Trustees | General Education

So long, Shakespeare: Most colleges don’t require courses on the Bard, report says

The vast majority of the top universities in the U.S., including Princeton, do not require English majors to take a single course on Shakespeare.
THE STAR-LEDGER   |  April 24, 2015 by Kelly Heyboer

Shakespeare, Shakespeare! Wherefore art thou Shakespeare?

The vast majority of the top universities in the U.S., including Princeton, do not require English majors to take a single course on Shakespeare, according to a new report lamenting declining academic interest in the playwright.

Just four of the nation’s 52 top-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges require English majors to take a Shakespeare course, according to the survey by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a non-profit higher education group.

“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 Michael Poliakoff, lead author of the study and the group’s vice president of policy.

“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,” Poliakoff said.

Only Harvard University, the University of California-Berkeley, Wellesley College and the U.S. Naval Academy required English majors to take a Shakespeare-focused course, the study said. The survey included the nation’s top national universities, including the Ivy League schools, and the top-ranked liberal arts colleges.

Many of the schools required courses that included Shakespeare as part of classes on British literature. Other colleges and universities offered classes on the Bard, but allowed students alternate choices to study literature from other eras instead.

Some colleges, including Haverford College in Pennsylvania, didn’t offer a single class on Shakespeare this year, the report said.

At Princeton University, students must take an “Introduction to English Literature: 14th to 18th Century” class. But only students with theater and performance studies concentrations are required to take a course in Shakespeare, the report said.

“Shakespeare thrives at Princeton, and it would be inaccurate to suggest otherwise,” said William Gleason.
The head of Princeton’s English department said it is true the university does not require all English majors to take a Shakespeare class. But Shakespeare remains a key part of the curriculum.

“All students majoring in English at Princeton are required to take an introductory survey course that always includes Shakespeare; Shakespeare is the only major author for whom we have two separate stand-alone courses; and we have recently hired one of the country’s leading Shakespeareans to join our Renaissance faculty,” said William Gleason, chairman of Princeton’s English department.

“Shakespeare thrives at Princeton, and it would be inaccurate to suggest otherwise,” Gleason added.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is encouraging college boards of trustees to question their English departments about why Shakespeare seems to falling off the syllabus.

“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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