Despite the stranglehold that the “Ph.D. Octopus,” as William James called it, still has on the economics of who gets hired to teach, my experience at Bennington gives me hope that perhaps other enlightened institutions will also discover that having a Ph.D. may have nothing to do with loving literature and being able to teach it well.
I am a hopeless romantic, and a hopeful democrat. I always tell students that Shakespeare already belongs to them as their inheritance, but that they have to do the work to own him. Literature does not belong to the academy, it belongs to each of us; and the right teachers—in or out of the academy—are the ones who can show us how to take it, and own it, for ourselves.