Chair’s Message

William Galperin

November 1, 2020

Dear Colleagues, Staff, Students, and Friends,

As I step in as Acting Chair for the remainder of the academic year, I’m going to reiterate a lot of what our previous Chair (now Humanities Dean), Rebecca Walkowitz, stated on this the page earlier. As Rebecca noted, we in the English department are continuing our role as educators in the classroom and beyond—literally now and figuratively. But, perhaps more than ever in the time of Covid, we need social and intellectual connection, and we’ve been doing a great deal toward that end already. Our department has undertaken a number of initiatives in response to and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. On the department web site, you will now find a page dedicated to the Committee on Bias Awareness and Prevention. The page includes names and contact information of committee members, resources, events, and affiliated groups and you should feel free to contact members of the committee. CBAP oversaw a two-part, remote Black Lives Matter Teach-In in  August for all staff, faculty, and graduate students in English and faculty from our several programs have also participated in mandatory workshops on “How to Have an Anti-Racist Classroom.”

Although they’ve been working now for several months, I want again to call attention to some new department leaders, who have been helping us navigate the many challenges suddenly upon us: the gradual re-opening of campus (“Return to Rutgers”); the ongoing needs of remote instruction, social distancing, and health safety; and the various budget adjustments we are currently facing. They have been and will be coordinating many of the department- and program-wide anti-racism initiatives mentioned above and other initiatives. They are: Lynda Dexheimer, our first Executive Director of the Writing Program; David Kurnick, Director of Graduate Studies, and Brad Evans and Stacy Klein, who are serving one-year terms as Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies and Acting Director of Creative Writing, respectively. The Rutgers English Language Institute also has two new officers: Nela Navarro, who is assuming the role of Director of English as Academic Discourse, and Mark Keitges, who  is replacing her as Director of Graduate ELL and ITA Programs. 

We have been able, too, to bring several early career scholars to Rutgers English for postdoctoral fellowships this year.  Randi Gill-Sadler and Gabrielle Williams join us as Cheryl A. Wall Postdoctoral Fellows in African American and African Diaspora Literary Studies. Gill-Sadler is currently Assistant Professor of English at Lafayette College. While a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers, she will be completing work on her book manuscript, Diasporic Dissonance: Black Women’s Writing, the Caribbean and U.S. Empire. Williams earned her doctorate in African American studies at UC Berkeley, where she is currently Senior Postdoctoral Fellow and lecturer. She will be working on her book project, Starving from Satiety: Explorations of Uncommon Hunger in 20th Century African American Literature.  Michelle Smiley and Alexander Bigman join us as CCA Postdoctoral Fellows. Smiley is a scholar of 19th-century photography and visual culture. Her current book project, Daguerreian Democracy: Art, Science, and Politics in Antebellum American Photography, examines how the daguerreotype became an object of technological, scientific, and commercial innovation for antebellum scientists, artisans, and political thinkers. Bigman, a historian of modern and contemporary art, is at work on a book project derived from his dissertation, “Picturing Fascism in Post-Conceptual Art, 1974-1984,” which examines how the history and aesthetics of interwar European fascism became newly salient objects of inquiry and representation for artists associated with the so-called “Pictures Generation.” 

Our standing faculty remain committed to research, teaching, and service and they have been recognized accordingly for many years, both intra and extramurally. In 2020 alone, department faculty were honored with several university-side awards, including the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Rutgers Board of Trustees Award for Excellence in Research, and the Dean’s Advisory Council Award for the Mentoring of Graduate Students.

The mentorship of young and mid-career scholars has also been a signal feature of Rutgers English. Last year, we promoted eight tenure-track colleagues: three to Associate Professor; three to Professor; and two to Distinguished Professor. Next year, we hope to promote five more faculty. We also recommended five non-tenure-track faculty members for promotion to Associate Teaching Professor and we will be considering four more non-tenure-track colleagues for promotion to that rank as well. We continue, too, to recommend our very talented Part Time Lecturers for advancement to the ranks of PTL2 and PTL3.

Dedicated to supporting and expanding diversity at every level--students, staff, tenure-track faculty—our department has a longstanding record of hiring, promoting, and retaining women faculty and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds. We were the first Department of English in the nation to institute an undergraduate requirement in African American literature. Next year, we will be adding an undergraduate requirement in literature of the Global South. For more than a decade, we have hosted the Rutgers English Diversity Institute (REDI), a week-long program designed to encourage current students and recent graduates from diverse cultural, economic, and ethnic backgrounds to consider graduate study in Literatures in English.

As the largest unit in the School of Arts and Sciences, we are particularly committed to undergraduate education. Students take our courses in either majoring or minoring in English, but many of them are based in disciplines well beyond English and even the Humanities. Our literature, media studies, creative writing, and literary theory courses draw students from across the university, who come to our department to learn how language works, to read and analyze complex literary works and to write poems, essays, plays, and novels of their own. Each semester thousands of undergraduates enroll in our writing courses, which are revered nationally for their intellectual rigor and commitment to evidence-based argumentation. Here they read challenging essays focused on crucial topics of the day, and they learn to write, to argue, and to weigh ideas in ways that are fundamental to both their lives and the careers they hope to pursue.

Our PhD program ranks among the top 15 in the U.S. We are very proud to continue a long tradition of teaching and mentoring exceptional students from across the nation and the world. In the coming years, we are focused on expanding our course offerings to include writing for public audiences and helping our graduates prepare for a range of humanities careers. In addition, we are launching campaigns to expand resources for international travel and language study. We believe that learning new languages, engaging with scholars beyond North America, and tapping into new archives are essential to the intellectual vibrancy and collaborative internationalism of the twenty-first-century university.

Citizenship begins at home. In the aftermath of the killings this past year and other acts of anti-black police violence, the Committee on Bias Awareness and Prevention, along with department leaders, issued a statement condemning racist police brutality and other expressions of white supremacy, and affirming our commitment to transformative justice, including justice within our department and university. On Juneteenth, the six major units of the department wrote to communicate the ongoing and future initiatives we are designing in collaboration with students, colleagues, and staff. Below, I am including links to both of these statements. 

It’s been to inspiring to see how we have grappled with and met the extraordinary challenges that this particular year has posed. I’m eager to work with all of you as we continue to meet them with resourcefulness, imagination and good will.  

William H. Galperin
Distinguished Professor and Acting Chair
Department of English
Rutgers University


Department of English Statement on the murder of George Floyd, systemic racism, and our community

Department actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter