Report on English departments reveals decline

Raleigh, NC – The John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy will soon publish a new report entitled “The Decline of the English Department.”  Authored by director of policy analysis Jay Schalin, the report investigates current trends in English departments, including why student enrollment has declined in English departments at American universities and how both internal and external pressures have led to widespread changes in the discipline’s curriculum.

According to the report, falling enrollment and a departure away from the literary canon of the European Renaissance, Great Britain, and the United States come from a variety of factors, including students’ desires to possess marketable skills in a vocation-driven job market and a highly politicized faculty.

“It’s important that we understand the magnitude of the problem in English departments before we can make positive changes. This report makes it clear that proponents of a classical curriculum have their work cut out for them,” said Jenna A. Robinson, president of the Pope Center.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s highly regarded English department is given special attention in the report. Chapel Hill is especially important since many graduates of its Ph.D. program find work in other departments in the system. It has a reputation as a highly traditional program—yet there are signs that may be changing.

Schalin predicts that English departments across the nation will continue to struggle with enrollment numbers as faculty political activism and employment trends show no signs of reversing course. He does, however, find a flicker of hope, as schools may be forced to pare back English departments to the study of the most important works by the most engaged students and serious scholars. And, failing that, perhaps alternate institutions will spring up to keep classic literature alive.