The Department of English was established by the Board of Governors in April 1964, and began to offer courses within the Faculty of Arts at the Bachelor level when the University opened in 1965. The Department's offerings were expanded with the addition in 1966 of a Master's program and in 1974 with the approval of a Ph.D. program. The Department was responsible, through its Head, for the promotion of research and the development and delivery of programs in the field of composition and English-language literature. An adjunct to this function was its responsibility to help in the development and instruction in non-departmental programs such as Women's Studies, Fine and Performing Arts, Canadian Studies, and the Humanities minor program.
The Department's activities included participation in University and external associations and committees, and the organization of and participation in conferences. Several faculty members were involved in the publication of literary journals. These include West Coast Review, which began in 1965 and later became independent of the Department; Line, edited by Roy Miki and devoted to the University's Contemporary Literature Collection; and Tessera, a feminist journal edited by Kathy Mezei. In 1990, West Coast Review and Line were joined to form West Coast Line.
The Department was administered by a chair and a number of standing committees, as laid down in a Department constitution in 1968. In the formalized Department Constitution approved 1 August 1975, the Chair was responsible for the overall administration of the Department, which included "The devising and apportioning of the budget; The assignment of teaching duties, with the advice of the Graduate and Undergraduate Curriculum Committees; Calling and conducting Departmental meetings; Mediating all disputes within the Department; [and] Initiating course grade appeal procedures."
The number of Department committees changed greatly over time. In 1965 the Department consisted of five standing committees which had an advisory role: Curriculum (ad hoc), Appointments, Promotions and Salary Increases, Library, and Invited Speakers. There were also loosely organized committees of those teaching each first- and second-year course, usually chaired by the lecturer. By 1968 the number of committees had expanded to ten to include: the Policy Committee; Steering Committee, which was the chief advisory body to the Chair; Honours Committee; Teaching Evaluation Committee; Student Load Committee; Search and Selection Committee; Graduate Admissions Committee; Undergraduate Studies Committee; and West Coast Review, responsible for the publication of the journal.
In the Constitution of 1975, it stated that the Department would consist of four elected and two non-elected standing committees. Those elected committees included the Graduate Curriculum Committee, the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the Departmental Tenure Committee, and the Appointments Committee. Those appointed committees included the Library and Invited Speakers committees. After 1975, a Composition Committee was also struck.