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Northwestern Requiring Literature Majors to Take Diversity Courses But Not English, American Literature Survey Courses

Northwestern Requiring Literature Majors to Take Diversity Courses But Not English, American Literature Survey Courses

“axed its mandate that literature majors take a pair of comprehensive English and American literature survey courses”

Another fine example of progressive politics getting higher priority than actual scholarship.

The College Fix reports:

Northwestern no longer requires literature majors take English and American lit survey courses

Northwestern University’s Department of English has axed its mandate that literature majors take a pair of comprehensive English and American literature survey courses.

Starting this fall semester, new literature majors can neglect the two survey classes but will be required to take a pair of “historical breadth classes.” One must cover at least 200 years of pre-1830 writings “from a particular tradition, genre, or theme,” and the other must cover literature after 1830, according to the English Department’s website.

Students will also be required to fulfill “diversity” course requirements in topical areas of specialization, such as “Gender, Sexuality & Embodiment,” “Postcolonial & Comparative Literatures” and “Race & Ethnicity,” the department website states.

Northwestern English students can satisfy their “Gender, Sexuality, and Embodiment” requirement with courses such as “Lesbian Representation in Popular Culture,” “Black Feminist Theory,” and “Sex and the Gothic Girl,” according to the Northwestern course description page.

An email from the English Department explained the change was made to make its majors and minors more “appealing and accessible,” the Daily Northwestern student newspaper reported.

“The department’s two introductory survey courses in English and American literature did not make use of its faculty’s expertise, as few professors could teach these courses,” Julia Stern, Northwestern professor of English and director of undergraduate studies, told the student newspaper in May.

“We had been hiring these fantastic young scholars in African American literature, in Latinx literature, in Asian American literature and in Native American literature,” Stern said. “All of these people were teaching wonderful 200-level courses that weren’t being counted toward the major.”

The Northwestern English department offers majors and minors in two main areas of study: literature and creative writing, its website states.

Literature majors previously had to take the first quarter of either English or American Literary Traditions, both of which run for two quarters, and a second quarter in either the English or American sequence, according to the department website.


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Further cheapening a degree while simultaneously pricing it out of the market.

Go to a vocational school.

“We hired so many people who can’t teach intro lit classes that we decided not to teach them anymore.”


Academics working in the humanities have turned their departments into sterile political wastelands, and none more so than English Lit. majors.

And all too predictably, students have deserted these empty majors, causing enrollment shrinkage and perhaps concern that their departments might no longer be relevant to students’ needs.

So, let’s make them “appealing and accessible” to get them back? Well, maybe, but maybe what’s “appealing and accessible” is not what you think it is? Unfortunately the transformation has been so complete that I doubt they still have the capacity to offer an education that actually educates English literature majors in great literature.

Which at least some students might actually find appealing (although maybe not so “accessible” without some hard work.)

Student enrollment in classes is very important to Departments and professors. If the number of credit hours taught declines, the funding of that Department declines and professors will not get promoted or awarded tenure.

A number of universities responded to the challenge to diversify the faculty by allocating specific funds to hire minority professors. That funding is for a specific period such as 5 or 10 years. After that, the special funding stops and the department has to find another funding source or a way to fit the faculty member into the budget. So, the minority hiring plan is designed for a large majority of those hired to be unable to get tenure.

One criterion for granting tenure is whether the professor is a popular teacher. Steering students into the class with a “distribution requirement” helps the numbers. Another criterion is whether the professor’s publication has been cited in other academic works. By creating new specialized journals in non-tradition specialties like Asian-American Literature helps on that front. (It is easier to write criticism of Amy Tam than to be Amy Tam.)