It’s no secret that some people in academia are feeling a bit glum about careers in the humanities these days.
But D.G. Myers, an English professor at Ohio State University, may be more pessimistic than most. This week, in an essay in Inside Higher Ed, Myers wrote that he is losing his job because, “in an era of tight budgets,” what he teaches is no longer valued. And he fears that’s in store for others in his field.
One of the problems, he argues, is that English departments are offering courses that seem increasingly irrelevant to today’s students.
And he took a shot at the University of Minnesota, mocking its list of undergrad English courses as Exhibit A.
“Poems About Cities.”
“Women Writing: Nags, Hags and Vixens.”
“The Original Walking Dead in Victorian England.”
They’re examples, he says, of how tenured faculty “fiddles away its time” on subjects of fleeting interest, while students scatter in other directions.
“I think English, if it continues down the current road, is washed up,” he said in an interview, adding that he had picked the University of Minnesota “at random.”
Ellen Messer-Davidow, the chair of the U’s English Department, was not amused. “Ridiculous,” she said.
“First of all, if you want to criticize courses, get the syllabus and see what’s taught,” she said. “We don’t judge a book by its cover, and a course title doesn’t mean a whole lot.”
Titles are a lot like headlines, she noted — they’re there to get people’s attention. But the content is “very mainstream,” she said, using literature to explore societal issues that span centuries and cultures.
Messer-Davidow says she understands that Myers is upset about losing his job. “I’m sympathetic,” she said, but she’s baffled that he dragged the U into it.
“If he wants to criticize courses in my English Department, fine, but do your homework,” she said. “Talk to the professor. Find out what they’re doing. Then, if you think it needs to be criticized, go for it.”