The Death of Manliness at the University of Wyoming

Feb 03, 2010 | 

Ashley Thorne

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The Death of Manliness at the University of Wyoming

Feb 03, 2010 | 

Ashley Thorne



Wyoming is one of only five states in America with more men than women. Apparently, however, the University of Wyoming is biased against men.  

As a student at Monterey Peninsula College, Marine Lance Corporal Aaron Graham took a course called “Literature By and About Men,” taught by English professor and NAS member David Clemens. The course, on “depictions of maleness, manhood, and masculinity in essays, films, short stories, and poetry either by men or about men,” focused on a variety of topics, such as “theories of sex or gender difference, the nature of boyhood, the experience of fatherhood and the experience of sons, men and war, male codes, misandry and machismo, competition and teamwork, the man of letters, love and marriage, and manly aging, manly death.” 

“Manly” is a lonely word on college campuses today. Although recovering the lost art of manliness is gaining interest in the nation at large, colleges and universities do their best to stifle it. Most institutions offer degrees in women’s studies but not men’s studies, and they have women’s centers but not men’s centers. The University of Wyoming is an example. Its women’s center website answers a frequently asked question, “Why isn’t there a men’s center?”: 

Few schools have men's centers because it's generally recognized that men already have full access to educational and employment opportunities as required by law. A large body of research exists which clearly documents gender-based discrimination against women. Traditionally, American and world history have focused primarily on the achievements and contributions of men and have largely excluded those of women. 

The argument is that the men have had their day and it’s now the women’s turn to dominate. But the phrase “men already have full access to educational and employment opportunities as required by law” is disingenuous. Women do not yet have full access to education and employment as required by law? Really? Last year, women comprised 46.5% of the workforce and 57.2% of higher education enrollment in the United States. 

Colleges seem to want to keep women back, to make them retain victim and minority status when they are no longer a minority. Ironically, in doing so, they victimize and invite discrimination against men. This idea appears to have been the reason behind one category of U Wyoming’s required courses for English majors. Students pursuing an English degree must earn three credit hours in “Emerging fields and approaches” courses. These courses include “Non-Western Women Writers,” “Gender: Humanities Focus,” “African American Novel,” “American Indian Literature,” Studies in Chicano Folklore,” “Studies in Ethnic Literature,” and “Women’s Studies.”  

When Aaron Graham, an English major, transferred to the University of Wyoming this year, he requested to transfer credit from the “Literature By and About Men” course at Monterey Peninsula College to fulfill the English department requirement. A few days later he received the petition back. The faculty committee representative, Leslie Rush, denied the request. In the space given for her to provide a reason, she wrote simply, “List II courses should be on literature by and about women, not men” (see refused petition). 

The common procedure for such requests is that colleges with degree requirements bend them to suit the spirit of the requirement, not the exact letter. UW wanted English students to take a gender-focused literature course, and that was just what Graham had to offer. It hoped to empower minorities facing discrimination, but by making this closed-minded, set-in-its-ways decision, UW ended up positioning men as a minority facing discrimination. Graham is currently planning to appeal the rejection. 

Back in 2004, the University of California rejected the transferability of the same course, saying that it had a “narrow focus” and that there was “no comparable course in lower division” at any of the University of California’s campuses. At the time, Professor Clemens noted on the NAS online forum: 

While I don't question U.C.'s woeful admission that not even one campus offers a course in literature by and about men, U.C. does accept, for lower division transfer from community colleges, such English courses as "Images of Women in Western Literature" from Saddleback...and "Literature By and About Women" from Shasta, among dozens of other clearly gender specific literature surveys. 

By what process can U.C. analysts find "Literature By and About Men" not comparable to "Literature By and About Women"? Apparently, U.C. sees comparability as defined only by gender, not by level or type of course, thereby applying a standard of gender discrimination that produces an inequitable, politicized curriculum and differential treatment based solely on sex. 

Clemens’ appeals to the UC administration were ignored, but after NAS and NoIndoctrination.org drew blogosphere attention to the situation, the university voluntarily reversed its decision. Clemens’ course was then and may still be the only one in California higher education to focus on literature by and about men.  

When held up to the light of common sense, the University of California couldn’t justify its biased rejection of the course. Let’s help the University of Wyoming to reach the same conclusion. After all, if you can’t find manliness in Wyoming, where can you find it? 

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Correction: This article originally stated in error that Leslie Rush is the University of Wyoming English Department Chair. Professor Rush is in fact a Professor of English Education Adolescent Literacy.

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