The crazy obsession with race, sex and ethnicity that afflicts so many universities has at last come full circle, if Georgetown University is any guide.

There a professor has inaugurated a course dealing exclusively with what were once considered, back in the dark ages, the great writers of American fiction: Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and the rest. At first blush, the course appears amazingly free of the informal quota system that requires professors to include other writers, regardless of merit, on the basis of their sex or race.Need we add that there's a catch? It's found in the course's title: "White Male Writers." Hawthorne et al. are studied not as masters of prose narrative and keen students of human nature, but as "white men defined by their race and gender."

The crass biological determinism so beloved of contemporary literary criticism - the idea that people are what they look like rather than what they think and learn and create - continues to be the focus of the course.

Oh, well. It's reassuring to know that students somewhere are still reading the American classics, even if for the most vulgar of reasons.