In a guest column in The Texas Tribune on Friday, Ronald Trowbridge, a senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, outlined the TPPF’s position that universities are prioritizing research over teaching.
Citing a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute, Trowbridge stated that from 1980 to 2006, 21,674 scholarly articles were published on Shakespeare and then asked, “Do we need the 21,675th?”
At a panel discussion on Friday on higher education reforms, which included President William Powers Jr., Trowbridge stuck to his script and read from his column in The Texas Tribune. However, in a seemingly unscripted moment, Trowbridge looked up from his paper and asked: “Why don’t they instead read the plays?”
Trowbridge neglects to examine what actually goes on inside the classroom. Never in my experience as an English major at UT have professors forced research upon me. Trowbridge could have discovered this had he glanced at a couple of English class syllabi. The vast majority of classes require readings of these “plays,” novels and poems — never any scholarly articles. After reading the actual texts, our professors prefer that we discuss the texts in class rather than lecture on what others have had to say about them. It is then our responsibility to interpret the texts in some original way and compose an essay — one that with time and dedication could very well become the 21,675th scholarly article on Shakespeare. As students, we need those 21,674 articles on Shakespeare to inform us and guide us in our search for an original thesis.
While researching for term papers, it was always rewarding to encounter scholarly articles and books published by my professors. Their research and publications emphasize their qualifications and makes me proud to be studying at UT. To have an authority on the text take the time to seriously discuss the text with you and guide you through it leaves a lasting impression. After finding those publications, my professors have always been there to discuss their relevance with me and offer any additional help with composing a strong, original argument. Never have they been too busy with their own research to skip their office hours or to accommodate me at another time.
As a senior English major at UT, I take offense at Trowbridge’s assertion that another scholarly article on Shakespeare would contribute nothing to academia. If that 21,675th Shakespeare article is unnecessary, then I ask myself, what is the point of an English major at all? The essence of the English major is to critically engage these texts and consider them in a new light, not exclusively read others’ opinions about them. Perhaps Trowbridge should consider attending a few classes himself before leveling ignorant charges at the academy.