WASHINGTON, DC—To be or not to be educated: that is the question. On the day widely regarded as William Shakespeare’s birthday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released a study that shows that less than 8% of the nation’s top universities require even English majors to take a single course that focuses on Shakespeare.
The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015 is an examination of 52 of the national universities and liberal arts colleges rated highest by U.S. News & World Report. Only Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, Wellesley College and the U.S. Naval Academy require English majors to take a course focused on The Bard.
“Shakespeare is arguably the most consequential writer in the English language, and it’s astounding that literature majors—including future English teachers—are not required to take even a single semester-long college course on the subject,” said Dr. Michael Poliakoff, lead author of the study. “Many of these institutions brand themselves as places that provide a true liberal arts education, but this study shows that is too often a claim full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
Haverford College’s English department, for example, claims to maintain “a working balance between a commitment to the traditional canon of British and American literature and an expanding horizon of fresh concerns.” Not only does Haverford fail to require a course on Shakespeare, this school year the campus didn’t even offer one.
When colleges do offer courses on Shakespeare, they are often just one of many choices. The “Early Literature to 1660” requirement at the University of Pennsylvania can be fulfilled with “Gender, Sexuality and Literature: Our Cyborgs, Our Selves.” Other institutions require literature students to study “race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity” and “ethnic or non-Western literature,” but not Shakespeare.
“Although it’s surely important for college students to study a wide array of literature from every part of the world, it is frankly ridiculous to be graduating future English teachers who have little more than a high school knowledge of Shakespeare,” said ACTA President Anne Neal. “It’s no wonder that the public is rapidly losing faith in our colleges and universities. We’ll be writing to trustees at every institution asking why they are disserving students in this way.”
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