SHUN­NING TOP WRIT­ERS English ma­jors at Yale pe­ti­tion de­part­ment to ‘de­col­o­nize’ cur­ricu­lum

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

In some­thing of a Shake­spearean twist, English ma­jors at Yale Uni­ver­sity don’t want to study the great­est English writ­ers. That’s what a group of un­der­grad­u­ates at the Ivy League school in New Haven, Con­necti­cut, said in a pe­ti­tion started last month. They are de­mand­ing that the English De­part­ment “de­col­o­nize” the cur­ricu­lum by drop­ping a pair of Ma­jor English Poets re­quired cour­ses that fea­ture works by dead white men.

“It is un­ac­cept­able that a Yale stu­dent con­sid­er­ing study­ing English lit­er­a­ture might read only white male au­thors,” the pe­ti­tion states. “A year spent around a sem­i­nar ta­ble where the lit­er­ary con­tri­bu­tions of women, peo­ple of color, and queer folk are ab­sent ac­tively harms all stu­dents, re­gard­less of their iden­tity.”

The pe­ti­tion says forc­ing stu­dents to read the works of Wil­liam Shake­speare, John Mil­ton and T.S. Eliot, among oth­ers, “cre­ates a cul­ture that is es­pe­cially hos­tile to stu­dents of color.”

“It’s time for the English ma­jor to de­col­o­nize — not di­ver­sify — its course of­fer­ings,” the pe­ti­tion says.

Kim R. Holmes, au­thor of “The Clos­ing of the Lib­eral Mind,” said the pe­ti­tion threat­ens to un­der­mine not just the Yale English De­part­ment but also the en­tire pur­pose of the uni­ver­sity.

“The very place where you would ex­pect to have lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion, you have il­lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion,” said Mr. Holmes, a dis­tin­guished fel­low at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. “They’re clos­ing peo­ple’s minds, they’re not open­ing them. It’s not only an of­fense to knowl­edge, but to the whole idea of a lib­eral ed­u­ca­tion.”

Yale is not the only col­lege where such de­mands have been is­sued this aca­demic year, which has been marked by race protests and the rise of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment on col­lege cam­puses na­tion­wide.

But Peter Wood, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Schol­ars, said the drama is ironic jus­tice, given the Yale English De­part­ment’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts at un­der­min­ing lit­er­a­ture.

He pointed out that the Yale English De­part­ment pi­o­neered the lit­er­ary the­ory of de­con­struc­tion­ism mid­way through the 20th cen­tury. Un­der the tute­lage of pro­fes­sors such as Paul de Man, English ma­jors at Yale for decades were taught that lan­guage has no mean­ing.

“The very English De­part­ment that pi­o­neered a self­de­struc­tive ap­proach to lit­er­a­ture is now en­coun­ter­ing a gen­er­a­tion who took the les­son se­ri­ously and now wants to abol­ish lit­er­a­ture al­to­gether in the name of study­ing English,” Mr. Wood said. “That’s why it’s laugh­able.”

But if the drama’s first act is com­edy, then its sec­ond is tragedy, he said.

“Why it’s tragic, of course, is that this is one of Amer­ica’s great uni­ver­si­ties that is spi­ral­ing down from one ab­sur­dity to an­other,” Mr. Wood said. “Stu­dents, were they to suc­ceed in this am­bi­tion, would be im­pov­er­ish­ing them­selves for the rest of their lives. They would be for­go­ing their best op­por­tu­nity to study the great­est works in English lit­er­a­ture un­der the tute­lage of pro­fes­sors who know those works and their his­tor­i­cal con­text well.”

It has been a tu­mul­tuous aca­demic year at the elite uni­ver­sity. Yale was a hot­bed of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity that came to a head in a pub­lic al­ter­ca­tion be­tween stu­dents of color and one of the col­lege’s masters.

In the in­ci­dent cap­tured on video, Dr. Ni­cholas Chris­takis de­fended an email sent by his wife and Yale lec­turer, Erika Chris­takis, on the right to wear of­fen­sive or in­ap­pro­pri­ate Hal­loween cos­tumes. Sev­eral stu­dents were de­bat­ing the point with Dr. Chris­takis when one stu­dent be­gan yelling and curs­ing at him.

Mrs. Chris­takis later re­signed from her po­si­tion over the brouhaha, and Dr. Chris­takis is tak­ing a one-se­mes­ter sab­bat­i­cal.

The uni­ver­sity re­sponded to the in­ci­dent by promis­ing to abol­ish the ti­tle of “mas­ter,” which stu­dents said was of­fen­sive be­cause of con­no­ta­tions of slav­ery.

The English un­der­grad­u­ates said they were in­spired to start their pe­ti­tion by “stu­dent ac­tivism across the uni­ver­sity.”

“It is your re­spon­si­bil­ity as ed­u­ca­tors to lis­ten to stu­dent voices,” the pe­ti­tion con­cludes. “We have spo­ken. We are speak­ing. Pay at­ten­tion.”

Mr. Holmes said the same strain of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism that in­spired cam­pus ac­tivism is ev­i­dent in the undergraduate pe­ti­tion. He said it is an­other ex­am­ple of “lib­eral in­tol­er­ance” on cam­pus aimed at sub­vert­ing Western cul­ture.

“It’s iden­tity pol­i­tics,” Mr. Holmes said. “The whole move­ment of rad­i­cal mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, ba­si­cally, the idea that sup­pos­edly all cul­tures are equal ex­cept, of course, Western cul­ture, which is less equal than the oth­ers in their own minds.”

“They’re not in­ter­ested in di­ver­sity; they’re in­ter­ested in con­form­ity,” he said. “It’s re­ally an ide­o­log­i­cal move­ment ded­i­cated to clos­ing peo­ple’s minds to the great wealth of knowl­edge and wis­dom of Western civ­i­liza­tion.”

Given Yale’s re­sponse to the stu­dent protests last year, Mr. Holmes said he is not op­ti­mistic about the English De­part­ment’s abil­ity to re­buff its stu­dents’ de­mands.

“My guess is it’s like push­ing on an open door,” he said. “This is where th­ese ide­olo­gies be­gan.”

“It is un­ac­cept­able that a Yale stu­dent con­sid­er­ing study­ing English lit­er­a­ture might read only white male au­thors. A year spent around a sem­i­nar ta­ble where the lit­er­ary con­tri­bu­tions of women, peo­ple of color, and queer folk are ab­sent ac­tively harms all stu­dents, re­gard­less of their iden­tity.” — Pe­ti­tion to English De­part­ment at Yale Uni­ver­sity

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Yale Uni­ver­sity wrapped up a tu­mul­tuous aca­demic year. The Ivy League school was a hot­bed of po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, in­clud­ing a de­bate over English lit­er­a­ture stud­ies.

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