English Professor Honored as Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year

Award recognizes Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., for his superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor

April 17, 2023
The iconic stairwell and ceiling windows in Carroll Science, which houses the Department of English at Baylor University

The iconic stairwell and ceiling windows in Carroll Science, which houses the Department of English at Baylor University

by Lexi Nitishin, student news writer, Baylor University Media and Public Relation

WACO, Texas (April 17, 2023) – Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., professor of English and graduate program director of English at Baylor University,  was presented with the 2023 Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year at the annual Academic Honors Convocation on April 14.

The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year Award recognizes a Baylor faculty member who makes a superlative contribution to the learning environment at Baylor through:

  • Teaching, which is judged to be of the highest order of intellectual acumen and pedagogical effectiveness;
  • Research and creative activity, which is recognized as outstanding by the national and/or international as well as local community of scholars; and
  • Service, which is regarded as exemplary in building the character of intellectual community at Baylor.
Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., professor of English and graduate program director of English at Baylor University
Richard Rankin Russell, Ph.D., professor of English and graduate program director

“Being honored with the Cornelia Marschall Smith Award is humbling and amazing to me,” Russell said. “Some of my real heroes on the faculty such as David Lyle Jeffrey and Alden Smith have received the award in the past, so I'm thrilled to be part of this group. Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith was a legend at Baylor and that the award is named for her makes it even more meaningful.”

Nominations for the award come from all faculty, students and alumni, and Russell was chosen by a committee of four faculty members and the vice provost for faculty affairs. He received a commemorative plaque and a cash award of $20,000 and will present a lecture on his chosen topic in the upcoming academic year.

Russell earned his undergraduate degree in English at the University of Memphis, an M.Phil. in English at the University of Glasgow in Scotland as a Rotary Ambassadorial fellow, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He wanted to teach at a Christian university and applied for a position at Baylor in 2000, after hearing David Lyle Jeffrey speak at a local church in Durham, North Carolina.  Jeffrey had just come to Baylor from Canada and encouraged Russell to apply for a job in Modern British Fiction in the English department at Baylor.

Selection committee chair and Vice Provost James Bennighof, Ph.D., said Russell has contributed extensively in all areas of teaching, research and service. At the time of his nomination, he had published five books (with a sixth on the way) that received several national or regional awards for excellence. He also has edited three volumes of collected essays from other scholars and published 51 articles in scholarly journals, 14 essays in scholarly books, 33 other pieces in various publications and 28 book reviews in scholarly journals. He has directed the Beall Poetry Festival for eight years and currently serves as his department’s graduate program, where he recruits outstanding students who are drawn to a faith-based graduate education in literature.

“I love my Baylor students,” Russell said. “They are collectively so kind, smart and caring. So many of them love and know the Lord Jesus, and I have been privileged to work with them on a number of Honors theses, Master's theses and dissertations. They are oxygen to me and daily affirm my calling.”

Bennighof said the committee received several letters from current and past students who wrote at length about how Russell took great care to provide discipline, structure, insights and purpose for their study and practice in becoming outstanding independent scholars themselves.

“Dr. Russell’s impact has consisted of the way that he has taken his continuing experience of pursuing scholarship at the very highest level and brought insights from that to bear on the ways that our students can learn about their work and about literature,” Bennighof said. “And, according to the students, he’s done that with a clear message about how great art can speak to the tremendous hope to which we as humans can cling.”

In addition to his research and teaching students, Russell credits his English department chairs, Maurice Hunt, Ph.D., Dianna Vitanza, Ph.D., and current chair Kevin J. Gardner, Ph.D., for their support and for affirming his scholarship, teaching and service.

About Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith

The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professor of the Year honor was inaugurated in 2004 by the Office of the Provost and is named for Cornelia Marschall Smith, Ph.D., a 1918 Baylor biology graduate who earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1925 and her doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1928.

Smith was a professor of biology at Baylor from 1940 to 1967, chair of the biology department from 1943 to 1967 and director of Strecker Museum from 1943 to 1967. She retired in 1967 but maintained an office in Armstrong Browning Library to assist charitable causes. In 1980, Baylor honored Smith with an endowed chair known as The Cornelia Marschall Smith Professorship in Biology. She was celebrated among her colleagues, students and alumni for fine teaching, generous mentoring and her many interdisciplinary interests. She was a lively and continuing contributor to the Baylor intellectual community until her death on Aug. 27, 1997, at age 101.


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked Research 1 institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


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