[I expect that UCLA’s students will learn deconstruction; but from where will another generation’s authors come whose words will stir us with their beauty? Many would say that architecture schools long ago traded away beauty for so-called critical thinking. But not all have done so: there is talk again of beauty and these bend their efforts to making beautiful buildings and places.]
In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles decimated its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift in our culture that bears on our relationship to the past—and to civilization itself.Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton—the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements and replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability, and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing. In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent as to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare, but was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”Such defenestrations have happened elsewhere, of course, and long before 2011. But the UCLA coup was particularly significant because the school’s English department was one of the last champions of the historically informed study of great literature, uncorrupted by an ideological overlay. Precisely for that reason, it was the most popular English major in the country, enrolling a whopping 1,400 undergraduates.Let’s compare what the UCLA student has lost and what he has gained. Here’s Oberon addressing Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Once I sat upon a promontory
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her songAnd certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the seamaid’s music
To which UCLA’s junior English faculty respond: Ho-hum. Here’s the description of a University of California postcolonial studies research grant: The “theoretical, temporal, and spatial intersections of postcoloniality and postsocialism will arrive at a novel approach to race, gender, and sexuality in present-day geopolitics.” To which UCLA’s junior English faculty respond: That’s more like it!