Rutgers English Department News

Dear Colleagues, Staff, Students, and Friends,

Today marks the first day of a new academic year, and I write to you with gratitude and admiration for your ingenuity, your dedication, and your good will. It’s been a very challenging time. It continues to be challenging with every new announcement. I am proud of how our students, our staff, and our colleagues have stood and acted together: for social justice, economic security, anti-racist education, institutional change, and health equity

We are continuing our role as educators in the classroom and well beyond the classroom. We need more social and intellectual connection, and as a department we have planned a lot for the coming year. These events will help us process what’s happened, analyze the present, and give us opportunities to create new knowledge and new institutions. They will also help us come together as a community. As I wrote to you on June 19, our department is launching 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. We are just beginning to populate the page, so please check back for updates, and feel free to contact members of the committee with any suggestions.

CBAP has planned a two-part, remote Black Lives Matter Teach-In for Wednesday, August 5 for all staff, faculty, and graduate students in English. I look forward to learning and being with you on that occasion. More information about speakers, format, and how to join will be circulated by email.

A committee of faculty from our several programs is developing mandatory workshops on “How to Have an Anti-Racist Classroom” for all Fall 2020 instructors. We will follow up with more information soon.

Today, we welcome several new department leaders, who will be working with continuing leaders to help us navigate what’s coming our way: the incremental re-opening of campus (“Return to Rutgers”); the ongoing needs of remote instruction, social distancing, and health safety; and the various budget adjustments we’re likely to face going forward. They will also be coordinating many of the department- and program-wide anti-racism initiatives mentioned above and other initiatives we will be developing.

We welcome Lynda Dexheimer, who begins today as our first Executive Director of the Writing Program; David Kurnick, who begins a three-year term as Director of Graduate Studies, and Brad Evans and Stacy Klein, who begin one-year terms as Acting Director of Undergraduate Studies and Acting Director of Creative Writing, respectively. In the Rutgers English Language Institute, I am delighted to welcome 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. 

Despite economic and logistical challenges, we have been able to bring several early career scholars to Rutgers English for postdoctoral fellowships in 2020-2021. Many thanks to the staff and faculty who worked very hard to make this happen. We’re honored to welcome four very accomplished young scholars. 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. EmpireWilliams 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 LiteratureMichelle 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.” 

We are committed to developing and supporting a new generation of academic leadership in the department, the university, and the profession. We are also committed to recognizing and honoring important research, teaching, and service. In 2020, 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 been a signal feature of Rutgers English. This past year, we promoted eight tenure-track colleagues: three to Associate Professor; three to Professor; and two to Distinguished Professor. Next year, we will be considering two additional colleagues for promotion to Associate Professor and Professor. We also recommended five non-tenure-track faculty members for promotion to Associate Teaching Professor and hope to see those promotions confirmed soon. Next year, we will be considering four more non-tenure-track colleagues for promotion to Associate Teaching Professor. We are continuing to recommend our very talented Part Time Lecturers for advancement to the ranks of PTL2 and PTL3.

The English Department is dedicated to supporting and expanding diversity at every level: students, staff, tenure-track faculty, and non-tenure-track faculty. We have 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.

English is the largest unit in the School of Arts and Sciences. We are particularly committed to our undergraduates. Some take our courses to major or minor in English, but many of our students 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 of 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 killing of George Floyd 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. 

I look forward to working with you in the year to come. 

Rebecca L. Walkowitz
Distinguished Professor and 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