How Do We Raise Our National Rankings?

Readers of this blog know my enthusiasm for the department that I chair. When I joined its faculty in 1994, I was struck by how collegial those who teach here are, and how deeply committed they are to their students. And as to the students themselves … what can I say, besides that they are the best? I am still friends with many who took my very first classes fifteen years ago. They even read this blog.

A few thousand students later, and after the hiring of many extraordinary new faculty members, GW English continues only to get better.

My one frustration, though, is that I know how great the department is. Our majors and alumni (I hope) know. But how do we get that message to the outside world? I honestly believe that we have the resources, the achievements, the faculty, and the students to rival most Ivy League English Departments.

So why, in the US News Rankings, are we not any higher than we currently appear? True, we rose eight places this year, and that is significant … but it is not enough. This is the department that hosted Edward P. Jones, Art Spiegelman and Michael Chabon in one semester. We ally ourselves with the Folger Shakespeare Library and Library of Congress. Among our teachers are Tom Mallon, Gayle Wald, J. Gil Harris, James Miller, Jennifer James, Margaret Soltan, Maria Frawley, Robert McRuer, H. G. Carrillo, Gregory Pardlo … the list runs to more than thirty distinguished and world famous faculty members (the twenty of whom I did not just list will read this post and come after me with a hatchet for not bragging about them as well: I don’t have the space!).

Although what I am about to say might seem counter-intuitive to some of this blog’s readers, I do not believe we will attain the prestige we deserve until we have the resources to maintain a world-class graduate program.

A solid graduate program trains the next generation of scholars in the field. Bringing the best students to GW for advanced study improves faculty research (I can tell you from personal experience that nothing motivates me to push myself like someone who is younger than I am who forces me to run just to keep up — my best grad and undergrad students fit this description). Since graduate students are on the teaching front-line as TAs and in some of our introductory, small, formative classes, excellent graduate students also lead to a better undergraduate classroom experience. We are on the cusp of having that world class graduate program now. We certainly have the applicants.

All we are missing is the funding. Top notch research universities fund their graduate students for five years of study. My department can do this for only nine students at one time: that means each entering class can admit only one or two funded students. We therefore lose many of our candidates to other schools. Our number of funded students is far too small, and I would like to do anything in my power to make it grow.

How much does it cost to fund a graduate students? A significant amount: $20,000 per year (for a total of $100,000 for the whole five years).

If you are willing to rob some banks with me, drop me a line [jjcohen @ gwu . edu ] I have the master plan if you have the getaway car. I’m that dedicated to the future of my department.

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