I write to correct two misimpressions of my comments in J. M. Hanley’s recent article “The humanities: pre-professional tracks, and you.”
First, Mr Hanley suggests that I attribute the decline of English majors to the spinning off of the Theater and CAMS departments. What I said in my email to Mr Hanley was:
Numbers of English Majors have decreased since the early 1990s, when we hovered between 35-45 majors in a year. This is in part something to be expected as first Theater and then CAMS split off from us (see attached spreadsheet, from the Registrar’s Office). But we think there’s also evidence of a more general move away from humanities and social sciences toward the pure and applied sciences (e.g. Biology, Computer Science). We’re not sure how far this is solely a product of the intensified focus on STEM and how far it’s also a consequence of our new graduation requirements. (Clara Hardy has some data on this.)
In other words, I suggested that while decline in English Majors could in part be attibuted to the spinning off of CAMS and Theater, I did not propose that this was a sufficient explanation (which is not to allege that it could not possibly be so).
Second, I did not claim that we have beefed up our offerings in rhetoric in response to the rise of STEM subjects. What I said was:
I think we’re seeing some shift in enrollments as increasing numbers of science majors sign up for our rhetoric courses (i.e. courses on writing, speaking).
This only claims that more slots in the rhetoric classes we offer seem to me to be taken by science majors than in the past, not that we have beefed up our offerings in response to a push toward STEM subjects. Art of Persuasion is a new course, but is an A&I seminar (and thus not open to science majors); Arts of Oral Presentation has been on the books since 1989.
Chair, Department of English