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Rigor Please

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

For some time, I have made a habit of asking students their major (and minor) immediately after they ask me a silly question. This is necessary because I teach two basic studies courses per semester – both populated by students from across the spectrum of academic disciplines. I have found (consistently) that nearly all inane questions and comments come from students in just a handful of academic majors.


In the past, I’ve gotten myself in hot water for suggesting that the African American Center, LGBTQIA Center, Women’s Center, and El Centro Hispano be shut down in order to ease our current state budget crisis. But, today, I propose that we go further by eliminating all academic majors and minors ending with the word “studies.”

This is not meant to be prejudicial – although, having little else to do, the Arrogant American Centers will try to make it so. Let it be known that I propose eliminating more than just Arrogant American and Hyphenated American Studies. I also want to do away with Communication Studies, Environmental Studies, Liberal Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gay and Lesbian Studies. And I want the cuts to be implemented across our sixteen-campus system.

The data I plan to use to support my proposal is not scientific. If it were, the proponents of the various “studies” programs would not understand it. So I rely principally on an unscientifically gathered collection of stupid questions I have recently heard from students in the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies era of higher education. These student comments demonstrate that their “studies” professors are truly making a difference in their lives and in the dominant “society”: *At a local grill, the waitress, a UNCW “studies” major, asked "Would you like a sweet tea or a beer?" to which I responded "The latter." She then asked, "Which one is that?" I responded by asking her "Well, why don't you just guess? You have a fifty-fifty shot at getting it right." She responded by saying "I'm not in the mood to think."


*Just two days before an exam I gave my students a review session. I told them they could ask any question as long as they did not ask me what to “focus on.” I explained that asking what to “focus on” was the same as asking “What is going to be on the test?”

First question: “What should we focus on in chapter three?”

When I refused to answer, the response was “There’s just so much to read. Where is our study guide?” (For the record, study guides are most often found in classes ending with the word “studies.” That is why “studies” students so often demand them. It’s an addiction).

*Another student wrote to tell me she was going to be missing the next class. Her question was:

“Will we be talking about anything important?” It’s a fair question. Few of the professors in her major talk about anything important.

My response: No response. I simply deleted the email.

*I walked into class the other day and told students to stop emailing me with questions that were already answered in the course syllabus – noting that since it was over one month into the class it was simply embarrassing for them to have not read the syllabus. I argued that taking a class without reading the course syllabus was like taking a job without reading the employment contract.


Later in the class a “studies” major asked “How many tests will we have this semester?”

My response: “Read your syllabus.” (Note: She asked the same question during the next class meeting apparently having forgotten that she already asked the question).

* I recently asked this simple question of a product of one of our fine and academically rigorous “studies” programs: “Did you re-take the GRE?

The answer: “No. I haven't re-took it yet.”

*Here’s another brilliant question from someone who should be majoring in Inappropriate Communication Studies: “We only have two minutes before class begins. Do I have enough time to go to the restroom?”

My response: “I don’t know. I guess that depends on whether you plan to go #1 or #2.”

*Student: “Can we have a study guide for the next test?

Me: “What is your major?”

Student: “Communication Studies.”

Me: “Is this a Communication Studies class?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Well, there’s your answer.”

*This question came from a student who ought to be majoring in Entitlement Studies: “Can I take the test earlier in the day - like around ten o’clock?”

My response: “Yes, I plan to offer thirty different administrations of the test – one for each of my students according to his or her personal needs.”


Student: “Are you serious?”

Me: “No.”

*A new Entitlement Studies major would be fitting for the “studies” student who asked this question: “Could you spell that guy’s name – the one who came up with the theory you just mentioned?”

My response: “Sure. R-O-B-E-R-T.”

Her response: “Could you spell his last name, too?”

My response: “Sure. R-E-A-D—Y-O-U-R—B-O-O-K.”

Her response: “Is his name going to be on the test?”

*And, finally, here’s a great question from a student who has been trained by the finest minds on the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies faculty: “What is a propensity?”

My response: “It is a habit, predisposition, or inclination. For example, people who choose majors or minors ending with the word ‘studies’ have a propensity to ask idiotic questions. But they do not have a propensity to use the dictionary.” (OK, I didn’t actually say that but I thought of it later and I can pretend I said it because it’s my column).

Of course, not all of the stupid questions I get are from students majoring or minoring in Something-or-Another Studies. But they do dominate the field of stupidity in a way that reflects poorly on their respective majors and the university. That is the reason why we need to take a Darwinian approach by getting rid of these departments and forcing these students to attempt to survive in a real academic discipline.


The university will have a better student body after the Fill-in-the-Blank Studies students have all flunked out. The patrons of the local grill will also have more dedicated waitresses. Freed from the rigors of college life the latter might eventually be moved to think. That is, if the mood should suddenly strike them.

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