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WASHINGTON, DC—Cultural commentator Michael Medved and former poet laureate Anthony Hecht today challenged the trend at Georgetown and other universities to drop Shakespeare and other great authors from college requirements. Medved and Hecht joined students alumni, professors, high school teachers and actors to support
“Saving Shakespeare: A National Teach-In” at the Historic Car Barn, adjacent to campus. The event was sponsored by the National Alumni Forum, an organization of alumni and trustees from colleges across the country dedicated to academic freedom and excellence.
“The deepest need for the people of the United States at this moment is to achieve greater cultural coherence, not more atomization and separation,” said Medved. “Love for and knowledge of the always fresh works of William Shakespeare provide a singularly precious opportunity for all members of this society to come together in savoring the most joyous, poetic, timeless and relevant products of the human mind and spirit. Georgetown University should be encouraging this sort of unified conversation on our common heritage, not disposing of it,” Medved said.
“Even Hollywood seems to be rediscovering Shakespeare with six new Shakespeare movies waiting for release,” Medved said. “Georgetown should be rejoicing at this new trend, not moving in the other direction.”
The Georgetown English Department has pointed out that it is only following the trend set at other leading universities in dropping great author requirements. “That is precisely the problem,” stated Jerry L. Martin, president of the National Alumni Forum. “Shakespeare and other great authors are being dropped from course requirements at colleges across the country. This trend shortchanges students and contributes to the dumbing down of America.”
Georgetown University announced late last year that it was eliminating the requirement that English majors study at least two of Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton. Now students will be able to choose such electives as “Hardboiled Detective Fiction,” “AIDS and Representation,” “History and Theory of Sexuality,” and “Women, the Media, and Revolution.”
“Shakespeare and other classics are being replaced at many colleges by courses on sex and politics,” Martin said. He cited such courses as “Illicit Desires in Literature” at Swarthmore and “Representing Sexualities in Word and Image” at Amherst.
“There are many ways of making Shakespeare irrelevant, and they are all wrong. In fact, the more innovative and exciting they seem, the more wrong they are,” said former poet laureate, Anthony Hecht. From 1986-1993, Hecht taught in the Georgetown English department.
Also speaking were Georgetown law professor and alumnus Richard Alan Gordon, university professor emeritus Walter Berns, Georgetown alumnus Manuel A. Miranda, high school English teacher Anna Walker and several students and alumni.
The teach-in featured presentations from Julius Caesar and The Tempest by noted Shakespearean actors Helen Carey and Emery Battis who are currently performing at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC The two also read statements in support of the teach-in from The Exorcist author and Georgetown alumnus William Peter Blatty, actors Charlton Heston and Floyd King, and literary scholar Ricardo J. Quinones.
In a statement to the National Alumni Forum, Heston deplored Georgetown’s decision to drop Shakespeare from its requirements. “Eliminating the works of William Shakespeare from academic requirements impoverishes the education of our students and marginalizes a shining artist whose penetrating insights are as timely today as they were four hundred years ago,” he said. “At a time when there is so much discord and strife in various segments of our society, it’s deplorable that higher education chooses to de-emphasize a writer who found ‘common cause’ with all humanity.”
Nobel laureate Saul Bellow agreed. “You are right about the disastrous trend in English studies,” he stated. “Your cause is important and I would be happy to be associated with it.”
Georgetown alumnus and novelist William Peter Blatty asked Georgetown’s president to reverse the decision. “Georgetown, like so many other colleges today, is in the hands of the children of confused times,” Blatty wrote. “One day the world will regret such confusion, but for now many English departments, like Georgetown’s, are in the hands of the Lilliputians, careerists who can soberly tell us that The Tempest and Gilligan’s Island are of equal worth.”
“We felt that a teach-in was an appropriate, constructive way to address the educational issues involved,” Martin explained. “We hope that changes that weaken education and shortchange students are open to reconsideration and renewed discussion.”
The National Alumni Forum was founded in March 1995 and includes alumni from over 200 colleges and universities. It is located in Washington, DC.