“Since 1990, the department has used two criteria in selecting its common text: literary excellence and the potential of the book to deepen our students’ understanding of diversity… the "valences of diversity" noted in our departmental handbook— (are) race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation, and geopolitical positioning…”
Professor Michael Miolajczak, former English Dept. Chairman, 2001
- Norman Fruman, retired English professor,
Suppressing English Literature
The purpose of this website is reform of the University of St.Thomas (Minnesota) English Department. The criticism voiced here does not apply to each individual teacher in the department, but does apply to many teachers, and to the department itself. It also serves as a caveat emptor, warning prospective students that the education provided by the English Department has degenerated to the point that many students and parents feel cheated after investing their time and money is these classes. (See letters) At a minimum, students need to preview the books used in their classes and exercise great caution in selecting instructors. They may wish to pursue their education elsewhere.
Example: The 2008 Common Text
This year’s Common Text (the book that all freshmen must read) is Beloved by Toni Morrison. The cover for using this book is that its author won a Nobel Prize for literature. The trouble with this excuse is that the Nobel committee has itself become politicized, basing its awards more on political correctness than literary merit. For example, in 2006, Archbishop Harry Flynn asked the University of Minnesota not to perform of The Pope and the Witch, a contrived, bigoted play whose main claim to fame is that it attacks the Catholic Church’s teachings on contraception and abortion. Defenders of the play noted that its author, communist Dario Fo, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997.
Beloved is a meandering, opaque book. The author would have the reader believe that this lack of clarity is a sign of depth. But it is politically correct: It presents whites as incurable racists. It presents sexual acts as a vulgar satisfaction of biological urges with no higher or sacred meaning. It presents women as strong and men as weaklings governed by their sexual desires. A better book could have--- should have--- been used. And why, out of all the superb literature available, the English Department feels compelled to use works that include depraved sexual acts is a mystery. The quotes below illustrate some of these criticisms:
...fucking cows, dreaming of rape, thrashing on pallets, rubbing their thighs and waiting for the new girl..." p. 11 ...the new girl they dreamed of at night and fucked cows for at dawn..." p. 20 Hungry nigger?" "Yes sir." "Here you go." Occasionally a kneeling man chose gunshot in his head as the price, maybe, of taking a bit of foreskin with him to Jesus. p. 108 Fucking her when he was convinced he didn't want to. Whenever she turned her behind up, the calves of his youth (was that it?) cracked his resolve." p. 126 Let schoolteacher haul us away, I guess, to measure your behind before he tore it up? p. 203
The purpose of freshman English classes is to teach the students composition by exposing them to great writers of the past. It is analogous to an introductory music composition class in which the student learns composition by listening to the music of, and studying the scores of, great musicians such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart etc., and incorporating some of their techniques into his own writing. Thus, in an English class, this might involve exposing the students to great writing in the form of plays, poems, essays, short stories, or novels. In practice, a student might read a play by Aristophanes or Shakespeare; poems by Chaucer, Dante, Wordsworth, or Milton; essays by G.K Chesterton or Alice Meynell; short stories by Poe, Hawthorne, or Flannery O’Connor; or novels by Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Austen or Cather.
Katherine Kersten, "Homosexual Memoirs for Catholic Freshman: Why?" Posted with permission from the New Oxford Review. This article first appeared in the December 1999 issue of the New Oxford Review, and is reprinted with permission. Copyright © 1999 New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706, U.S.A., www.newoxfordreview.org .
Instead of using great literature by these authors, the English Department suppresses it. It prefers trendy, modern works that advance their ideological agenda. An examination of the "Common Text" program highlights this problem. Each year there is only one book that all incoming freshmen must read; this is called the "Common Text." According to the former chairman of the department, Prof. Michael Mikolajczak, in 1990, a new criterion was added to choosing the "Common Text":
"…the potential of the book to deepen our students' understanding of diversity."
The department handbook defines these "valences of diversity" as "race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation and geopolitical positioning."
What does this mean? What, for example, does "deepening the students’ understanding of diversity" mean in terms of "sexual orientation"? The words of St. Thomas' Director of the Office of Institutional Diversity provide a clue. He writes, in a publication for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender African-Americans: "We must learn to reject… the age old teaching of homosexuality as sin." (article here) There is also the fact that in 2006, over two thirds of the English faculty signed a letter objecting to the University of St. Thomas' "unmarried partners" travel policy, complaining that homosexuals "are barred from marriage under current Minnesota law." And in 2007, a freshman English instructor, and self-described lesbian, wrote a vitriolic anti-Christian opinion piece in the Star Tribune saying, "I love the homophobes, but I hate, hate, hate their lies."
In other words, "deepening the students' understanding of diversity" means not just teaching the students to respect homosexuals, but to accept homosexual acts as good, and Catholic teaching as wrong. The point is that the department is defining "diversity" very narrowly, to mean literary works that indict Western Civilization as oppressive to women, minorities, homosexuals, working people and other cultures. In particular, the department favors literature that attacks Catholic teaching on sexual morality as enslaving and intolerant.
This quote, from a 1988 New York Times Magazine article on "politically correct" professors, is apropos:
"(For these scholars)… whose sensibilities were shaped by the intellectual trends that originated in the '60's: Marxism, feminism, deconstruction, a skepticism about the primacy of the west… the effort to widen the canon is an effort to define themselves, to validate their own identities."
The effort to "widen the canon" at UST has resulted in Common Text selections (see list here) that simply aren't that good. They have tended to be books such as that used in fall 2007, The Handmaid's Tale. This book, called a "sadomasochistic fantasy" by the New York Times, portrays a future totalitarian state run by Nazi-like Christians, in which abortionists, pornographers and homosexuals are lynched, and women are not allowed to read or own property. The handmaids, dressed in nuns' habits, are ceremonially raped by their masters. In other words, it incorporates several of the "valences of diversity." (Click here for more information on The Handmaid's Tale.)
In 2008, the Common Text is Beloved by Toni Morrison. This book deals with slavery and portrays whites as incurably racist: sexually, physically and verbally abusive. It portrays males as sexual animals: "…the new girl they dreamed of at night and fucked cows for at dawn…" Or "Whenever she turned her behind up, the calves of his youth… cracked his resolve." But Huckleberry Finn, perhaps the best American novel ever written, also deals with slavery and racism. Is Beloved a better book than Huckleberry Finn? No. But Beloved's animus toward whites and males make it the politically correct choice.
Indeed, when Morrison received the Nobel Prize for literature, she said that she claimed representation as "an African-American and as a woman." Imagine Mark Twain claiming the Nobel Prize "as a white American and a man." It doesn’t work.
"Literature no longer explores universal human experience, but instead has become a branch of politics, with a focus on often second-rate works about the victimhood of favored groups."
- Norman Fruman, retired English professor, University of Minnesota
In some classes, "the potential of a book to deepen our students' understanding of diversity," has become the overriding criterion for choosing books. The result is that the students are exposed to predominantly very modern books of unproven literary worth, and denied the opportunity to read marvelous, enduring literature. In the words of two students who took ENGL 190 (See book list here) in 2007:
"I am a student registered to take English 190 this fall in one of your course sections… In anticipation of the events and discussion regarding the common text The Handmaid's Tale, I began to read the book. Around chapter twenty-five, I could read no further, disgusted by what Margaret Atwood portrayed… the handmaid's suppressed sex life did not necessitate such detail. I would be interested to hear why such a novel was chosen for the common text, and what was supposed to be accomplished with the selection… I took a closer look at the other texts selected for the semester. I was disturbed to find only one classic piece of literature, Shakespeare's King Lear, and wondered under what qualifications the other works and collections had been chosen. I understand the need for diversity and exposure. All the texts can not be written by old, white, dead guys. My concerns stem from things like Covering which seems to clearly support an agenda that goes against the teaching of the Catholic Church, the same Church to which UST aligns."
- UST student
"The junk that we are forced to read is not what a Catholic University should be giving students."
- UST student
Again, these quotes seem apropos:
"The problem isn’t just that (politically correct) English professors waste their students' time, though they certainly do. And it's not just that they do their best to indoctrinate their students into leftist politics, turn them into bitterly unhappy feminists, or recruit them for the antiwar movement - though they do all those things too. The real problem is that they don't teach great English and American literature."
-Elizabeth Kantor, Ph.D., from The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature (intro).
"The faculties of universities have betrayed their trust, which is to transmit to new generations the great deposit of the good, beautiful and true which we know as Western, more properly Christian Civilization."
-John Senior (deceased) Professor of Classics, University of Kansas, from Restoration of Christian Culture p.121
"As... post 1960s college graduates grow older, they will come to understand that their expensive formal education, with its trendiness and lack of breadth, or rigor, or enduring substance, quite simply failed them--- by failing to connect them to the riches of their own civilization."
- Wilfred McClay, Humanities professor, University of Tennessee
"…the saddest comments of all came from my son who told me he had only finished one book in his English class last semester because they were all so bad."
"…forcing ideological garbage in place of truly great literature has ABSOLUTELY no place in a self-proclaimed Catholic University. It really is frustrating that an English department can sink to such embarrassing lows…" -UST Senior (see letters here)
The UST English Department is violating the Mission Statement of St. Thomas by 1) undermining the Catholic tradition that it claims to uphold, and 2) by failing to provide an academically excellent education.
Reform could begin by the administration requiring the English Department to conform to the guidelines for Catholic universities as set forth in the document Ex Corde Ecclesiae. It could be done by requiring future Common Text selections to receive prior approval by both the Director of the Catholic Studies program, and the Rector of St. John Vianney Seminary. Finally, there are too many faculty members who disagree with Church teaching and are using their position in the department to promote their ideology. Qualified and faithful Catholics need to be hired in this department. This could be done by taking power to hire faculty away from the department itself and given to someone who could accomplish this task.
What you can do:
Note: The petition to reform the English Department , which gathered more than 450 signatures, is now closed. Please sign the petition [below] to restore the Bylaws.
Sign the petition.to restore the bylaws of UST.