Nicholas Goldberg: Where have all the English majors gone?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2012. Here we continue to ponder the question of the disappearing English majors, and its relation to the university’s increasingly competitive recruitment efforts.
Nicholas Goldberg: Where have all the English majors gone? This is a question I’ve asked myself again and again for a number of years, but recently it has gained a particular urgency.
It is easy to find reasons why English majors are leaving the university. They either leave because of poor employment prospects or because of social circumstances. The latter are often exacerbated by university employment practices that fail to consider factors such as race, culture and class.
But the real problem with the English majors – and the real reason they are leaving – is that English majors are not disappearing at the university of their choice: at any of the US’s leading American universities, English majors are still in high demand.
So why do they leave?
When the university tells students that they have better prospects than elsewhere, it is doing a disservice to students and to the university itself. It is saying that the university is different from the schools that they have gone to before. This is in contrast to the reality.
To understand how different the University of Massachusetts Amherst is from the other universities, I asked the English departments to tell the story of one of their students.
This is the story of Adam, a 17-year-old senior majoring in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Adam was not just a good student, but was also extremely popular. I know that because he is still a friend of mine. Adam was at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 2002-2010. He is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst today.
As a senior student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2002, Adam was elected president of the literary society, the president of the men’s fraternity and the president of the drama club and the yearbook. He was also the author of a play he co-wrote and star in.
For many years, Adam was a member of the university literary society. He co-founded the group