It might not be seismic, but there is a shift in academia away from the faddish and back towards the traditional. “Relativists are an endangered species on America’s campuses, and in 30 years they will probably be extinct—or, if not, then sequestered in made-up departments that are denigrated by the rest of the faculty and eyed predatorily by budget directors on the lookout for programs to cut,” Helen Rittelmeyer writes in the September 2012 issue of The American Spectator. “The Yale English department is a good example.”
“In the directory for tenured and tenure-track faculty, ‘Marxist literary theory’ is listed by five professors among their fields of interest, ‘gender and sexuality’ by 11, or a quarter of the 44 professors.” Rittelmeyer is a Yale graduate.
“In the graduate student directory, however, the numbers for those subjects are one, three and a fat goose egg,” Rittelmeyer relates. “That’s quite a statistical drop-off, considering that grad students outnumber professors nearly two to one.”
“The topics favored instead by these future scholars are Romanticism (six), Victorian literature (five), Milton (seven), and oddly enough, religious literature.” Moreover, some budding scholars are so interested in the last of these that their specific interests get rather esoteric.
“Honorable mentions include ‘Biblical exegesis,’ ‘conversion narratives,’ and ‘Middle English devotional, visionary, and anchoritic writing’—they’re not just reading the Bible, they’re reading monks,” Rittelmeyer states. “The next generation of college professors seems to have returned to the proper business of contemplating the best that has been thought and said in the world (admittedly with some progressive politics thrown in).” That is a significant parenthetical twist on the trend. Nonetheless, her observations dovetail with mine upon my return from the Modern Language Association convention earlier this year.
“Although politically more subdued than in years past, the MLA is, to put it mildly, not likely to become a Republican bastion anytime soon,” I wrote. “Nevertheless, despite the pivotal role it played in organizing the Occupy protests, the visible signs of the decline in influence of the Radical Caucus of the MLA are quite striking:
- “At the 2006 meeting in Philadelphia, the Radical MLA Caucus fielded about a half a dozen panels in the group’s program. This year, the Radical MLA Caucus showcased three panels.
- “In 2006, the Radical MLA Caucus held its strategy session in a hotel ballroom. This year, they held it in Grover Furr’s hotel room. Furr is the English professor from Montclair State University in New Jersey who claimed that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin had been framed of the murder of thousands of Russians.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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