Poor Jason Fitger. In Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher’s hilarious 2014 novel, Fitger is a tenured professor of English at the second-rate Payne University, where he has a dingy office by the bathroom, writes sardonic letters of recommendation and gripes about the school’s political in-fighting.
Life isn’t much better in The Shakespeare Requirement, Schumacher’s entertaining follow-up. Fitger is now the department chair, to the faculty’s dismay. That’s not his only problem: The university has renovated Willard Hall, but only for the Economics department, which now enjoys hot-and-cold water fountains and an espresso bar. English is stuck in the dilapidated lower floors, where Fitger has a “barbarically hot” office with “fossilized apple cores” under his desk and wasps in the windows.
That isn’t indignity enough for Roland Gladwell, the Economics chair. He wants to get rid of the English department entirely, so he convinces Phil Hinckler, dean of the university and Fitger’s ex-wife’s boyfriend, to let him chair a quality-assessment program that he hopes will help achieve his goal.
One of the ways English can survive is by submitting an acceptable Statement of Vision. This, too, poses problems, as the proposed statement eliminates the requirement that all students take a Shakespeare course, a change that infuriates the department’s Shakespeare scholar and becomes a cause célèbre among the student body.
The novel includes many colorful characters, among them Fitger’s assistant, Fran, who’d much rather be an animal behavior consultant, and Angela Vackray, a freshman who gets into trouble with a boy from her Bible study.
Schumacher’s humor can be broad—a centenary celebration is called “One Hundred Years of Payne”—but the book has more laugh-out-loud lines than most novels, and she wields cutting remarks that are as sharp as ever. The Shakespeare Requirement is a bitter delight, perhaps, but a delight nonetheless.