The Guardian view on the arts and humanities: under threat on campus | Editorial
The decision by Sheffield Hallam University to drop its standalone English literature course must be a wake-up call
The study of literature allows us to glimpse universal truths as well as encounter the diversity of human experience in all its fascinating particularity. With expert guidance, an immersion in great novels, plays and poems can deliver a sense of spiritual headroom and wellbeing which lasts a lifetime. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Such benefits – intangible but very real – were sadly not enough to persuade Sheffield Hallam University to continue to offer a standalone English literature degree to undergraduates. Amid falling demand generally for arts and humanities courses, a university spokesperson this week announced that the course was being suspended. The news prompted an outpouring of frustration from lecturers, and criticism from writers such as James Graham and Philip Pullman. It follows a similar move by the University of Cumbria last year and mounting cuts to humanities provision elsewhere. In May, recruitment for all performing arts courses at the University of Wolverhampton was suspended. One lecturer at Sheffield Hallam tweeted despairingly that the humanities were being subjected to “cultural vandalism”.