Our House, Our Rules

The University of Chicago’s English Department is getting considerable heat on social media for its decision to accept “only applicants interested in working in and with Black Studies” during the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle (see departmental homepage).  

Relax, everyone.  Doctoral programs across the country expand and narrow their foci all the time.  A few notable examples:

—  The English Department at Harvard has not allowed its students to write doctoral dissertations on Shakespeare since 1998.  According to a senior faculty member there, “we had to face the fact that there’s absolutely nothing new that can be said about this man’s work.  We knew it was time to flush the toilet and lower the lid on his oeuvre when one of our students proposed a thesis entitled Sneezing as a Transgressive Discourse in Shakespeare’s Minor Comedies’.  For the love of God, enough is enough.”

—  At the University of Mississippi, dissertations on William Faulkner are now verboten.  As the English Department Chair put it, “we simply got tired of students misspelling ‘Yoknapatawpha County’, Faulkner’s fictional kingdom.  It’s a shame, because the final Faulkner dissertation we approved in 2018 was an excellent piece of scholarship: ‘Unacknowledged Influences of Wakanda on Faulkner’s Early Work: Oversight, Racism, or Both?’.”

—  Dissertations on Iraq and Iran are no longer permitted in the Political Science Department at Duke University.  “Students were constantly getting the two countries mixed up,” says a professor who wished to remain anonymous.  “Admittedly, part of the problem was the notoriously loose supervision provided by our doctoral faculty.  Students could proceed down the wrong path with their proposal drafts for months before being informed of their error.  But, ultimately, it’s the student who has to take ownership of such a mistake.  We have been unsuccessful in getting tenured professors to monitor their advisees more closely.” 

—  Finally, there is the Chemistry Department at UCLA, which in 1991 began to require that all doctoral theses focus on hydrogen, and no other element.  In the words of the Department Chair, “hydrogen is the workhorse of our universe.  It’s the most abundant chemical substance by a large margin.  Literally, it’s Element #1.  We need to find out everything there is to know about this baby!  A couple of years ago, a student came up to me and wanted to write her dissertation on terbium.  Seriously?  TERBIUM???  Terbium is the 90-pound weakling of the elements.  I threw her out of my office.  Someone told me later that she ended up transferring to the Art History master’s program.  I hope that worked out for her.”

Stay strong, Chicago.  The trolls will soon find another target to torment — probably Texas A&M University, which plans to offer Esports as its only undergraduate major beginning in Fall 2021.