News at Princeton

Tuesday, Sept. 02, 2014

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Cornel West, Chang-rae Lee appointed to senior faculty posts

Enhancing its strong Program in African-American Studies, Princeton University Saturday appointed to the faculty Harvard University Professor Cornel West, the acclaimed teacher and scholar of religion, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a Bowdoin College professor known for his work in African-American religious studies. Writer Chang-rae Lee, whose award-winning novel "Native Speaker" recently was recommended as the book to be read and discussed collectively across New York City, was named to a senior faculty post in Princeton's Humanities Council and creative writing program.

At its meeting Saturday, Princeton's Board of Trustees also appointed two new professors in the Department of Mathematics: Andrei Okounkov, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley; and Rahul Pandharipande, a professor at the California Institute of Technology. All the appointments take effect July 1.

"The appointments we announce today illustrate the richness, depth and diversity of faculty and programs across Princeton's campus," said President Shirley M. Tilghman. "Cornel West, who is known for his intellectual contributions in the study of religion and for challenging those both inside and outside of academia to think about critical issues of race, was a popular and dedicated teacher during his previous tenure at Princeton, and we are pleased that he has decided to return. He will be joined by Eddie Glaude, who studied with Professor West as a Princeton graduate student and has since built his own reputation as a gifted scholar and teacher.

"We welcome Chang-rae Lee, a rising star among American novelists, and Professors Okounkov and Pandharipande, who will continue the tradition of excellence in our mathematics department," Tilghman said. "Together, these appointments provide compelling evidence of Princeton's commitment to excellence in research and teaching in both traditional and new disciplines."

Religion

West, the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor at Harvard, will return to Princeton as the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion. He was a member of Princeton's faculty from 1988 through 1994, serving as professor of religion and director of the Program in African-American Studies.

One of the nation's most widely cited scholars of religion, West focuses on the area where religious thought, social theory and pragmatic philosophy meet. His most influential scholarly work, "The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism," is a history of pragmatism from Emerson to the present. "It would be accurate to say that he has reshaped religious studies in such a way that his area of interest is now seen as central to the field," said Jeffrey Stout, a professor of religion at Princeton.

Through his writings, West has proven himself to be one of the most penetrating and wide-ranging critics of contemporary religious thought, Stout said, adding that West "defends a position that combines pragmatism and Christian thought in a way that is reminiscent of the young Reinhold Niebuhr."

West's book "Race Matters," which sold nearly 400,000 copies and influenced a national dialogue on race, brought him widespread attention and honors outside the field of religious studies. His recent work includes two important books he co-authored on public policy issues: "The Future of American Progressivism" and "The War Against Parents."

"I am excited to return to the greatest center for humanistic studies in the country," West said. "I look forward to being a part of President Tilghman's vision that promotes high quality intellectual conversation mediated with respect."

Writer Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities, said: "Depth, precision and fervor have always characterized Cornel West's work as well as his teaching. Princeton is extremely fortunate in securing him -- again."

West graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude, and earned his Ph.D. degree in philosophy at Princeton in 1980. In 1996, he was awarded the James Madison Medal, the highest honor Princeton bestows on graduate alumni. At Harvard University, West has taught introductory through advanced courses, and his "Introduction to Afro-American Studies" class was the second most popular course at the university. In addition, West has been on the faculty at Union Theological Seminary and Yale University, and has served as a visiting professor at numerous other colleges and universities.

"The Department of Religion is delighted to welcome back Cornel West," said Professor Martha Himmelfarb, chair of the department. "During his years here he brought extraordinary energy to his undergraduate teaching, and he helped to attract and train an exceptional group of graduate students. We very much look forward to his return, which will enrich the department in so many ways."

West is "certain to make a fine contribution to the intellectual life of the Program in African-American Studies," said Professor Colin Palmer, the program's acting director. "I look forward to working with him on many projects that will enhance the study of the peoples of the African Diaspora on this campus."

Another faculty member joining the Department of Religion is Eddie Glaude, who was appointed associate professor. Glaude, now associate professor of religion and Africana studies at Bowdoin College, is the author of "Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America," a finalist for the Society of Historians of the Early Republic first book prize. He edited "Is it Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism," and is the co-editor, with West, of the forthcoming volume "African American Religious Studies: An Anthology."

"Eddie Glaude is among the most interesting members of a new generation of scholars in the study of American religious life and thought. He's a teacher of extraordinary energy and imagination and a person of strong and thoughtful convictions," said Charles Beitz, a Princeton politics professor who, as dean for academic affairs at Bowdoin, recruited Glaude there. "He was a great contributor to the Bowdoin faculty in every important dimension and we're very lucky to have attracted him to Princeton," Beitz said.

Glaude is a 1989 graduate of Morehouse College, with a bachelor's degree in political science. He has a master's degree in African-American studies from Temple University. At Princeton, he earned a master's degree and doctorate in religion.

"I am very excited about my appointment to the faculty at Princeton University," Glaude said. "I am convinced that something really special is happening at the institution, and I look forward to being a part of it."

Valerie Smith, a professor of English and director of the African-American studies program, noted that West and Glaude "are at different stages in their careers, but both are distinguished and influential scholars of African-American religious, philosophical and political thought.

"As teachers and as scholars they will add immeasurably to the Program in African-American Studies, the Department of Religion, and the life of the University as a whole," said Smith, who is on leave from Princeton this semester.

Creative writing, Council of the Humanities

The appointment of Chang-rae Lee, who was named professor in the Council of the Humanities and Program in Creative Writing, brings a young, fresh voice to Princeton's renowned humanities and creative writing programs. Lee's first novel, "Native Speaker," was chosen by a committee of librarians, educators and others as the book New Yorkers should read and discuss next fall in the national "One Book" program, which aims to promote reading.

Lee, professor of English and director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Hunter College of the City University of New York, was at Princeton last fall as an Old Dominion Fellow of the Humanities Council with a joint appointment in the creative writing and East Asian studies programs. He immigrated to the United States from Korea when he was 3 years old, and his writings explore the themes of identity, belonging and assimilation.

"Native Speaker," his debut novel, tells the story of a Korean-American outsider who is involved with espionage. The book won the Ernest Hemingway Foundation / PEN Award, the American Book Award and other honors.

Lee's second book, "A Gesture Life," won the Anisfeld-Wolf Prize in Fiction, the Asian-American Literary Award for Fiction and the Myers Outstanding Book Award, among other awards. For that book, a narrative of an elderly medic who remembers treating Korean "comfort women" during World War II, The New Yorker magazine named Lee one of the 20 best American writers under 40.

"The creative writing program is delighted to be able to welcome Chang-rae Lee to Princeton," said Professor Paul Muldoon, a poet who is director of the Princeton program. "He's a great writer, a great teacher and, as luck would have it, a great person. The program has been arguably the best in the country. With the arrival of Chang-rae Lee it is unarguably the best in the country."

Joyce Carol Oates, the writer and Princeton professor, described Lee as "one of the most talented and promising writers of his generation."

Lee "is notable for his fusion of large political and social issues with precisely observed domestic details and for his sympathetic portrayal of the complexity of human relations," said Oates, Princeton's Roger S. Berlind '52 Professor in the Humanities.

Lee joined Hunter College in 1998 after spending five years as a faculty member at the University of Oregon, where he received his master of fine arts degree in creative writing in 1993. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in English from Yale University in 1987.

In addition to his two novels, Lee has published essays and stories in literary journals and general-interest publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times and Gourmet, and his writings have been collected in numerous anthologies.

"I'm immensely pleased and excited to be joining the Princeton creative writing faculty," Lee said. "I could not ask for a more exemplary group than my new colleagues on the Humanities Council, whose extraordinary literary achievements I've long admired and continue to be inspired by. It's an electric artistic milieu, one in which I'm eager to begin writing and teaching."

Professor Alexander Nehamas, chair of Princeton's Humanities Council, described Lee as "one of the most prominent and promising Asian-American authors of this generation."

"A subtle and sensitive writer and an infectiously enthusiastic teacher, Lee adds a new dimension to our outstanding Program in Creative Writing," Nehamas said. "His appointment, which has the strong support of the Department of East Asian Studies as well, is an indication of the University's continuing effort to expand our offerings in the creative arts and address the interests of the broadest possible range of our students and faculty."

Mathematics

In Princeton's mathematics department, Andrei Okounkov and Rahul Pandharipande are joining the faculty as professors.

Okounkov, now assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley, specializes in representation theory, the study of representations of algebraic objects by matrices. He received his bachelor's degree and doctorate in mathematics from Moscow State University, and was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship in 2000. Okounkov has taught at the University of Chicago, and has been a member of the Institute for Advanced Study and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, and has been a research fellow in the Dobrushin Mathematical Laboratory at the Institute for Problems of Information Transmission at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Pandharipande comes to Princeton from the California Institute of Technology, where he is professor of mathematics. He earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics at Princeton where he received the department's top senior award, and his doctorate in mathematics at Harvard University. Pandharipande, who specializes in geometry, has been an instructor at the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral fellow at the Institut Mittag-Leffler in Stockholm. He has received numerous fellowships, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship, the Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships from the National Science Foundation.

"Andrei Okounkov has made brilliant contributions to many areas of mathematics. Most of his current work is concerned with random matrices and random permutations. This work is truly spectacular; it combines methods of modern algebraic geometry with combinatorics," the field of mathematics concerned with the enumeration of mathematical entities and relations, said Professor Joseph Kohn, acting chair of the mathematics department.

"Rahul Pandharipande is one of the greatest experts in algebraic geometry," Kohn continued. "He has made astounding original discoveries using a broad array of mathematical methods as well as methods inspired by mathematical physics. His recent joint work with Okounkov relates integrals on moduli spaces of curves to problems about random matrices and is a remarkable breakthrough that is being studied in seminars throughout the world."

Other appointments

In addition to these appointments, the Board of Trustees promoted six faculty members from assistant professor to associate professor, granting tenure. These are: Edgar Yazid Choueiri (mechanical and aerospace engineering), Joshua Robert Goldstein (Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, sociology), Frederick McLaury Hughson (molecular biology), Tali Mendelberg (politics), Isabelle Rolande Nabokov (anthropology) and D. Vance Smith (English).

Su Friedrich, a lecturer in the Humanities Council and Program in Visual Arts who specializes in film and video production, was promoted to professor. Jacqueline Ilyse Stone, associate professor of religion; and Zoltan Szabo, associate professor of mathematics, were promoted to professor.

Five new assistant professors are joining the faculty: Rubin Gallo in Spanish and Portuguese languages and cultures, moving from the University of Toronto; M. Zahid Hasan, physics, moving from the research staff at Princeton; Christina Lynn Imai, Woodrow Wilson School and politics, who received her doctorate in 2001 from Harvard; Evan S. Lieberman, politics, moving from a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale; and Pedro Meira Monteiro, from Sao Marcos University in Brazil. Four Princeton instructors were promoted to assistant professor: Jinho Baik (mathematics), Christiano Galbiati (physics), Adam H. Meirowitz (politics) and Benjamin Sudakov (mathematics).

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601

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