Cornell English Department Declares “English” Title To Be Racially Insensitive

Faculty members at Cornell University’s English Department have reportedly voted to change the department’s name as an anti-racist reform. To avoid the “conflation of English as a language and English as a nationality,” the Department will now be called “The Department of Literatures in English.”
Department Chair Caroline Levine noted the change is not merely symbolic — it’s “in keeping with the University’s call to have us really rethink our everyday practices around racism.” The move was reportedly the idea of Professor Carole Boyce-Davies who teaches English and Africana Studies. The news report says that over 75 percent of the faculty signed on” to the change.The controversy reminds me of our own debate of the use of the Colonials as a moniker at GW. The student organizers asked “When we talk about the Colonial in history, what does it mean? And is that really what we want our school identity to be?” The emphasis however is the history of colonialism in the world, not the Colonial as a term in the United States. Just as we strive to understand the meaning and traditions of other countries, there should be a modicum of effort to recognize our own meanings and traditions. The Colonials fought against foreign rule. They were not advocates of colonization. For those interested in GW, that is part of understanding our history and our values.

In the Cornell controversy, English in the Department’s name clearly refers to the language, not the country. It is hard to see the great triumph in moving from the “Department of English” to “The Department of Literatures in English.” Indeed, the only clear impact is making the title more obtuse and awkward.

Few people would assume that an entire department at Cornell is dedicated to all things about England. The absence at various schools of a “Department of Germany” rather than the Department of German would seem a reasonable clue at to its obvious meaning. (Cornell has a Department of German Studies which clearly refers to work in the German language). Indeed, the address is ‘” but you do not reach a German but the German Department.

There is also the fact that “Department of English” is used throughout the world from high schools to graduate schools without confusion.  Until this moment, I have never heard anyone inquiring if these departments are dedicated to studying England. For the same reason, I doubt many people believe Cornell’s Department of Romance Studies is where you go to learn about being romantic. Before every Spanish Department is changed to Department of Literatures in Spanish, I think we need to consider both the practical and intellectual basis for such changes.

The question is not only the real confusion caused by the traditional name of such departments but also the real anti-racist benefits of making this change. I would first and foremost challenge such a proposal as belittling real efforts to address racism with such trivializing or cosmetic changes.  Yet, it is difficult to have these discussions today when dissenting voices are often denounced as racist or insensitive. Many faculty are afraid to speak freely after numerous campaigns to silence dissenting voices, including at Cornell. It is easier to simply remain silent.

43 thoughts on “Cornell English Department Declares “English” Title To Be Racially Insensitive”

  1. Grow up kids! Just because a work of literature is superficially representative of diversity doesn’t mean it’s worth reading; in fact most of the time it probably isn’t. It’s a tragedy that in the university where I seem to recall Vladimir Nabokov taught comparative literature, he would now be run out of town by these third rate philistine academics and their tweedle dee acolytes..

  2. How aberrant and typically cowardly, life in Cornell’s English Department! Were there any courageous dissident voices amongst the English faculty? Did any professors suggest that it might be far more important to, instead of spending time changing a name, encourage rude-truth criticism of the department chairperson, deans, and university president? Did any professors suggest that the department promote truth as its highest standard, rather than simply echoing pc-racism, racism, racism doctrine? Did any professors take a look at Cornell’s free-speech record and consult the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education? Here is a link to Cornell’s somewhat dubious record:

    Why not encourage rude-truth criticism on the part of students regarding their professors?! After all, a democracy canNOT survive if citizens are cowardly and do not possess the individual courage to speak truth. A democracy canNOT survive if citizens place career success far above the courage to speak truths that might damage career. Higher education has become a careerist sham. Speak truth, as I often did as a tenure-track professor, and be prepared NOT to obtain tenure, which tends only to be for those professors who seek to climb the ladder and do not possess the guts to fight for truth. Over the past several decades I have criticized professors, many of them, and the response has almost always been SILENCE. In academe, SILENCE IS GOLDEN! Debate is to be scorned! Join the PC-parade/charade or be banished into oblivion. My experience indicates that English professors tend to simply end up as card-carrying members of the academic/literary establishment. They open wide and swallow. Pulitzer Prize winner! Nobel Prize in Literature! Oh, wow! Do they ever question who the faceless judges making the anointments are and what their biases might be? Never! They simply pump up the icons, organizations, and cultural apparatchiks. They rarely if ever question and challenge them. To rise to the status of Nobel Prize, for example, one certainly has to follow the prime taboo: thou shalt NOT criticize the academic/literary establishment. Glueckoma! Well, I could go on and on. In any case, as editor of a literary journal, I constantly ask subscribers and contributors to send harsh criticism of me and/or the journal… and publish the harshest criticism received in each and every issue. Is there just one academic English journal in America that does that? If so, I sure as hell haven’t found it. Does Poets & Writers magazine or Poetry magazine or Agni do that? Of course not!

    G. Tod Slone, Ed.
    The American Dissident, a biannual journal of literature, democracy, and dissidence

  3. Can someone please help me decide whether I should take LIE 101 in my first semester or if it’s safe to put it off to the spring?

  4. How long before The Juilliard School cleanses itself of racism and teaches only Rap and Traditional African Drums?

    Meanwhile, Cornell should just rename its racist department of a language we mustn’t mention, The Cornell Department of Ebonics. I imagine that’s what most of the professors speak by now anyhow.

  5. The word “English” now signifies racism?

    Absurd. Every nation on Earth, throughout time, has had its own forms of racism. Case in point: North Korea forces women to abort their babies if the father is Chinese.

    You know there is a higher demand for examples of racism, than there is supply, if you have to reach so far as to make it up. Dennis Prager has said numerous times that there were no fabricated instances of anti-semitism in Nazi Germany. There was no need for hoaxes or micro aggressions! The reality was grim and brutal anti-semitism for real.

    Will reason prevail? Or are we in the throes before the rise of yet another abusive, Leftist dictatorship? The rhetoric is eerily reminiscent as before the Holodomor, the Nazi Holocaust, Maoism, Lenin… People pitted against people for the gain of the Left.

    Do not accept this absurdity! “English” is not racist!

  6. And yet matriculation persists.

    “It’s the [free market], stupid!”

    – James Carville

    The fate of any free enterprise is always and forever in the hands of consumers.

    “If you [stop paying tuition], he will [go].”

    – The Voice, Field of Dreams

  7. Many faculty are afraid to speak freely after numerous campaigns to silence dissenting voices, including at Cornell. It is easier to simply remain silent.

    Actually, one can wager there are few silenced dissenters on the faculty. The vast majority of the faculty do not actually object to the abuse of dissenters. Many of the remainders are hopelessly other-directed people. So, you get a campus with > 1,500 f/t faculty, and the only one who says anything about the rancid campus culture is a solitary clinical faculty member at the law school (who other law school faculty would like to see fired).

    What you’re not acknowledging is the low character of today’s faculty. The professional-managerial class in general isn’t too impressive either. These people aren’t fit to shine my uncle’s shoes.

  8. “Many faculty are afraid to speak freely after numerous campaigns to silence dissenting voices, including at Cornell. It is easier to simply remain silent.”
    As many around the globe have found, it’s “only easier” in the short run. And then there’s those “thousand deaths.”

  9. The only thing the Cornell Department of Literatures In English hate more than racism is the Cornell Department of English Literature. And the Department of English Literature at Cornell. And the Literatures in English Department at Cornell.


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