That seems to be the point writer Danielle Charette is making in a new post at Intercollegiate Review. Though she also seems to suggest that the reduced number of English majors presents an opportunity to get back to basics.

The endangered English major

The latest Saturday essay in the Wall Street Journal goes something like this: the Humanities are dead, and English professors killed them. But the good news, according to Lee Siegel, is that we can resurrect liberal learning now that fewer English majors are bludgeoning the subject matter to death. 50 years ago, 14% of college students were majoring in subjects like English, classics, philosophy, and religion. Today, those students make up just 7% of the college population. This decline, says Siegel, will slow the “academicization of literary art” and “that fig leaf for mediocrity known as ‘theory.’”  Siegel believes we’ll soon get back to actually reading as apart of everyday life and learning, rather than theorizing and deconstructing. “Literature,” says Siegel, “is too sacred to be taught. It needs only to be read.”

As one of those rare birds still majoring in literature, I took a special interest in the piece and mostly agree with Siegel’s conclusion. I did find him overly dismissive of the value of a classroom (Try reading Ulysses on your own), but Siegel is right to emphasize that literature is, fundamentally, about the true and the beautiful—something English students and their professors tend to overlook. Conservatives often get worked up about how ideological the study of literature has become—and they’re mostly right—but my biggest concern is the discipline’s sheer randomness.

In my experience, other academic departments seem to have more camaraderie and sense of purpose because students progress together through a logical course sequence: Your lab partner in general chemistry shows up again in organic chemistry II, and the two of you make a habit of swapping notes and sharing knowledge.  That’s harder to accomplish in the humanities when my study of Victorian cultural trends is entirely divorced from a classmate’s focus on, say, contemporary feminist poetry.