CRF Blog

Facing My Own Extinction

by Bill Hayes

In Facing My Own Extinction for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nina Handler, the coordinator of English at Holy Names University, argues that the English literature major is dying.

In the academic struggle for existence, English has lost. This is not specific to my university; English has been weak for a while now. According to the Modern Language Association, in the late 1960s and early ’70s, English accounted for about 7.5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees granted in the United States. By 2004, the MLA reported, only 3.47 percent of college students earned bachelor’s degrees in English.

The belletristic tradition is obsolete, and those who once imparted the art of rhetoric now strive to teach basic literacy. English, once a backbone of the university’s structure, has become a little-used organ with only vestigial value — the appendix of academia.

My university still has one course in “philosophy or literature” as part of its general-education requirements, but some institutions have already eliminated even that slight requirement. Soon the only way English will exist is in the form of freshman writing requirements. [more]