White brought William Channing Russel to Cornell as professor of modern languages and history. In his survey course, “Lectures in History,” Russel devoted considerable attention to the medieval period. By contrast to White, he taught that Christian civilization is inherently superior to Islamic civilization, as purportedly recognized by Muslims themselves in the thirteenth century. His attitude emerges clearly in a lecture on Saint Louis of France delivered on November 7, 1871:
“The Mamelukes of Egypt were so impressed by King Louis IX [of France] that [during his crusade] they desired him to lead them and become the king of Egypt…. Louis was a true man, noble and unselfish [who] lived in the belief of keeping the sacred places in possession of the Christians. If he had spent the recovery that he used for this object upon the civilization of the French, he would have benefited humanity much more.”
Between 1870 and 1879, Russel served as Vice-President of Cornell, and, for more than two years, from June 1879 until August 1881, he served as Acting President of the university while White was serving as the American ambassador to Germany.