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Hardly anyone majors in English anymore. Scholars debate why.

Nobody wants to major in victimization, scholar argues

The English major is shrinking at an alarming rate. This according to a recently published report by the Association of Departments of English.

The report, published in July, states that approximately two-thirds of English departments that responded to a survey reported either a decline or sharp decline in the number of undergraduate English majors.

An ad hoc committee appointed by the Association of Departments of English detailed a number of external reasons for the decline in the number of undergraduate English majors. They included the economic crisis of 2007-08, the push for more STEM majors, and the rise of electronic and social media.

And while external issues may have contributed to the downfall of the English major, some experts have also linked the decline to systemic issues that exist throughout the English discipline.

Among these experts is Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University. Bauerlein argues in a summary of the original ADE report that the emphasis on “issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and identity” has driven students away from a once highly popular major.

In a phone interview with The College Fix, Bauerlein said that the English classes of today’s world have an atmosphere of resentment and “the study of these social issues is not analytical scholarship, but a class about victimization.”

Bauerlein said he feels that students are less likely to take these classes because they go to college to learn, not to feel bad about themselves.

“If you were nineteen and happened to be a victimizer — in this case a straight, Christian, white man — then the classes are not appealing because everything becomes your fault. If you are part of the group that has been victimized, then everything becomes an allegory for your own suffering, and students don’t want to feel that way,” he said.

When asked about the role of the economic crisis in students choosing a different major, Bauerlein responded: “I wouldn’t discount that as a factor, but enrollment in English classes have decreased. You can still have a major that makes more money, but students aren’t taking English majors or even English classes anymore.”

To encourage more students to be English majors, Bauerlein said that “English departments need to present to students that they are going to read amazing classics. Not average work written by people of the right identity. And the professors who started the move towards an identity based English major need to admit that this experiment was a failure.”

Professor Lowell Gallagher, the English Department chair at UCLA, could not be reached for comment.

MORE: Yale ‘decolonizes’ English dept. after complaints studying white authors harmful

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Mark McGreal -- UCLA