The conservative North Carolina think-tank The Pope Center recently published a report called The Decline of the English Department, where author Jay Schilin laments the demise of the “crown jewels” of the humanities disciplines now that it has fallen into the hands of, to put it bluntly, Democrats.
These English departments, the report claims, are “entrenched in such left-wing philosophies as multiculturalism, feminism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, and so on.” Instead of teaching “the traditional canon”—Chaucer, Wordsworth, Pope—students now may choose from a diverse selection of curriculum ranging from “African American authors to 1930” and “Southern Women Writers.” All at the cost, the report argues, of the “disintegration of the English and American canon.”
The Pope Center has declared war on English departments in North Carolina.
Why should you care?
When English departments come under fire for not teaching the literary canon, women are being criticized for not restricting their studies to male authors. Courses focused on women, people of color, and underrepresented classes are said to diminish, rather than enhance the value of a degree.
The Pope Center, in its targeting of English departments, has chosen its enemy carefully. In the report, Schilin singles out several classes as exemplar for their vilification: classes taught by minorities, members of the LGBTQ community, and women.
And, as the report pointedly informs its reader, English departments are overwhelmingly populated by Democrats, with only 4 percent of the departments across the state registered as Republican.
The left-leaning, feminist, postmodern, multicultural English department: a stereotype designed to propel the conservative population in the state to action. The report suggests a winnowing down of departments so that they teach “the greatest works of Renaissance, British, and American literature.” Dead white males. Teach them, and only them.
This report scares me. While its audience seems fairly limited, it is influential. Art Pope runs conservative politics in North Carolina. He was essentially responsible for getting Governor McCrory elected, and played a hand in getting former UNC President Tom Ross fired. If The Pope Center is taking aim at UNC English departments in a report, I think it is safe to say that it is more than just a firing of a warning shot off of the bow. It is the beginning of a plan to dismantle free speech in higher education in North Carolina.
We’ve already seen some of the precursors to this plan. Last year, the NC General Assembly introduced a bill that would require all professors in the UNC system to teach a 4-4, which would essentially turn all schools, including flagship Research-I schools like UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State, into teaching schools with no faculty that did research.
The Pope Center has put a bullseye on the backs of English departments across the state, and their report is a warning and a harbinger of ominous things to come. The fight for the future of the humanities has begun. It is a fight over representation, over free speech, and over the right to have all voices—not just the ones who have the most money and power—heard.
Who’s with me?