Julie Schumacher made the letter of recommendation an art form and an unexpectedly effective tool of satire in Dear Committee Members; her equally funny, pointed, and ultimately moving sequel, The Shakespeare Requirement (Doubleday, $25.95) uses a more conventional narrative to delve into the lives of students, faculty, staff, and assorted mascots of the second-tier Payne University. As in Committee, the focus is Jason Fitger, now chair of the English department. From his powerless seat of authority he attempts to keep the department operating without a budget and to avoid being evicted by the rapacious Department of Economics. Rather than thinking like a CEO as he’s advised, he gets caught up in the SOS (Save our Shakespeare) movement, advises a pregnant freshman, becomes a care-provider to an ailing colleague, and semi-adopts his assistant’s rescue dog. In short, his year as Chair is an education in the true meaning of the humanities. If Fitger starts as a widely disliked, but not untrusted, figure, a man who can’t eat “misspelled food” (like that “Ceasar salad”), he ends as a warmer, more engaged member of his community. Along the way, Schumacher raises many important issues, such as the purpose and cost of higher education, the plight of adjunct faculty, sexism in higher education, and more.
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher