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 ‘https://german.cornell.edu/” 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.

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

  1. How many academics felt compelled to sign the letter and signed for peace (not to be cancelled) and and income maintenance? In the current climate of conformity and coercion it is no wonder 75% signed.

  2. 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.”

    This reads like a skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

    Department Chair Caroline Levine and Professor Carole Boyce-Davies of Cornell University’s English Department have clearly lost touch with reality.

    Their token renaming of Cornell University’s English Department will do absolutley nothing in furthering it’s students education.

    And now for something completely different:

    1. Personanongrata writes: “Their token renaming of Cornell University’s English Department will do absolutley [sic] nothing in furthering it’s students education.”

      Turley writes: “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.”

      I am not so sure. “The Department of Literatures in English” communicates something both more precise and more pluralistic than “Department of English.” Clearly the study of an author writing in Cameroonian English could be the subject of a doctoral dissertation in this program…as could the study by an OED editor struggling to capture the latest connotative distinction between African, Americana and Africana.

      And it might be more poetic.

      Hmmm. Does an Asian American student writing papers in the field of Africana studies contribute more to the body of American Africana, or Asian Americana?

    2. There has got to be some kind of hidden powerful hand driving all this stupidity. I have hard time believing that so many people are honestly accepting of all these “new rules” in Academia, entertainment and media where anything and EVERYTHING is now being filtered through the eyes of “racism” and identity politics prism.
      I’m beginning to believe in some Illuminati little group of people directing all this stuff. From forcing academics to demonize by leveling DOWN everything white (Culture, arts, politics, etc) to cancellation of people for the most ridiculous and insignificant things (like that woman fired for agreeing with J.K. Rowling’s).
      I know TDS has lots to do with it, more than the guy himself for being obnoxious, raw, bombastic, vulgar or whatever. I think TDS has to do more with the fact that DT brought a complete and sudden stop to the progressive agenda, which was presented subtlety as “PC”. There was a 20-30 years old process on the work, of slowly but surely indoctrination, social engineering.

    3. There has got to be some kind of hidden powerful hand driving all this stupidity. I have hard time believing that so many people are honestly accepting of all these “new rules” in Academia, entertainment and media where anything and EVERYTHING is now being filtered through the eyes of “racism” and identity politics prism.
      I’m beginning to believe in some Illuminati little group of people directing all this stuff. From forcing academics to demonize by levelling DOWN everything white (Culture, arts, politics, etc) to cancellation of people for the most ridiculous and insignificant things (like that woman fired for agreeing with J.K. Rowling’s).
      I know TDS has lots to do with it, more than the guy himself for being obnoxious, raw, bombastic, vulgar or whatever. I think TDS has to do more with the fact that DT brought a complete and sudden stop to the progressive agenda, which was presented subtlety as “PC”. There was a 20-30 years old process on the work, of slowly but surely indoctrination, social engineering.

  3. Compare and contrast:

    1. https://latino.cornell.edu/

    “Supplement your major, your Master’s or Ph.D. with an interdisciplinary minor in Latina/o Studies that is open to undergraduates and graduates of all colleges at Cornell. Latina/o Studies offers a multi-disciplinary range of courses that enhance students’ understanding of Latinas/os in the United States ranging in topics from immigration, labor, politics, music and health to history, culture, law, education, performance and literature.”

    2. https://africana.cornell.edu/academics

    “In Africana studies, you’ll have the chance to explore the centrality of Africa and the African Diaspora to the modern world and previous eras in the fields of literature, history, philosophy, international relations, cultural studies, music and the visual arts.”

    The CENTRALITY of Africa and the African Diaspora to the MODERN WORLD AND PREVIOUS ERAS…in the fields of literature, history, philosophy, international relations, cultural studies, music and the visual arts? It’s an interesting English-language (current UN lingua franca) thesis. At what point, if ever, according to the faculty at Cornell, did Anglo-Saxons cease to be Africans in diaspora? Do they consider all races and ethnicities worldwide to be Africans in diaspora – in light of English-language evolutionary science? If yes, then why omit science and mathematics – why omit any field – from their list of accomplishments? If no, then what is the basis of the faculty’s defense of CENTRALITY in the African case, as opposed to the European or the Indigenous: is it Afrocentrism? African supremacy?

    1. Both black studies and ‘Latino/a” studies are patronage programs for privileged political interests. They gin up no interest among students and no serious institution would waste faculty positions on them. In 2018, there were about 670 baccalaureate degrees awarded in black studies and about 410 in hispanic studies and the like. There were another 450 or so in Latin American areal studies and about 70 in African areal studies. By way of comparison, classics and art history, antique programs of study with indubitably distinct subject matter saw 930 and 2,350 degrees awarded that same year.

      There are 2,800 baccalaureate granting institutions in this country. So, the average such institution will award 8 diplomas in black studies over the course of a generation.

      1. “They gin up no interest among students and no serious institution would waste faculty positions on them.”

        I disagree and bat to the left of you on this one. Spanish will likely become a second official language of the US and Pan-American Latina/o cultural studies should be of great importance to a large percentage of American students. Every African American university student should be offered (if not encouraged to pursue) a good African American studies minor, just as every First Nations student should be offered a good Native American studies minor. High quality Africana majors and graduate programs should be adequate to demand, including for those in diaspora seeking a return to the continent to assist in its development.

        Interesting 1979 article from Cornell, in historical context:

        https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=briggsII

      2. Nor are student loan forgiveness and tuition vouchers for reparations out of left field.

        51 of today’s 107 HBCUs are private.

        Future of American competition = more money and an elevated profile for the (new) Black Ivy?

        Senator Harris went to Howard.

  4. Can you imagine something like this happening at Beijing University?

    I can’t.

    There’s something very very wrong with America now

    I can hardly think of a nation in history that has abased itself so much as America.

    Well, I guess Canada and England come close

    What would Hengist and Horsa do?

  5. I wonder which actual events ultimately cause the commencement of hostilities?

    Why do “visitors” persist in a nation they wish to “fundamentally transform?” Answer: “Free stuff.”

    At which point will Americans have had enough?

    Are there any Americans left in America?

  6. Based on the new name of the department, this doesn’t portend well for those considering attending its courses to learn to speak and write better English.

  7. Considering the X+Y= Zero generation aka Millennials cannot even start their genesis on the correct date it is objectively more honest to call them snowflakes considering how fast they melt. But they are also the social promotion generation which explains the why of it.

  8. 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.”

    It took 2 seconds to go to their website to figure out what the English department is about. https://english.cornell.edu/history

    Ironically, Professor Carole Boyce-Davies is either not competent in the English language if she is misinterpreting the words expressed on her department’s website, or her own racism is clouding her ability to objectively read the English language.

  9. The arts and sciences faculty is chock-a-block with unserious people. If you think it’s better in the hard science departments, read Allan Bloom’s brief memoir of the controversies at Cornell in 1969. The science departments were perfectly feckless and expected the other departments to clean up the mess they were helping to make. (The humanities departments were all in favor of the mess). It was only in the social research departments that you had some resistance. In our own time, faculties in sociology, anthropology, American history, and social psychology tend to be malignant, so the source of resistance gets narrower and narrower.

  10. I suspect that most students have had no problem understanding what an English department might be, and that very few students have protested the traditional title.
    It requires a serious intellectual effort to twist a simple phrase into a clumsy trope, and I wonder how those who have so little feeling for the language they study and teach can impart an appreciation of the language and its literature to their students.
    I was taught to write clearly and concisely, so that anyone who read what I wrote could understand what I intended to say.
    Given their new title and the explanation given for adopting it, it would seem that this English department intends to say that its members care less about the English language and its literature than they do about conforming to the current fashion of seeing racism everywhere and in everything.
    Or perhaps they simply prefer the abtruse to the obvious, an aesthetic choice, which would mark them as vaguely medieval.
    In either case, perhaps they would like to explain to which subjects the word “literatures” might refer.
    To cultures using English as their primary language? To cultures using it as one of two or more languages?
    Perhaps to works by those like Dinesen and Conrad who were not native speakers of English but wrote rather well in it?
    Does the term refer to all literary works in the English language, from comics and graffitti to novels and poems, and to translations from foreign languages into English (like Pound’s poems from the Provencal), or only to those works (how long or short) that display excellence of form or espress ideas of permanent or universal value?
    Or does “literatures” perhaps refer to musical compositions in English by composers like Gay and Gershwin?
    Could it refer to works within specific disciplines, such as the historical literature on the English, or should a student go to the Department of History for that particular literature?
    Will students be required to focus on one literature or a single culture or group of works or writers, or must they study all of the literatures that might be loosely defined as somehow English, including dialects and the language in Blade Runner?
    Will they be required to do analyses of the literatures to ascertain which are the most and which the least racist?
    Do they still teach Chaucer, whose English is truly challenging? Or Beowulf, which is hardly English? Or foreign fiction and poetry translated into English (e.g., Rexroth’s translation of Tu Fu’s poetry)?
    Do they teach Irish literature in English? Is there a Cockney literature to go with the culture, or should a student apply to the Sociology Department to study that culture and its literature?
    Am I still free to say that this seems a silly transformation which has more to do with a desire to please (sychophancy) a rabid and intellectually challenged minoirty of ideologues than with whatever everyday practices regarding racism they have at Cornell without being accused of being an insensitive racist?
    Probably not.

      1. There are about 68,000 English professors coast-to-coast. The mean teaching schedule for post-secondary faculty is about 70% time. Given the distribution of student interest and the number of FTE positions in postsecondary teaching (and given the convention of requiring students pick up distribution credits in academics and the arts), about 30,000 FTE professors could handle the teaching load. Time to lance this carbuncle.

        1. great well one imagines maybe half would be suitable for what they claim to be

          for the rest, under my “Saloth Sar Re-educational Program” the 38,000 who are incompetent can get retraining digger their own gardens in the desert. they would learn a socially useful skill, or cease to be the parasitical problem they’ve become.

  11. “Colonial”, English”….

    Cornell:. Went in dumb, come out dumb too. Hustling round their offspring in their alligator shoes. They’re keeping the white race down.

    Words from a Randy Newman song called Rednecks

  12. I graduated from Cornell. I am embarrassed. But the English Department was always full of itself. How else do you learn to tell poets and authors what their writings mean?

    1. I am also a Cornell alumnus, and I am no longer embarrassed by the childish behavior of the faculty and administration. The school has become a communist indoctrination camp.

  13. The stupidity of academia never ceases to amaze me. I started teaching in NYC schools 51 years ago and I would never teach my ‘kidz’ such crap !!!

  14. Further Balkanization of these United States of America. We are the jewel of Western nations and society. This name change is a direct attack on our history and heritage. The English speaking nations of the world are the most desirable and advanced places to live. The influence of English colonialization cannot be downplayed. It gave rise to Canada, Australia, India, Nigeria, The United States and a host of other nations. English speaking nations are not perfect but tend to be more stable and prosperous than their non English speaking neighbor’s. Equating “English” with racism and using That as as an excuse to change the name of anything is misguided. In the United States English is under attack. Spanish is the defacto 2nd language. Where are the successful, prosperous and stable former Spanish colonies? English language, literature, history and government should be studied and embraced, not marginalized in the name of political correctness.

    1. Accepting kompromat of dubious provenance from Guiliani’s lawyer is rather like eating unlabeled packages of meat from Jeffrey Dahmer’s freezer, hoping that it’s pork.

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