English Departments Fail

It’s not a secret that the humanities is always in line for termination. Arguments have been made on both sides for and against this. Being a part of this world, whether as an undergraduate, graduate, or faculty member means having an argument at the ready about why anyone should bother with your field and others like it.

It took four years of participating in an English department to understand fully what about my curriculum need major revision. Aside from committee meetings and job security, the curriculum of a department is its most important asset. A successful set of classes means that we get to keep our department funded, and professors who are not contracted through the university long-term get to keep their jobs. It also means a slew of other things, but I won’t bore you with those details. Essentially, departments are like offices within a company, all of whom are responsible for their own production of revenue. More students equals more money. More money makes a happy university.

An interesting, results-oriented, and modern curriculum may be the answer to everything. English departments fail when they become irrelevant. Curriculum focus on analysis of canon-text which includes mostly outdated materials. Every English major is exposed to Shakespeare, Chaucer, Wordsworth, and others – as the list goes on. Recognizing the literary canon is an asset in the literary community, but too much focus on the materials of the canon leaves little room for new thought and productivity. Shakespeare is wonderful. One of my favorite pieces of all time is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But Shakespeare has been analyzed to death.

Graduate departments aren’t what they used to be. Have fun obtaining a Ph.D. in anything before the year 1800. The point of a Ph.D. is to make a careful analysis of text with your own original point of view. Then you must produce a book-length text of your own from this analysis that is based on an original argument. It can be a daunting task to unearth original ideas, but if you can do it, bravo.

I’m not sure if anyone told you this, but being a student of English has nothing to do with reading old texts. An English student is an investigator, a philosopher, and a writer. Being able to be those three things means you have a better chance of finding a job in a literary field.

An English program should be centered on analysis of modern texts that utilize literary theory of all kind. The best class I have ever attend, and the one that I got the most out of, was the class that taught me how to analyze and write a paper. It’s disgusting that it took me four years to know how to write a thesis or a good paper. That should be the goal of the department from day one. You shouldn’t even be allowed to exist until you’ve learned how to identify and write a compelling argument. The modern texts I’ve discussed are a great outlet for this. A newer text creates a more productive discussion, and it creates relevance for both the field and the texts being read.

With changes to a curriculum that includes a more updated approach, we can turn to our opponents and say, “How can you be rid of those ushering you into a new era of media study?” All media – printed text, video, music – is considered text we study now. None of it is off-limits to our analysis. We won’t fade into obscurity. Rather, we will be the critics of our age, and perhaps the written word and the English department won’t die with this new generation.