The University of Leicester is facing growing backlash to its plans to drop English language and medieval literature modules in favour of a ‘decolonised curriculum’.
The university said it would be focusing on ethnicity, sexuality, and diversity claiming a “drop in demand” for longstanding subjects.
The plans have been met with dismay from both academics and students.
Professor Isobel Armstrong, a fellow of the British Academy, returned her honorary doctorate from the university in protest.
The Leicester branch of the University and College Union (UCU) said she did this “in protest at the egregious attack on the integrity of English at Leicester and the attempt to eradicate 1,000+ years of language and literature from the curriculum”.
The plans would see the removal of many classics in English literature in favour of “excitingly innovative” modules on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and diversity.
All teaching on canonical texts before 1500 would cease. The epic poem Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur would be axed. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, the ‘father of English literature’, would also be cut.
Early Modern English modules would also be affected, with John Milton’s Paradise Lost at risk, with teaching on Christopher Marlowe and John Donne facing reductions. Shakespeare would still be taught.
The idea of culling whole periods of literature is absolutely antithetical to the twin goals of diversifying and decolonising English as a discipline
–Dr Shazia Jagot, former student at the University of Leicester
Staff were alerted on 18 January to the plans with the threat of 60 posts being cut, putting 145 staff at risk of redundancy.
Under the plan, BA English with English language and MA English Language and Linguistics would be discontinued.
Dr Shazia Jagot, a former student at the university, wrote an article for Times Higher Education entitled “Students from all backgrounds need access to the literature of every age”, arguing the plans would directly impact students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
She wrote: “The idea of culling whole periods of literature is absolutely antithetical to the twin goals of diversifying and decolonising English as a discipline.”
The English Association, which is based at the university, said it was “shocked to hear of the proposed closure of English Language and Medieval Studies at the university”.
Leicester academic David Clark said he was “bemused by the implication none of us already teaches/writes about race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or decolonising the curriculum”.
Professor Catherine Clarke, an external examiner for the university’s English Studies MA, has resigned in protest. She said: “This [is] either a cynical exploitation of the language of ‘decolonisation’, or genuine (and appalling) ignorance of the work medieval and early modern subjects can contribute to this endeavour.”