Nilab Siddiqi, a direhard literature lover, brings you along the tribulations and trials of studying a Bachelor of Arts (English) at Macquarie University.
*Note for design about title: I thought it could be fun to have a ‘Shame Your Unit’ with the ‘Unit’ crossed out and ‘Degree’ put there instead as a throwback to the OG ‘Shame Your Unit’!
Picture this: You’ve just enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (English), you’re sitting at your desk, knee jumping up and down and up and down and up and down and you’re staring at the cluster fuck of words and lines and drop down menus that comprise to MQ enrolment page.
Eventually, you figure it out, and your heart thumps against your ribs with fervour at the thought of finally choosing your English units. It’s all you’ve been thinking about over the summer holidays. Except…where are all the fucking units?
“You’re having a laugh,” you mumble to yourself. “You’re having a fucking laugh.”
So goes the pitiful experience of all English majors who started university after 2020.
I began studying at MQ Uni in 2019, undertaking a Bachelor of Psych (Honours) because I was a diligent student who was forced to choose her future career path at the ripe age of 15. While I won’t say I necessarily regret those three years I spent doing that degree, they were some of the worst of my life. Of course the lockdown contributed, but a big bulk of it was how absolutely soulless every single lecture or tutorial was. Eventually, I became so miserable that I would just skip entire days of uni at a time.
One of the only reasons I got out of bed and made the 2 hour trek to university some days was for my English classes. I only took two English classes over the course of my three year undergrad in Psych: ENGL108: Politics and Literature (no longer existing) and ENGL3030: Popular Fiction.
I’m naturally a shy, anxious person, so I never (I mean never) spoke during any of my classes, except for English. For the first time, I found myself unable to stop myself from engaging with my class. Those two classes were my saving grace for three years, and eventually, what inspired me to undergo my Bach of Arts (English).
I had spent my entire life suppressing my creative tendencies to appease everyone around me, and spent the better part of those three years studying Psychology in utter misery. So, suffice to say, I was dying with excitement at the thought of studying English full-time. Only to find out that pretty much every single English unit I had browsed all those years ago when I was an 18-year-old in Politics and Literature were redacted by the university.
I tried to reassure myself that it was just the university giving the degree a makeover and changing unit names to draw more students in, but eventually, I realised it must’ve been the opposite.
In 2019 there were approximately 33 English units to choose from: 18 were literature units, 6 were writing units and 9 were post-grad units. In 2023 there were approximately 30 English units: 12 were literature units, 6 were writing units, and 12 were post-grad units. Now, while it may not seem like a big jump, as someone who has seen, and experienced, some of the units pre-arts-degree-massacre, the range and depth of these units have irrevocably changed.
Pre-arts-degree-massacre, there were English units like: Modernism, Shakespeare & the Renaissance, Reason, Imagination, Revolution: Literature & Culture from Pope to Austen, from Pope to fucking Austen! The university has almost completely massacred the level of diversity found in the original English units and left behind their corpses for the few English students left to feed upon.
I won’t bash the current English units too much, because I’m familiar with almost the entire English discipline and I know that they all work themselves to the bone to conduct their classes. What I will say is: it’s no fun seeing the same 5 peers in every single English class you take over the years. It’s not because I dislike any of those peers. It’s because I know the only reason we see each other in every class is because we have no choice but to pick the same units, as there is literally nothing else to choose. Why am I (a certified fantasy fanatic) and my peer (a nut for contemporary fiction) being forced to read literature from the 19th century every semester? Really? Every semester? You can’t throw me a bone and bring back the Gothic unit? Or the Shakespeare unit? No? Okay, I’ll go fuck myself, I guess.
Speaking of the English tutors. They don’t even have their own department. Like, within the Faculty of Arts, English Literature has been shoved into a department with a million other degrees. English is no longer worthy of being a department, it is instead a discipline. Whatever the fuck that means anyways.
I guess it’s MQ Uni’s way of saying “English isn’t a STEM and it isn’t Law so…it’s useless, right? So…I guess we’ll just annihilate all the job security and reduce the English team into like 5 professors who will be forced to work themselves to absurdity, until eventually everyone quits and we can get rid of the English degree in its entirety, and all those literature lovers can take up a useful Business degree and eventually despise being awake and breathing.” Yeah, that sounds about right.
I won’t lie and say I’ve had a bad experience with my English degree, just that my heart has been bleeding for the years I’ve conducted it. I’d had a taste of the sweet nectar the old English units offered, and been forced to endure the mundanity of the current degree structure.
And yet, the artist in me flourishes still. And that is purely because of those few English tutors who fight it out everyday and make a difference, despite our communities insisting that the arts don’t matter.
The artist lives on.