Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

While professor titles named after former Prof. Goldwin Smith will be removed, the Board of Trustees stopped short of renaming Goldwin Smith Hall.

December 15, 2020

Trustees Vote to Remove Goldwin Smith, Who Held Racist, Sexist Beliefs, From Honorary Professor Titles

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Cornell’s Board of Trustees voted to strip former University Prof. Goldwin Smith’s name from professorship honorifics that used his name after an effort led by two professors with the title. Smith was racist, sexist and anti-Semitic. 

However, the Board of Trustees stopped short of renaming Goldwin Smith Hall, the hub for the College of Arts and Sciences. “De-naming at this time was determined to be too simple an action versus engaging seriously with the full legacy of Goldwin Smith,” Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina wrote in a Monday statement.

Goldwin Smith Profs. Sturt Manning, classics, and Adam Thomas Smith, anthropology, lifted the initiative off the ground, contacting the other 12 Goldwin Smith professors and raising the issue with Arts and Sciences Dean Ray Jayawardhana before taking it to President Martha Pollack, Manning said. 

“I was pleasantly surprised by the constructive approach that the Board of Trustees has taken,” Manning said.

Goldwin Smith was formerly a professor of history at the University of Oxford from 1858 to 1866 before moving to work at Cornell. At Cornell, he was a professor of English and constitutional history for a short stay, from 1868 to 1872. His portrait on the University Library’s web page remarks that his tenure at Cornell gave “the new University instant credibility.”

Smith was unabashed about his anti-Semitic views, describing Jews as “parasites.” Smith wrote, “The Jewish objective has always been the same, since Roman times. We regard our race as superior to all humanity, and we do not seek our ultimate union with other races, but our final triumph over them.”

In spite of the University’s motto and co-educational roots, Smith said by admitting women, Cornell would “sink at once from the rank of a University to that of an Oberlin or a high school.” 

At a 1906 naming ceremony for Goldwin Smith Hall, former University President Jacob Gould Schurman remarked that “the name furnishes an ideal to the faculty.” He continued to say that “for all time in this University the name of Goldwin Smith remains a synonym for liberal culture.”

For professors, the Goldwin Smith title, like many other honorifics, is purely that  honorary; there is no financial or special compensation for the professors donning the name. Manning said that professors often include the title with their writings — in emails, books, op-eds and on their faculty biographies — so dissociating from someone with racist beliefs is important. 

“To rename the chairs is a significant step that reflects the fact that the association with somebody who may have been a major figure in Cornell’s history but has views which are pretty much unacceptable,” Manning said.

This is not the first time a push has been made on campus to remove Goldwin Smith’s name from titles. In 2009, two professors helped to uncover Smith’s littered history of anti-Semitic literature and promotion. As a result, students and faculty demanded the University adhere to its motto of equality and inclusion by renaming Goldwin Smith Hall. 

Reflecting on 2020, a historic year for racial justice, Manning thinks this change is owed this moment of reckoning: “This is one of those ones where the political moment has shifted from what perhaps would had previously been ‘well, this needs further thought and a long period with committee’ to a recognition: ‘Actually, we need to act.’”

Upon the approval of the University to rename the honorifics associated with Goldwin Smith, Thomas Smith — the other professor who spearheaded the effort — wrote that he was “delighted” by the University’s decision to rename the professorships. “His deplorable racist, anti-Semitic and misogynist views are well-documented and it is well past time for Cornell to fully repudiate them,” he continued.

Cornell is not the only school in the Ivy League to remove the names of racist figures from honorary titles. In June, Princeton University removed former president Woodrow Wilson’s name from their School of Public and International Affairs.