Writing at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Literature Professor Rob Jenkins has reacted to the new campus sexual harassment policy by vowing to purge his syllabus of anything offensive.

Purging My Syllabus

Not wanting to sexually harass my students, much less be labeled a sexual harasser by the Department of Education, I have decided to review my Intro to Lit syllabus and remove any reading assignments that might contain offensive material.

Not that any reasonable person would find those reading selections offensive. But the DOE has apparently decided that the “reasonable person” test no longer applies, and that any “unwelcome speech” qualifies as harassment. Since my lit students seem to find nearly everything I say unwelcome, that’s going to make teaching the course a little difficult.

Nor does it matter, apparently, that my purpose in the course is not to sexually harass anyone, or even necessarily to talk about sex. But the study of literature is the study of the human condition, of which sexuality is, regrettably, one aspect. Or at least it used to be, before the DOE ruled against it.

Accordingly, I am eliminating the following selections from my reading list, effective in the fall:

  • Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and John Donne’s “The Flea,” two classic seduction poems. I’ve always thought my students rather enjoyed the vivid, earthy imagery in those works—and maybe learned something about metaphor in the process—but I now realize that they were merely feigning interest to mask their discomfort.
  • Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. As everyone knows, Shakespeare was a dirty old man, unless of course he was actually a woman. In Hamlet, the prince suspects that his mother and his uncle had an affair before conspiring to murder his father. That’s not just adultery; it smacks of incest, for gosh sakes.