The old post about language departments (see also the various follow-ups) seems to continue generating discussion, in person and by email. Last night, a student posted a long new comment on that original post, in fact. If you care about this issue — the fate of humanities departments or of the University of Wisconsin or even of higher ed generally — you should read that comment.
One notable point is that this student confirms the effectiveness of the non-literature-centered program in German, though it sounds like the traditional lit program is dying on the vine. If you've read the comment, you probably expect the next point to be about the Francophone lit student (writing about 'people without a real language' — hint: they don't mean Genie). You might even expect the old "we linguists have to do a better job of educating non-linguists" argument. But, alas, many of those who do "literary and cultural studies" are not simply folks who haven't been enlightened. I don't think I know the faculty in question here, but the norm in such programs is open and often vehement dismissal of linguistics and other fields. I've had many discussions with such people from universities across the U.S., who revel in their wilful ignorance of what other fields know. The sad result, in this case, is a student who's going to produce worthless material, a paper or more based on fundamental misunderstandings about things that people have worked out pretty carefully. That attitude alone is enough reason to kill such programs. And like Comp Lit here, some are being killed, but the zombie faculty still roam the halls.
What the non-lit-centered program in German brings to the table is precisely the possibility of teaching students in a more crosscutting way. Joe tells me that a major key to their success is that the core linguists in the department are allied in various ways with a group of non-linguists who don't wear tight blinders — they cooperate in Netherlandic, medieval, and German-American studies, pedagogy, and so on — and I know that they and their students are plugged in around campus.
But there's a sobering point in there for linguistics departments too: There are enough linguists who do the same as these literary navel-gazers, assuming that their little frameworks are self-contained, safely insulated worlds. Look around at the best departments in the field and the worst departments in the field and you get pretty good correlations: Good ones are strongly allied with other fields (lots of them); weak ones aren't (some are hostile to related departments). Many of the best ones include a range of approaches and specializations; many of the worst ones have mostly true believers.
Can we fight off the zombies?