May 25, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: FGSS faculty respond to Dean Ritter’s May 12 op-ed

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To the Editor:

We, the faculty of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, want to thank Arts and Sciences Dean Gretchen Ritter ’83 for her emphasis on the value of the interdisciplinary programs in her opinion piece published on May 12 in The Cornell Daily Sun.  We are, however, concerned that the material support for our program has been overstated or misrepresented in this opinion piece, and would like to clarify the actual situation the program faces.

Our program, since its inception in the 1970s as Women’s Studies, has been a leader in feminist analysis across disciplines, fostering dialogue across departments and throughout the University. Feminist, Gender and Sexuality studies is an interdiscipline that focuses feminist and queer critical lenses on the regulation of gendered and sexed personhood, the distribution of rights and the formation of knowledge. Our mission in research and teaching is to enable students and colleagues to develop skills in critical literary, cultural and social analysis in order to generate new insights and methodologies, with the goal of advancing research on gender and sexuality in a wide range of disciplines, and of supporting diversity and social justice at Cornell and in the world.

We believe that this mission merits the support of the University, but we also believe that this support is at risk.  Dean Ritter states: “The overall budget for FGSS is about the same today as it was 10 years ago, albeit with a smaller discretionary budget for programming than in years past.”  In fact, the College contribution to our program’s operating expenses has been cut repeatedly over the last ten years, dropping to less than half of what it was. Many of our expenses are now covered by money that was donated to the program in the past; when this money is gone, the program will not be able to cover its operating expenses. This is not just a matter of programming or events, but also of money to update technology or even to acquire the basic supplies that the program needs to function.  What Dean Ritter also neglects to mention is that the program assistant’s position has also been reduced to a half-time position.  This FGSS budget and its staff cover the rapidly growing LGBT Studies program as well as FGSS; no concession has been made, nor has it even been recognized, that FGSS has thus been asked to do much more with much fewer resources.

Dean Ritter also implies that the number of faculty lines has remained steady in the program, with one faculty member leaving the program, and another being hired.  In fact, since the academic year 2009-2010, we have lost two full-time positions that have not been replaced. While we have lost faculty, the enrollments in our program are growing, and have been for the past decade, and students are now turned away from many of our courses.  Our administration cuts positions in FGSS, even while the other Ivy League Women’s and Gender Studies programs add permanent full and joint lines in order to remain competitive.

Of even greater concern to the FGSS faculty is the vision that Dean Ritter presented for the future of the program in a meeting with student groups on May 8.  She suggested that the program could function without its own faculty, by having faculty from other departments teach the courses for the major.  This proposed dispersal of the functions of the program would deprive students of the continuity of research, teaching, advising, and other forms of support that students receive from faculty who are engaged long-term with the program and are conversant both with the field and with the students’ own trajectories. It could also lead to a loss of place for students, as FGSS and its joint faculty currently provide an identifiable site for the production of community, supporting the work of student groups and developing programming that reflects their interests and needs, from lunch lecture series featuring the work of Cornell faculty to lectures and performances by leaders in the LGBT and feminist communities.

Both FGSS and LGBT Studies give voice to perspectives that are often marginalized at Cornell.  Further isolation in various units would only increase that marginalization, with the work of defining their academic program and building community falling largely on the students themselves.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Conference on Women, a conference organized by students and contingent faculty which made Cornell a leader in Women’s Studies, we ask that the College of Arts and Sciences take on a leadership role once more, confirming its support for FGSS by taking real steps to increase the number of faculty in the program and to restore and stabilize the College contribution to the program’s budget.

Most of all, we would request that decisions made concerning the future of the program be made in consultation with the faculty of the program. We ask that the Cornell Administration remember one of the fundamental principles of democratic governance: “Nihil de nobis sine nobis” (Nothing about us, without us).


Prof. Kathleen Long, romance studies
director of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Prof. Judith Peraino, music
director of LGBT studies

Prof. Kate McCullough, English and FGSS
director of undergraduate studies, FGSS

Prof. Jane Juffer, FGSS and English

Prof. Suman Seth, science and technology studies

Prof. Lucinda Ramberg, FGSS and anthropology

Prof. Shirley Samuels, English

Prof. Judith Byfield, history

Prof. Masha Raskolnikov, English

Prof. Julia Chang, romance studies

Prof. Ileen A. DeVault, Industrial and Labor Relations;
director of The Worker Institute

Prof. Saida Hodžić, FGSS

Prof. Ellis Hanson, English

Prof. Nick Salvato, performing and media arts

Prof. Durba Ghosh, history

Joanne Fortune, the James Law Professor of Physiology

Prof. Rachel Weil, history

Prof. Camille Robcis, history

Mary Beth Norton, the Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History

Debra Castillo, the Emerson Hinchliff Chair of Hispanic Studies and Professor of comparative literature