One of the last old-school holdouts in the increasingly politically correct world of higher education is succumbing to this academic trend, leaving alumni of Sewanee, the University of the South, glad that they have graduated.
Actually, the school itself may be leaving the South, at least in name. When the school hired a Chicago-based marketing firm to determine why it had dropped in U.S. News and World Report’s annual rankings of American colleges and universities, the company recommended a name change.
Lipman Hearne, Inc., concluded that the school was dropping on the list because, in their words, “the South can often raise negative associations before it sparks positive ones.” Their research led them to this analysis, despite every population shift in the United States over the past quarter century moving below the Mason-Dixon line.
Sewanee, in Tennessee, is owned by the Southern Diocese of the Episcopal Church. The children of many Episcopal priests and bishops have attended Sewanee, and novelist William Faulkner’s personal papers are stored there.
Lipman Hearne also concluded that the woman to take a fresh look at Sewanee’s curricula and customs was Smith College president Mary Maples Dunn. Many at Sewanee wish that they had never laid eyes on her or she on them and their curricula.
“In 20 years you won’t know the place,” Dunn gushed to Sewanee’s Board of Trustees in 1998. She outlined for them exactly what she had in mind.
“There are, as yet, few courses here in gender studies or human sexuality; the words gay and lesbian don’t appear,” Dunn pointed out to the Board.
“There is no major or minor in women’s studies, or in African American Studies, there is relatively (to other top-notch liberal arts institutions) little non-western material (the near absence of the mid-east is rather striking), but I would argue that these are all on the way, and that Sewanee is on the verge of considerable change in the curriculum.”
If you go to Sewanee’s website, you will find that the university now has a Women’s Studies Department with course offerings such as “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies.” This course provides “a survey of the history, politics, culture, psychology, biology, and literature of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgendered people.”
And Sewanee did change its name from “Sewanee, the University of the South” to “Sewanee: The University of the South.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.