A national academic group is asking: “Where art thou, Shakespeare requirements for English graduates?”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni–a conservative-leaning, Washington, D.C.-based group that argues there is too little intellectual diversity on college campuses–released a report last week that said fewer colleges nationwide require English students to study Shakespeare.
The report, though, is dismissed by a national professors’ association. And a Shakespeare scholar at the University of Colorado says the study of literature has evolved over the years and course offerings have become more diverse.
The council looked at 70 public and private universities and found that English departments at only 15 of them required Shakespeare. In the past decade, at least six of those schools either weakened–or entirely scrapped–requirements, according to the council.
CU was not included in the survey, but the flagship school does require students to take a British literature course before graduation, and Shakespeare is among the classes offered.
The 60-page report, called “The Vanishing Shakespeare,” was released to coincide with the Bard’s 443rd birthday.
“A degree in English without Shakespeare is like an M.D. without a course in anatomy,” the authors said. “It is tantamount to fraud.”
That’s “bunk,” said CU professor RL Widmann. She got hooked on Shakespeare when she was a high school sophomore studying Julius Caesar. Widmann, as an assistant professor, first started teaching Shakespeare 40 years ago.
The books that Widmann said she studied as an undergraduate were dominated by white men.
She said her generation took note and started teaching more diverse courses, such as women in literature.
Skeptics of the council’s report criticize it for being a shallow survey of college course offerings.
The council said alumni should be concerned about the deflated value of their college degrees because of declining college standards. Because some English professors endorse the shift away from curriculum centered on major authors, the report says, trustees and administrators should insist that departments clearly articulate what students should know when they graduate.
Carol Trujillo, who graduated from CU with a bachelor’s degree in English, said she took one Shakespeare course while she was an undergraduate–but if she had it to do over, she would have taken more.
Trujillo, 23, is now a graduate student at Colorado Christian University.”When you’re reading, a lot of themes come from Shakespeare,” she said.