Wednesday, December 30, 2009

 

The Low State of English Departments


What I find most appalling here is not that the top 20 English departments don't have specialists in Jewish-American literature, a subject of tiny importance, but that they do have specialists in other ethnic literatures. No doubt Asian-American literature, like golf literature or science literature, is a worthy subject of study for someone or other, but to have a specialist in every department is crazy.

And of course it's bad that he uses U.S. News & World Report as his criterion for excellence, even if he tries to backtrack with caveats.

Joshua Lambert, an assistant professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University, kicked off the discussion with an analysis of the top 20 English departments (as judged by U.S. News & World Report, a source that he acknowledged was flawed, but that he used to get a group of programs at highly regarded universities). He found that at these departments, every one has at least two and typically more specialists in African-American literature. All but two have at least one scholar focused on Asian-American literature. All but five have a Latino literature expert. All but 9 have an expert in Native American literature on the faculty.

Only two of the institutions have a tenure-track faculty member whose area of expertise is American Jewish literature, he said. (The University of Michigan, where Lambert earned his doctorate, is so ahead of the pack, with seven, that someone later referred to it with admiration as a shtetl.)

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