Written by Hannah Westwood
Writing for the Daily Mail, Guy Adams criticises Leicester, claiming that it is ‘the University of Woke’, where political correctness has gone mad. Although he’s defending staff threatened by redundancies, he completely misses the point.
The University of Leicester is planning to make up to 145 staff redundant, including 11 from the English department. The plans mean the department will no longer teach English language or medieval literature, and will see a scaling back of early modern English. Adams cites Chaucer being ‘too white’ as the reason for why the university is removing Medieval English from the curriculum.
The university’s plans (unsurprisingly) never mention Chaucer’s whiteness, but stress how the English undergraduate programme is changing to be ‘excitingly innovative’ with a focus on a ‘decolonised curriculum’. Staff and students across the university are in support of decolonising the curriculum, but disagree that this should mean redundancies. Especially since the department showed commitment to decolonisation before the Student Union’s #LeicsDecolonise campaign began.
Adams takes much offense to the idea that Chaucer, and other English medievalists, are being removed from the English programme for the purpose of decolonisation. This view not only wilfully misses the point, but undermines the work of the staff and students who are fighting the proposed redundancies. Staff and students want to show the Executive Board making the decisions that the language, medieval and early modern parts of the curriculum already reflect decolonised teaching with a focus on sexuality and inclusivity, rather than fighting the university’s attempts at making the curriculum more inclusive.
As Rhiannon Jenkins (3rd year English) said: “We’ve seen the department championing decolonisation for a few years now, and the targeted modules already include a focus on sexuality and race. Anyone suggesting that medieval and early modern literature cannot be taught with a view to these topics, has clearly never read any of it.
“People are co-opting an argument, while also letting the University get away with blaming this decision on students and decolonisation. When, in reality, it’s poor mismanagement and weak finances that have led us here.”
Obviously, Adams fears that these canonical texts will be replaced with writers covering ‘such modish topics as race relations and feminism.’ Spoiler alert, the English degree already has a range of modules covering these topics, reflecting how the department currently embodies the university’s values, something the students greatly appreciate, with these optional modules always being popular choices.
Throughout my time at university I have seen a marked shift in the curriculum, showing the English department’s previously existing commitment to decolonisation, thanks to the hard work of the faculty. A module called ‘The Novel’ I studied in my first year has been renamed as ‘The Novel Around the World’, and now covers texts including Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin) and Animal’s People (Indra Sinha) to reflect writing from outside the exclusionary Western canon. A final year module on postwar literature has been changed to ‘Rewriting Britain’, to ensure an exciting curriculum which allows students to study traditional texts alongside modern ones and explore a range of themes.
Unfortunately, the university refuses to recognise the hard work of the English department which is already providing an inclusive and varied curriculum. It’s even one of the major reasons for attracting prospective students.
As Grace Robinson (1st year, English) said: “Old English always interested me when I studied language and how English became the language it is today. In first term I got a taste of the potential of what studying old English was like. The possibility of going on to study old English and how to read it as a module in my second year really excited me.
“To have something that you had such a keen interest to study taken away from you, with the lecturers that make it interesting losing their jobs, is heartbreaking.”
If disparaging the university as a ‘happy-clappy teaching ground for tub-thumping campaigners and activists’ wasn’t enough for Adams (and clearly it wasn’t), he then goes on to revive cruel personal attacks on Professor Corinne Fowler from the university’s English department.
Prof. Fowler’s work in her latest book Green and Unpleasant Land has previously come under fire from right-wing politicians and columnists. Prof. Fowler’s book (which is currently sold out due to popular demand, I might add) examines the links between Britain’s countryside and colonialism. Given that in his article Adams dismisses any colonial connections to the countryside, despite clear evidence to the contrary, it’s no surprise that he feels threatened by the prospect of a decolonised curriculum.
Adams is trying to paint those fighting the redundancies as anti-progressives who, like him, disagree that English undergraduate programmes should decolonise, and place importance on topics such as gender, race and sexuality. This is not the case. The reality is that the English department is already championing decolonisation and inclusive reading lists.
Criticism should not be of the university for trying to be woke, but for trying to remove fundamental parts of the English degree through cruel and needless redundancies.
Hannah Westwood is a final year English & American Studies student interested in sustainability, feminism and America. She is also Events & Publicity Officer for Plan-It Change. You can find her on Instagram @hannah.westwood.