The Summer 2021 MLA Newsletter opens with the following question: “Where Have All the Majors Gone?” A subsequent article provides plenty of data and demographics related to the question but not much of an actual answer. A three-decades long decline in awarded English degrees is indeed “particularly troubling,” but what departments might do to reverse this trend remains “unclear.”
Maybe there is nothing to be done. When I served as chair of the English department, we had four solid years of enrollment management. Robust returns enabled us to respect and retain the same corps of longtime lecturers while also offering necessary coursework for degree completion. Lecturers and tenure track faculty diversified teaching appointments through first year seminar and honors courses; others developed and directed unique in-demand courses and programs. We employed pretty much every suggestion to reverse our declining enrollments. We participated in welcome events, engagement fairs, mid- and end-of-semester celebrations, and campus-community get-togethers. And we took every opportunity to correct and enlighten provosts, deans, associate deans, parents, and students about the utility and worth of the English major.
Year after year, we committed ourselves to a collective engagement, but what happened after all that work? Our dean dissolved the department as part of a broader reorganization of the entire college. Enrollment declines continue, causing our lecturer corps to crumble. Faculty in linguistics and literature are set to teach first year composition and business communication alongside colleagues who have PhDs in the field and decades more experience. And my own early summer efforts to propose a new integrated major were met with insufficient support, somehow even causing a colleague I once respected to call me a sellout (to whom or what I don’t know).
I wish there was something to be learned from these persistent declines as well as the failures to turn them around. But perhaps there’s nothing to be learned. Perhaps there’s nothing to be done. Perhaps it’s time to let it all end.