We are a traditional department in most ways, and I want to continue to be so, but it is vital to remember Jaroslav Pelikan’s aphorism: ‘Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.’ To try to freeze a curriculum and a program of study at any given period in the (short) history of academic literary study is an exercise in traditionalism, not an expression of living tradition. We still want to celebrate the best that has been thought and said, we still want to teach close and careful reading, we still want to teach the skills of discerning research and clear, cogent writing. But our institutional context is changing; our discipline is developing; new literatures have arisen powerfully around the world, especially in the global South; our students’ intellectual preparation and educational expectations are very different than what they were twenty years ago; the technologies that we employ in reading, writing, and research have been utterly transformed. All these changes require us to think in new ways about how to express the traditions we value. Not everyone will take up this task in the same way, but if we are going to be successful in helping our students to be lifelong readers and writers, we have to give our faculty room to explore and experiment, and trust them to carry our their calling responsibly.
Self-quotation; sorry about that. My department is mired in a year-long attempt to decide whether or not we want to revise our curriculum, and this is part of my exhortation to open up the curriculum and allow those who are inclined to experiment room to do so.