UB’s new English requirements do a disservice to the field

English isn’t for everyone

UB English department – I love you, but let’s be honest. These new requirements?

Not cool.

The English department sent out an email over spring break that the requirements to be an English major were changing, something that is perhaps unsurprising.

The amount of English majors nationwide is decreasing and fewer and fewer people see the value in reading the world’s literature.

What’s UB’s answer?

Make it easier to get a degree in English.

Full disclosure: I’m an overachiever. I always have been and I always will be. If I would stop writing angry columns for The Spectrum, maybe I could get my Honors College/English Honors thesis done.

Although I’m graduating this semester from UB, I began my college career at SUNY Binghamton, where I took my first Comparative Literature course. After a semester I transferred to SUNY Geneseo. I took my first three English courses during the year I was there before leaving for UB.

I’ve completed most of my English major at UB and honestly, I wish it was harder. One of the few props I’ll give to Geneseo is how challenging the English courses were. To put it in context, ENG 170 Practice of Criticism at Geneseo transferred as ENG 301 Criticism at UB. I still refer to lectures from my first English professor – Dr. Rob Doggett – when I write my papers.

I understand that the English department wants to attract more students to the major and I applaud that. It breaks my heart when students don’t read the assigned texts – and still do decently on papers – and when I hear people say that an English degree is useless.

Hello! You’re learning about how the world works! By reading, you learn how to be a citizen of the world and how to think critically about the world’s many systems. Being an English major teaches you what it means to be human in ways no biology course can.

But simplifying the degree is no way to attract quality majors – it’s a way to attract people who don’t know what else to do.

“Oh, majoring in science means I have to take math classes? That’s hard. Let me be an English major!”

No, no, no. That’s not what we want.

Instead of attracting more students, we should be more concerned with attracting better students. A true English major will embrace challenging courses that, at times, make them frustrated, stressed out and confused.

Despite my frustration with having students take fewer upper-level courses, the total elimination of the foreign language requirement is even more upsetting. But it’s not only English that is doing away with it. In the new General Education requirements passed by the Faculty Senate in December, taking a foreign language is not necessarily required. You can complete the “global cluster,” by studying abroad instead, for example. The Steering Committee argued that because nearly 75 percent of students were exempt from the requirement – due to their high school achievements or which major they’re in – it’s better to make it optional for all than a requirement for just a few.

Well, that’s dumb. We live in a global world and knowing a second language is invaluable. Think of an employer – “I have one candidate who speaks German and one who doesn’t. What if we ever do business in Germany?” It doesn’t take a business degree to know who to hire.

Currently English majors take just one year of a language past the Gen Ed requirement – as in two extra courses, as in not that bad. Languages are tough, but so are math and science and we don’t go around eliminating them. They’re all important skills and shouldn’t be done away with because they’re intimidating.

Life is intimidating.

English majors should know a second language. It opens up an entirely new world of literature, literary criticism and theory. And professors, how often in class do you ask, “Does anyone speak French? Can you tell me what this word means?” It happens all the time because authors speak multiple languages and texts are intertextual and international.

UB isn’t going around simplifying engineering requirements because too many people find it intimidating, so why should we assume English can be simplified?

English – contrary to popular belief – is hard. It requires time, a lot of thought and a lot of discussion. The papers are long and the books are complex. It does a disservice to the field to assume we can get more people involved by making it easier.

English is equally as valuable to the world as engineering and we need to stand in solidarity and show that.

Not perpetuate the notion that anyone can get a useless English degree.

Emma Janicki is a managing editor and can be reached at emma.janicki@ubspectrum.com