Over the last 35 years, Cornell leftists have proven unable to control their Tourette-like impulses to censor conservative viewpoints. Last week, the far left-wing Student Assembly Finance Commission (SAFC) unilaterally defunded The Cornell American, the campus’ sole outlet for socially conservative journalism. The full Student Assembly (SA) — also dominated by liberal Democrats — will hear The American’s appeal, but recent vote counting suggests that a pro-censorship verdict will be sustained.
So why is the SAFC trying to censor The American? The SAFC’s cover story is that The American deceived the Cornell student body by claiming to be part of a “literary society.” First, conservative journalism is literary. Second, and more importantly, The American never deceived anyone.
From its very first issue in March 2004, The American has included the following words in its masthead: “[The Cornell American] is registered as The Cornell Literary Society with the Student Activities Office of Cornell University.” Moreover, at its first budget hearing, American editors stated verbatim: “We are applying for funding as we would like to put out a student digest publication that includes commentary on cultural, political, and other social issues.” There was no deception then and there is no deception now.
If the SAFC were concerned about the student body being deceived, why didn’t its Executive Board inform The American in March 2004 when the alleged “fraud” began rather than waiting until last week? Answer: Liberals did not control the SA and the SAFC in March 2004. They do control both organizations in September 2004.
The SAFC’s “deception” rationale is a pathetic smokescreen designed to cover up their insidious intentions. Their real reason for the defunding of The Cornell American is a simple, old story: liberal censorship. Leftists on the SA and SAFC hate socially conservative ideas and do not believe that they should be heard on campus. They do not believe that students should be allowed to read about why gay marriage is a bad idea, why racial quotas are discriminatory, and why drag shows are freaky. In fact, they believe that a politically correct orthodoxy should be imposed through speech codes.
This year, the SA passed a new Orwellian regulation that it has chosen to apply retroactively — that is, ex post facto (something Congress is forbidden to do by our Constitution) — to The Cornell American. The rule states that “unethical behavior,” as defined by the SAFC Executive Committee, will result in the SA taking “any action it deems suitable” to punish a student organization.
The implications of this regulation are now taking shape. “Unethical behavior” is defined as “socially conservative journalism” and “any action it deems suitable” is “censorship.” Welcome to Cornell, where social conservatives have two choices: Shut up or shut up.
The reality is that the SA and SAFC are imposing a speech code on all Cornellians. This has very dangerous implications. What if a Republican majority took over the SAFC and tried to censor leftist newspapers? Or what if one conservative newspaper supported the defunding of another conservative newspaper for the politically expedient goal of eliminating its competition? All of these outcomes would be outrageous and wrong, as are the actions of the SA and SAFC
The true test of a person’s belief in the First Amendment is his willingness to fight and defend the free speech rights of those with whom he disagrees. This is the dilemma that liberals at Cornell face now. Will they stand up and oppose censorship? Or will they try to further their ends by silencing their political opponents? This is not the first time they will face these questions.
Last year, Cornell’s NAACP chapter tried to censor The American after the paper published a sensational story on racial quotas. To its credit, the Cornell Daily Sun editorialized against censorship, and the situation was resolved without anyone’s First Amendment rights being abridged. In the aftermath, a group of black students organized to form a new newspaper to counter The American, called Black Perspectives. Kudos to these students. They understood that the way to address speech with which one disagrees is not censorship, but more speech.
Very few other Cornell clubs can boast of the campus and national accomplishments of The Cornell American. Since its reemergence on campus in March 2004, The American has published five highly controversial and widely read issues. Its articles have been cited by FoxNews.com, the Leadership Institute, FrontPage Magazine, and the Cornell Daily Sun. Whether one agrees or disagrees with The American’s content, there is no denying that its writers have made significant contributions to the political discourse. Had The American been a left-wing newspaper and received such national attention, the SAFC would not have defunded them.
Conservatives on campus are routinely kicked around by the liberal establishment, and are not permitted the same opportunities as leftists to engage in student-funded activities. According to a 2004 study of SAFC-funded student organizations, less than one-half of one-percent of the $2.3 million student activity fee is allocated to right-of-center clubs. In contrast, a 1996 investigation commissioned by then-SAFC Chairman Vincent Flanagan (’96) found that more than 40 percent of student funding went to organizations serving leftist racial minority organizations. Apparently, the current SAFC has looked at these data and determined that conservatives get too much money.
Cornell’s censorship movement is gaining steam. The consequences of its success could be disastrous without swift and decisive action. All fair-minded students, regardless of political affiliation, must speak out against the SAFC’s efforts. A college campus must be a place where the diversity of opinions can flourish. Advocates of a free marketplace of ideas at Cornell should demand the protections of the First Amendment for all students, and endorse the Academic Bill of Rights. Squelching the opinions of those with whom we disagree will only lead to more ignorance and a diminished educational experience.