Splice Jobs

David Galef offers a satirical proposal on ways to make the English major more viable.

March 11, 2022

The English department at U of All People is under attack, says our resident medievalist, Professor Bae Woolf, who likes comparisons with trebuchets and scaling fortresses. Our one remaining so-called theory person, Professor Chris Teva, has declared, “The entire humanities is being deconstructed.”

The assault started when the new president here, Opp R. Tunist, feeling the pinch of declining enrollments, started looking around for programs to downsize. One of the prime candidates was English, where student recruitment is at an all-time low. Accordingly, our budget’s been cut for the seventh time this semester, all hires are frozen till 2040 and all our students are mandated to take a 12-module online course called Majoring in English: It’s Not the End of the World.

In an effort to stem our declining enrollments (last semester’s Dirty Victorian Lit seminar drew only two students), our curriculum committee has come up with a plan it fondly calls HOWS, or Hitch Our Wagon to a Star. HOWS builds on the university’s interest in interdisciplinarity, but not in the way that religious studies was folded into the philosophy department in 2020 and promptly snuffed out.

Simply put, we’ve developed tracks that combine a traditional English major with degree programs doing far better than ours.

“You mean the old double majors?” asked Professor Walter Cocker at the latest Zoom faculty meeting, showing his annoyingly long institutional memory. No, no. Or not exactly. Here’s what we mean:

ENGBIZ: Combines the study of English literature with the mastering of business practices for the 21st century. Sample collaborative courses include The Business Novel, The Hermeneutics of Spreadsheets and an upper-level seminar in Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches books. Our Samsung Business School, in return, will require its students to learn how to read and write.

ENGLAX: The fact that student athletes have to compete both on the field for no money and in the classroom for near-failing grades has long been considered a scandal. ENGLAX (for lacrosse) and similar degrees, such as ENGFTBL and ENGBASK, allow collegiate athletics to become part of the heady humanities mix brewing in our classrooms—which could sorely use the renovation money earmarked for the locker rooms in the renovated UAP Sports Dome. Adjunct instructor Jock Strappe will be offering a specialty course in sports literature. The syllabus will include Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Irwin Shaw’s "The Eighty-Yard Run" and “The Image of the Olympics in 20th-Century Russian Literature,” which apparently is Strappe’s unpublished dissertation. Of course, all sports offerings count as pass-fail 15-credit courses.

ENG + SCAM = ENGSCAM: We dream of linking English with whatever it is they do over at the School of Communication and Media. Surely it couldn’t hurt to have those students who are working on advertising and Instagram posts check out a goddamn poem or two.

Other schemes: ENGSTEM allies our fuzzy-wuzzy praxis of close reading and literary impressionism with anything even remotely connected to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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ENGPSY (English + psychology) is easy. We do that anyway, so we might as well try to work with what, for reasons inexplicable to us, is the most popular major on campus. Think Oedipus, think Freud, think Portnoy’s Complaint.

But no to Walter Cocker’s suggestion for the splice ENGCLASS. Why should we link our fortunes to the one field doing worse than us—classics?

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David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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