Phi Beta Cons

English Departments in Crisis

English departments across the country are struggling with declining enrollment. For instance, from 2012 to 2014, the University of Maryland’s number of English majors dropped by 40 percent. Unfortunately, many departments have responded in ways that undermine the traditional English curriculum. In today’s Pope Center feature, Jay Schalin, the Center’s director of policy analysis, discusses his recent report, The Decline of the English Department, which focuses on departments within the University of North Carolina system. “By almost any measure, English departments are diminishing numerically, dropping standards, or calcifying into a hard-left intellectual status quo,” he writes. 

Schalin says that, while there are “pockets of excellence” in some English departments, in the main, they have made “drastic changes” to address enrollment declines – some of which involve making courses more trendy and entertaining. Not only are such departments inundating students with politicized courses that address “progressive” issues such as racism and classism, in many instances they are blurring the line between high culture and low culture. One example comes from a Winston-Salem State University professor whose research “examines the interface between Major League Baseball iconography, hip hop aesthetics and the decline of African American involvement in the sport of baseball.” 

“As the English discipline moves farther away from its core of the greatest works of English, American, and European literature, either to attract students or for political reasons, its very reason for existing is reduced,” writes Schalin. “[This] does not mean that the study of great literature will die. While Many English departments may indeed become incongruous catch-all majors for students who just want any degree, or become highly politicized niche programs for politically motivated students (joining such departments as gender studies), others may shrink to their core in order to keep the traditional literary canon alive.” Read more here

Jesse SaffronJesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...


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