Professor of English Mark Bauerlein of Emory University reports on a harmonious conference on the humanities. Harmony is all very well, but perhaps the conference might have done better to raise embarrassing questions that might have made it more contentious – such as that English Departments have shifted away from offering traditional literature and instead attempt to attract students with science fiction courses and other trendy subjects.
As I reported in my book, The Lowering of Higher Education in America, The American Council of Trustees and Alumni issued a report in 2007 entitled The Vanishing Shakespeare
that took aim at this trend. The report reported a survey of the requirements for English majors at 70 of America’s leading colleges and universities. ” . . . we defined a college or university as having a Shakespeare requirement when English majors were obliged either to take a course in
Shakespeare or to take two out of three single-author courses in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton.”By this criterion, English majors at only fifteen of seventy major institutions of higher education did have to take a course in Shakespeare, including Harvard University, Catholic University, California Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, Stanford University, and Wellesley College. However, 55 of the 70 did not require its English majors to take a course in Shakespeare, including Princeton, Yale, Brown, Swarthmore College, Williams College, Columbia, Colby College, Carleton College, Bowdoin College, Bryn Mawr College, and Johns Hopkins.
True, English Departments often require students to take courses in expository writing, usually taught by graduate students. But perhaps because many undergraduates do not read traditional literature – many hardly read at all, as Professor Bauerlein has complained in another place – they do not write well and find it difficult to get jobs after graduation. Is it any wonder that parents suspect that a degree in English is not cost-effective?