A Letter from the Departing Chair of the English Department

Dear friends,

It has been my pleasure to serve as chair of the GW English Department for the past three and a half years. Now that my term of service is coming to an end, I want to thank you for the support you’ve given me to make this time in office so enjoyable — and so affirmative. I will leave in a way that I never could have predicted when I accepted the position: missing deeply the chance I have had to serve you and GW.

Much has changed since I moved to my new office on June 1, 2006. The English Department adopted a mission statement that gave us cohesion and a better sense of shared endeavor. Famous writers have visited our campus: Nadeem Aslam, Michael Chabon, Art Spiegelman, Suhayl Saadi, and Edward P. Jones, to name a few. We tried to connect better with our amazing alumni, and to give our undergraduates a better sense of community. We founded a blog and established a Facebook page. We’ve offered courses that no other university can match: an undergraduate research seminar at the Folger Shakespeare Library; a screenwriting course with a renowned screenwriter who happens to be an English Department alumnus; a Jewish Literature Live course in which students meet six novelists whose work they read; a transnational film class that includes travel to Prague. Several outstanding teachers have joined our faculty: Gregory Pardlo, H. G. Carrillo, Jonathan Hsy. We founded a Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute and initiated the GW English Distinguished Lecture in Literary and Cultural Studies. We created exciting gateway courses and revised the curriculum of the undergraduate major.

Few of these initiatives could have succeeded without the support of our department’s generous donors. Anyone who wrote us a check for $25 or $50 or $500 over the past few years enabled this list of achievements to unfold. THANK YOU. My deep and lasting gratitude extends especially to the Wang family and to David Bruce Smith, who changed our department forever through their extraordinary philanthropy.

Challenges remain. Our graduate program is underfunded, a major impediment to gaining in our national ranking. The economy remains uncertain even as our ambitions remain unabated.

But the English Department will be in exceptionally good hands. My friend and colleague Gayle Wald takes over as chair on January 1, 2010. In her role as deputy chair, Gayle and I worked have worked in long partnership. She will, I am certain, lead us to ever better places. If she has the same support that I have enjoyed from colleagues, students, alumni, the university, and friends, she cannot go wrong.

I am not going anywhere: returning to my teaching, directing GW MEMSI, and continuing to work to support the department. I hope that you will stay in touch … and I look forward to being slightly less breathless all the time!

With all best wishes for the holidays and new year,
Jeffrey Cohen

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