The Moral Equivalent of War

According to the most recent comprehensive report on staffing by the Modern Language Association and the Association of Departments of English, published in 2008, English lost 3,000 tenure-track positions from 1993 to 2004, roughly 10 percent of the total. Even that understates the case, since more than a third of the new tenurable hires have not been in traditional literary fields but in composition, rhetoric, theory, cultural studies, new media, and digital humanities. Combined with evidence of lowered public interest in reading traditional literature and plummeting enrollment in traditional English majors, many faculty members in traditional literary studies have engaged in a backlash discourse against the new or renascent fields, a “moral panic” in defense of traditional literary studies.

“The Moral Panic in Literary Studies,” Marc Bousquet

I think “moral panic” is a understatement. I’d say that a certain cadre of literary academics has been at war with rhetoric and composition for a long time now. In many schools, too, English departments– and literary scholarship– has been funded on the backs of poorly paid adjuncts– often women. This is one of those issues that no-one wants to say much about or to investigate because it could be so divisive. The last thing academics need is another ‘divide and conquer’ division. Yet I think it needs more discussion and investigation. I know, from long experience, that the ‘panic’ about rhetoric and composition, and new communication technologies, has kept people from getting tenure, for example. It would great to have a sense of how often this has happened.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation