“The Decline of the English Department”

"What are the causes for this decline? There are several, but at the root is the failure of departments of English across the country to champion, with passion, the books they teach and to make a strong case to undergraduates that the knowledge of those books and the tradition in which they exist is a human good in and of itself. What departments have done instead is dismember the curriculum, drift away from the notion that historical chronology is important, and substitute for the books themselves a scattered array of secondary considerations (identity studies, abstruse theory, sexuality, film and popular culture). In so doing, they have distanced themselves from the young people interested in good books."

From the American Scholar,“The Decline of the English Department.” (A good, long article on the state of English departments. Thanks, Dan, for the link.)

As an English major who currently works at a business school, I think the decreased enrollments in English departments has less to do about professors championing great works and more about career paths. My biggest complaints about English departments are that they do a terrible job helping students map out a career path other than teaching, writing, or editing.

Where I work, we talk about value propositions and return on investments constantly. So when a student decides to invest in a college education, he/she needs some sort of guarantee or assurance that when they leave college they’ll be able to find a job that pays a decent wage. No guarantees in this market, but that’s why I think business is a no brainer while the career path of an English major is less definable.

When I graduated Old Dominion University as an undergrad, I was told over and over again, “Don’t worry. With an English degree, you can do anything—work anywhere.” I think I was told that because English majors have such a general skill set. It took me two years to find decent work.

It’s been my experience that liberal arts majors leave college making the least about of money of any other degree program. Unless you teach, write, or edit, you really have to find a career path that’s flexible enough to match what the job market offers at any given time. Good-paying writing and editing positions are few and far between. And most of us know what it’s like to teach as an adjunct with only the slim hope of someday achieving tenure.

I'm of two minds when it comes to this conversation. But, I just love this quote that Gwendolyn Rosemond posted on my Facebook page after I posted the article, referring to those who choose business over English as a major: “They don't know what they are missing … especially if they think business will get them through the bad times.”


Jessie Carty said…
i also like the quote your friend posted :)

i didn't give a lot of thought to my major. i was originally in education, knowing i was going to teach then finished up english because i was enjoying the lit and writing courses.

i took the first job i was offered - insurance claims adjuster - did it for 9 years but SOOO glad to be out of it.

i think, in general, liberal arts colleges don't really do much to prepare their students for the job market.

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