ENGL 402 B1: Studies in Genres: Academia in Contemporary Fiction

A. Braz

The university is undergoing a radical transformation, most conspicuously evident in the way that the discourse of excellence has been displaced by that of pecuniary aims. Judging by the edicts issued by academic administrators, one could surmise that the central function of academia is not to understand the world, much less to change it, but to prepare students for the job market and to generate external funding. This course examines how contemporary fiction writers capture the changing role of the university. While most academic novels focus on the travails of the English department in general and Creative Writing programs in particular, we will explore how the university as a whole is depicted in contemporary writing. In addition, the course will have a Professional Development component. Students will have the option of writing an individual essay for a non-academic audience or contributing to a group commission of inquiry about higher education today.


Among the texts for this course, to be supplemented with a Coursepack of essays on genre, academic fiction, and the university, will likely be (in order) Julie Schumacher, Dear Committee Members (2014), Jane Smiley, Moo (1995), Francine Prose, Blue Angel (2000), and Sarah Henstra, The Red Word (2018).


Bousquet, Marc. How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Age Nation. New York University Press, 2008.

Conklin, John E. Campus Life in the Movies: A Critical Survey from the Silent Era to the Present. McFarland Publishing, 2008.

Edemariam, Aida. "Who's Afraid of the Campus Novel?" Guardian, 2. Oct. 2004.

Flexner, Abraham. "The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge." Harper's Magazine, vol. 179, Oct. 1930, pp. 544-52.

Ginsberg, Benjamin. The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Johnson, Lisa. "The Life of the Mind: American Academia Reflected through Contemporary Fiction." Reference Services Review, vol. 23, no. 3, 1995, pp. 23-43.

Kay, Andrew. "The Joke's Over: Academics Are Too Scared to Laugh." Chronicle of Higher Education, 14 March 2018.

Leuschner, Eric. "Body Damage: Dis-Figuring the Academic in Academic Fiction." Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, vol. 28, no. 3-4, 2006, pp. 339-54.

Showalter, Elaine. Faculty Towers: The Academic Novel and Its Discontents. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and A Second Look. Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Tierney, William G. "Academic Freedom and Tenure: Between Fiction and Reality." Journal of Higher Education, vol. 75, 2004, pp. 161-77.

Wacquant, Loïc J.D. "The Self-Inflicted Irrelevance of American Academics," translated by Kirsten Halling and Wacquant. Academe, vol. 82, no. 4, 1996, pp. 18-23.

Williams, Jeffrey J. "The Rise of the Academic Novel." American Literary History, vol. 24, no. 3, 2012, pp. 561-89.