The website for the University of Chicago’s English department, one of the highest-ranked in the world, now carries this warning for any students aspiring to seek a PhD at the school in the coming year:
‘Note: For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies. We understand Black Studies to be a capacious intellectual project that spans a variety of methodological approaches, fields, geographical areas, languages and time periods.’
In a longer statement, the department explains its reasoning. English, long known as among the most left-wing disciplines in the academy, was in fact racist all along:
‘English as a discipline has a long history of providing aesthetic rationalizations for colonization, exploitation, extraction and anti-Blackness. Our discipline is responsible for developing hierarchies of cultural production that have contributed directly to social and systemic determinations of whose lives matter and why… In light of this historical reality, we believe that undoing persistent, recalcitrant anti-Blackness in our discipline and in our institutions must be the collective responsibility of all faculty, here and elsewhere.’
Are you a black scholar interested in Christopher Marlowe’s plays, Transcendentalist poetry, or P.G. Wodehouse’s novels, without any racial angle? Too bad. This department, while very committed to Black Lives Matter, is not interested in your particular black life, apparently.
The announcement that UChicago English students must commit themselves to working with a field dedicated to a particular skin color is, by itself, appalling. But it passes into the ridiculous since, on the very same department home page, UChicago advertises itself with this video:
‘At the University of Chicago, we are completely irreverent when it comes to disciplinary boundaries,’ says Professor David Levin. ‘We care about the quality of the thought, and not containing it within preordained boundaries.’
Levin may have believed everything he said, but events have turned his words into a joke. Now, at UChicago, students are bound not by their own skin color, but by the skin color of those whom they wish to study.
The note is particularly shocking given UChicago’s history of standing up to the creeping influence of PC culture on American campuses. In 2015 their Committee on Freedom of Expression set a nationwide standard in committing to free speech as an institution. The ‘Chicago principles’ have since been adopted by 55 other colleges. Where is that bravery now?
The imposition of politically-motivated constraints on scholarship is just the latest blow in the long decline of the humanities as an academic discipline. Long seen as a vehicle for broad social uplift, American universities have become the bloated, parasitic gatekeepers of professional credentials that were once awarded at half of today’s cost in half as much time. But if American colleges are going bad, humanities are particularly rotten, and graduate programs are the worst of all.
A page on the job prospects for recent UChicago English PhDs shows that, within five years of graduating, barely half have attained a tenure-track academic job, the only job for which an English PhD is essential. And this is at one of the premier schools in the field; prospects at lower-ranked programs are so grim that students would enjoy widespread sympathy if they burned down their department buildings.
How long does it take to get this coin-flip chance at an actual career? The average time to complete a humanities PhD has bloated to more than seven years, but in one recent UChicago graduating class, the median English PhD took close to nine years. That’s nine years, toiling as a borderline wage slave for a bloated college administration, in return for a degree that may never lead to a secure academic post, such as those filled by the professors luring students into academia in the first place. Now, UChicago is making the farce even more preposterous, by imposing politically motivated requirements for the unreadable ‘scholarship’ students will produce.
For decades, conservatives have debated how to ‘fix’ the universities. It may be too late. Right now, the universities aren’t just broken; they are gleefully destroying themselves.