, an endowed chair, the way that it works is they say, ‘Okay, professor at Truman, we’re going to give you the semester or the year off and we’re going to pay your salary,’” linguistics professor Luke Amoroso said. “But that’s not what’s happening. We’re going to bring in people that don’t do what we do, and it allows us, as teachers, to interact with people in our larger field. And it’s better for the students because it’s fresh blood.”
Six visiting professors travel to Truman each year to teach within the Department of English and Linguistics through the Ofstad Chair. Amoroso, tasked with scouting potential scholars for the linguistics program, asks his students what they would be interested in learning about, and with their feedback, he searches to find professors from around the world to come share their expertise and teach.
Mary Shapiro, English and Linguistics department chair, said experts in the past have come to teach about subjects such as endangered languages, language documentation, American women in literature, digital humanities and writing about taboo topics.
For the fall of 2019, linguistics students can follow along in a seven-week course about African click languages and English students can enroll in a class about rhetorical perspectives on data and the knowledge economy.
Senior Molly Thal took a visiting professor’s class on Mayan hieroglyphics in spring 2018. The professor and the linguistics students in the class met a few hours every night for one week, and he gave them an introduction to the language’s structure and symbols.
“Truman has an awesome staff, but there are limitations — budget, how many professors we can have in a certain department, that kind of thing,” said Thal. “Truman has great resources, but not constant access to them, so the fact that we could bring in an actual specialist to talk about something that we never would have even heard about was fantastic.”
Royce Kallerud, former English and Linguistics department chair, said the donations currently funding the Ofstad Chair initially went towards the creative writing program, but when the visiting professor experience was so well received by faculty and students, Odessa Ofstad donated additional funds, and the University was then able to reach students in the entire department.
Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Bachelor of Science in Linguistics and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing are all eligible to enroll in the courses taught by specialists in their fields.
“What we’re trying to do is get students a broader range of experience and the chance to work with faculty, scholars, writers that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter at Truman,” said Kallerud. “We’re really just trying to make an enriched experience for students and make it so that it can be available to every student in the department, regardless of their major.”