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Cornell Rejects Academic Freedom By: Joe Sabia
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 07, 2004


After banning the press from videotaping its weekly meeting, the Cornell University Student Assembly (SA) rejected the Academic Bill of Rights.  Citing the document’s objectives as “redundant,” “irrelevant,” “insulting,” and “objectionable,” the SA determined that academic freedom was unimportant to the Ivy League campus.

The Resolution on Academic Freedom — based on David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights — was introduced by a bipartisan coalition of Cornell students, including the editor-in-chief of The Cornell Daily Sun.  The resolution stated that the “SA affirms [the] principles of academic freedom and intellectual diversity” and went on to cite six principles:

(1) Students should be graded on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the disciplines they study.

 

(2) Curricula and reading lists in the humanities and social sciences should provide students with dissenting viewpoints where appropriate.

 

(3) Faculty should not use their courses for the political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.

 

(4) All faculty should be hired, fired, or promoted and granted tenure on the basis on their competence and appropriate knowledge in the field of their expertise.

 

(5) Selection of speakers [and] allocation of funds should not discriminate on the basis of his or her political or ideological affiliation.

 

(6) The obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature, or any other efforts to inhibit the civil exchange of ideas should not be tolerated.

 

Any reasonable person, whatever his political philosophy, should agree with the abovementioned tenets if he is committed to intellectual diversity.  Unfortunately, Cornell leftists will do anything — including censorship — to hold on to their monopoly of power.

 

The debate on the Academic Bill of Rights got off to an auspicious start when SA representative Michelle Fernandes tried to eject Cornell American editor-in-chief Ryan Horn from the meeting.  Horn, a well-known conservative journalist on campus, brought a digital camcorder to the event to record the debate.  Fernandes raised an objection to Horn’s presence saying, “Point of privilege.  I want [him] to stop videotaping.”  Horn replied, “Respectfully, no.”  Nick Linder, president of the SA, then ordered, “As chair, I have to ask you to leave the meeting.  It’s my duty to uphold that.  Turn that off or leave”

 

Horn expressed outrage and cited his First Amendment rights.  He defiantly ignored Linder’s decision, remained in his seat, and secretly videotaped the entire affair. 

 

Following the camcorder fiasco, Cornell Democrats president Tim Lim — thinking he was speaking off the record — slammed the Academic Bill of Rights as “a publicity stunt [by] neoconservatives such as David Horowitz.”  Lim then went on to claim that promoting academic freedom was a part of a partisan conspiracy engineered by the College Republicans.

 

The liberal Democrats controlled the entire tenor of the debate.  Leftist Brennan Veys amended the resolution by removing two key phrases from the bill: (i) “students should be graded on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects” and (ii) “all faculty should be hired, fired, and promoted, and granted tenure on the basis of their competence.”  He claimed that including these clauses in an Academic Bill of Rights was an “insult” to Cornell’s faculty. 

 

When Veys was confronted with certain facts — namely that 97 percent of Cornell’s faculty are Leftists and that 21 of 23 government department professors are registered Democrats — he shook his head dismissively.  Ross Blankenship, a co-sponsor of the bill, asked Veys, “How comfortable do you think a Cornell student is in writing an essay in support of President Bush?”   At this question, the Democrats laughed hysterically, indicating that Blankenship was paranoid.

 

When the votes were tallied (8 in favor, 9 against), SA president Linder announced his final judgment, “The chair will cast a vote in, uh, the negative.”  He then smirked at the co-sponsors of the bill, waved them off, and said, “Have a nice day.” And with that, the Academic Bill of Rights died at Cornell.

 

Cornell University has a shameful record on intellectual diversity.  There is no tolerance for conservative ideas among the faculty, the administration, or the student government.  At every turn, the instinct of radical leftists is to censor those views with which they disagree.  They have succeeded, in large part, because their totalitarian judgments are enacted under the cover of darkness.  That is precisely why the Student Assembly tried to ban video coverage of its Politburo-style meeting.

 

The debate (or lack thereof) over the Academic Bill of Rights at Cornell revealed precisely why this measure is so desperately needed here.  And that is why Cornellians committed to intellectual diversity will continue to fight for it.  


Joe Sabia is an assistant professor of consumer economics at the University of Georgia.


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