On Dec. 10, the Cornell University Board of Trustees, through its Executive Committee, accepted a recommendation made by a special task force to rename the Goldwin Smith Professorships, currently held by 14 faculty members within the College of Arts and Sciences. The Board also accepted a task force recommendation that the university explore options to educate and further raise awareness about the complex and difficult history around the 19th-century writings and stated beliefs of Goldwin Smith himself. The task force deliberations were informed by a committee that included faculty and senior administrators.
It is notable that these discussions and recommended actions stemmed from an expressed desire by the current Goldwin Smith Professors to end their association with Smith through these honorary professorships. Although he was an eminent Oxford and Cornell scholar and played a critical role in the university’s early development, Smith (1823-1910) authored many bigoted essays that put forth anti-Semitic, anti-feminist, anti-suffrage and anti-coeducation views that are antithetical to the inclusive community and lived values Cornell is rightfully proud of, and continually strives for, today.
The task force, comprising trustees and members of the university’s senior leadership, also weighed and seriously considered revoking additional namings related to Goldwin Smith – in particular, whether to remove his name from Goldwin Smith Hall. Their recommendations strike a carefully balanced and nuanced approach: acknowledging that removing his name from the building would cut short a thoughtful and ongoing re-examination the university community should undertake when looking at Smith’s complex history. De-naming at this time was determined to be too simple an action versus engaging seriously with the full legacy of Goldwin Smith. The task force’s recommendations include a range of potential actions, from educational programming to an interpretive display in Goldwin Smith Hall, as part of a rigorous reckoning with our own history, and the implications of namings and how they align with our values and core principles.
Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff will be working with the appropriate parties to implement the task force’s recommendations in the coming months.