shine trader reports

The difficult situation of liberal arts education

shine trader reports:

Netflix’s online drama “the chair” began broadcasting at the end of August. This drama has quickly become a hot topic in European and American cultural circles since September. It has not only attracted the attention of fans, but also held online seminars for this purpose by universities and research institutions. Why can a career play depicting liberal arts teachers in Colleges and universities trigger a great discussion in the academic and cultural circles in Europe and America?

Poster of head of English department.

At the same time, the director of the English Department has also attracted the attention of many liberal arts teachers and graduate students in China. In recent years, many young teachers feel the same in this play because of the situation of “going without promotion”, the corporatization of universities, the KPI of assessment indicators and the marginalization of liberal arts. In this issue, we start with the dean of the English Department to get a glimpse of the problems of American higher education and the difficult situation of liberal arts teachers.

Author Xu Yuedong


“Out of the circle” online drama that triggered heated discussion in the academic circle

Dean of the English Department is a career play depicting college liberal arts teachers. Jin zhiyuncheng, a Korean English professor starring Wu Shanzhuo, became the first female head of the English department in the history of Pembroke College, a fictional little Ivy League university. After taking office, she was devastated by a series of crises in her department – the reduction of liberal arts funds, the loss of students, internal strife among teachers, gender discrimination, racial discrimination, the prohibition of culture, the conflict between work and motherhood, cultural conflict… The whole play is like a pot of hodgepodge. The writer “explodes” various phenomena repeatedly exposed in the media of colleges and universities and the emotions of American society, In a very ironic way. This has also made the play a mirror reflecting the ecology of American higher education and triggered a heated debate in the academic circle in North America.

Many university media commented on the play. Cecilia Baron, the commentator of the brown Daily Herald, believes that the success of the English Dean is due to its extremely accurate positioning. Its success meets the needs of the market segment of Liberal Arts Postgraduates, university teachers, cultural media people and intellectuals. This is an academic “friends”, because those characters are like those familiar to teachers. The dean of the English Department revealed many complex problems, but did not provide solutions to the audience.

The English Dean caused a heated discussion on rotten tomato website.

Indeed, this is a very rare online play. In the past, there were countless workplace dramas depicting lawyers, doctors, police, firefighters, journalists, financial practitioners and it practitioners in the United States, but not many workplace dramas were dominated by university teachers, especially those in the humanities. This is why many college liberal arts teachers share their feelings about watching the play online – they can finally “see” themselves in front of the screen! Mai Linh Hong, a teacher in the English Department of the University of California, Merced, said, “as an Asian female English teacher, this play is both funny and disturbing. It seems to be peeking at my brain. It’s a black comedy specially tailored for me.” for graduate students preparing for liberal arts, this play makes them seem to see the future, so it has a great sense of substitution, For example, Douban netizen “Blavatsky” commented, “is the old lady of medieval literature with only three people in class my future…”

Of course, the film and television drama is fictional after all. Some teachers also pointed out that the drama has misunderstandings about the academic community. For example, Professor Lisa zeidner of the English Department of Rutgers University Camden joked that 73% of College Teachers in the United States are contract system, and they have no final teaching positions. Therefore, every time when the Dean walks on campus, non tenure teachers will pant with the dean and beg for more courses. Because they can get an average of $2500 for one course, they need to open at least five courses a semester to meet the lower quality of life. In the play, most of the teachers in the English Department of Pembroke College have tenure. The tragedy of non tenure teachers has not been well demonstrated. What exactly does this play depict so that it can become a popular online play in American cultural circles and academia?


The crisis of liberal arts education is a lingering shadow

At the beginning of the first episode of the dean of English Department, Jin Zhiyun became the dean of English Department of Pembroke College. In the English department where “old white man” has a great advantage, it is not easy for Jin Zhiyun to sit in this position. When she was happily playing with the dean’s famous brand with foul slang, her chair suddenly fell apart – here she played a pun on the title of the chair, which also meant that her Dean’s road was not smooth.

As soon as Jin Zhiyun took office, he had to deal with the mess of the English Department – the number of students in the Department decreased by 30%, the number of students choosing courses decreased steadily, and the budget of the English Department was greatly reduced. If students are not retained, it will be a question whether the English Department of Pembroke College can continue to exist. The University hopes to reduce expenses by retiring professors with the highest salary and tenure but few students choose courses. But Jin Zhiyun, who wanted to be a “good man”, refuted the proposal. In order to dissuade these professors with tenure, the university even moved a female professor’s office to a dirty basement.

Still photo of the head of the English Department, the protagonist Jin Zhiyun.

The humanistic education crisis has become the source power of all the plot evolution of the head of the English department. The play brings to the table the humanistic education crisis that is often seen in American newspapers. In the United States, since the 2008 financial crisis, the crisis of humanities has come again. It is an indisputable fact that the number of liberal arts students has decreased, the number of courses has decreased, and the financial crisis of liberal arts colleges and departments. According to the Atlantic Monthly, the proportion of humanities graduates in all graduates has dropped to the lowest level in the United States in nearly 40 years. At the same time, the total number of people with degrees in philosophy, history, language and English fell below 100000 for the first time in nearly 20 years.

With the decrease of students, there is a wave of school closures. In recent years, there have been a lot of news about the financial deficit and bankruptcy of private liberal arts and science colleges in the United States. According to the prediction of the U.S. Department of education, the merger and bankruptcy cases of American private universities will increase rapidly in the next few years. Last year, 25% of private universities had a fiscal deficit. Among them, many liberal arts colleges and art colleges that pursue liberal education bear the brunt. This has also led many schools to cut funding for liberal arts departments, reduce teachers in liberal arts departments, and even close some liberal arts departments. Pembroke College in the dean of English Department is a top private liberal arts college at the level of “little Ivy”. The financial crisis of American private liberal arts and science colleges is the background of this story.


Does the classroom reform of humanities work?

In the director of the English Department, in order to restore the decline of the English Department, Jin Zhiyun took the heavy responsibility of reform and hoped to help the building tilt – she is optimistic about Yates, a young black female teacher – she is the winner of the annual paper award in the Journal of the American Society of modern linguistics, a top American Journal, and is good at studying American literature from the perspective of cultural research. In addition, her class style is very popular with students. For example, she allows students to teach in the way of hip-hop adaptation of Moby Dick. Because of the unique charm of her classroom and her “political correctness” in line with the progressive left wing, Jin Zhiyun decided to recommend the female teacher to obtain a tenure. On the one hand, it can attract more students to continue to choose English courses; On the other hand, in terms of research methods of literary research, Jin Zhiyun hopes to introduce a critical perspective of cultural research into the Department and balance the academic atmosphere of those “old white men” professors in the Department who are relatively “conservative” (they prefer Harold Bloom’s Literary Canon).

Is this a classroom reform to alleviate the humanistic education crisis? Yates’ curriculum and research direction do reflect the reform suggestions of many people in American higher education. Benjamin Schmidt, an assistant professor in the History Department of Northeastern University, believes in the Atlantic that the phenomenon of English and history as the core specialty of humanities is disappearing. He places his hope on the rising cultural research, because cultural research can provide students with a new way to look at the world.

In the inside higher ed on September 3, Robert D. Newman, chairman of the National Humanities Center, wrote that in the face of the crisis of humanities, many right wingers labeled humanities as elitism – believing that humanities itself has no economic value, It should have been a subject for the rich. Therefore, Newman called on the humanities to safely preserve profound things only by meeting the needs of the times. Interdisciplinary teaching is the future of humanities. Only by introducing humanities into various practical disciplines and leading students to think critically can we highlight the value of humanities. Similarly, in higher education internal reference, Steve Mintz, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin, directly gave specific suggestions to deal with the humanities crisis: providing students with a guide to how to live; Introducing humanistic care into practical disciplines; Critical humanities; Emphasis on cross-cultural research perspective.

Still photo of English Dean, black female teacher Yates.

In the chronicle of higher education, Eric hayot, a professor of comparative literature and Asian Studies at Pennsylvania State University, wrote that the marketing of humanities is problematic. Apart from gender studies and ethnic studies, the course name of the humanities itself is no longer attractive. Moreover, the vast majority of courses are organized around the needs of specialized disciplines, and most undergraduates simply do not and do not want to become liberal arts professors. Eric hayot’s reform proposal is to combine the existing courses into modules, and each theme module includes knowledge from various humanities and social sciences. Through an interdisciplinary perspective, teachers can better lead students to think about a series of problems in a certain field.

In general, understanding students’ needs, the position of cultural research, thematic and interdisciplinary teaching is a way for humanities to attract students to class again. In the dean of the English Department, such an eye-catching special course as “sex and literature” opened by Yates seems to be an answer – this is similar to being a cultural media – in terms of topics, choose topics concerned by the progressive left. Therefore, teachers should accurately grasp the concerns of the audience, and then combine the knowledge and perspectives of various disciplines, And in the form of teaching, pack the knowledge as “delicious” as much as possible, and then send it to the audience. Yates did this almost perfectly, which also made Eliot, a relatively conservative and rigid “old white man” Professor in the Department, jealous of her popularity. In order to increase the number of Eliot’s students and prevent him from being dismissed by the school, Jin Zhiyun merged the courses of Eliot and Yates. But this directly triggered the contradiction between Eliot and Yates. Moreover, Eliot was the chairman of the tenure Council. He decided to avenge public and private affairs and prevent the black female teacher from getting tenure.