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Dorm Room Coercion By: Joseph J. Sabia
Joe Sabia | Wednesday, September 10, 2003

While liberal bias among Cornell’s faculty has been well-publicized, abuse of power by other University departments often goes unnoticed. The most politicized non-academic department at Cornell is the Department of Campus Life. Much of the liberal bias in Campus Life occurs due to the influence of Residence Hall Directors (RHDs). RHDs are full-time University employees who serve as direct supervisors for student Resident Advisors (RAs). RHDs make hiring and firing decisions and set guidelines for dorm events. Essentially, they control the home environment for thousands of undergraduate students. And according to at least one RHD, yours truly is stupid.

In response to a recent Cornell Daily Sun article in which I articulated my opposition to racially segregated dormitories (also known as “Program Houses”), one prominent RHD decided to go on the offensive. At an official staff meeting attended by over a dozen student RAs, RHD Scott Helfrich referenced my Sun article “Malcolm X in the Middle” and denounced its content. He then told his employees to telephone RAs working in race-based dormitories to voice their support for segregated housing and to denounce the sentiments in my article. When I asked Helfrich how he could abuse his authority as an RHD to ask his employees to take blatantly one-sided political actions, he replied:

“I did advocate that those RAs that agreed with the Program Houses and their existence reach out via e-mail or telephone to those Resident Advisors whom that had gotten to [sic] meeting through training and Program House visits in August. However it was not mandated or a requirement for staff to do so.”

While there may not have been an explicit mandate, when a boss strongly “encourages” his employees to do something, it reeks not only of coercion, but of indoctrination. As an RHD, Helfrich is in a unique position as both a mentor and a supervisor to his staff. If he had referenced my article and encouraged RAs to become more informed about the issues for themselves, that would have been appropriate. However, as Helfrich freely admits, he took a side on segregated housing and used the authority of his position to encourage RAs to take action. If he had been unbiased, he would have also told RAs that agreed with my article to reach out via email or telephone to me.

But it didn’t end there. Later, when Helfrich was asked by one of the RAs who I was, he replied that I was just some guy who “couldn’t get out of Cornell” and was just “hanging around to write” about campus issues. When one RA acquainted with me informed Helfrich that I was a Ph.D. candidate in Economics, he disputed her claim, falsely telling his staff that I had been rejected from the program. According to one source, he told the staff, “[Joe Sabia] is not smart enough to get in.”

This is typical — when liberals do not agree with a conservative’s arguments, they lie about him and call him dumb. Apparently, a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, and an impending doctorate from an Ivy League University do not inoculate a person from liberal charges of stupidity. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

When I contacted Helfrich, he did apologize for impugning my academic record and invited me to speak to his staff at some point in the future. Still, the larger question remains — why do University employees believe that they have the authority to use their positions of power to indoctrinate students and slander those with whom they disagree? And how often has it happened in the past with no remedy? I imagine that I am one of the few students to follow-up on an incident of blatant bias. What about all the others who don't have the will (or a website) to fight back?

In their spare time, University employees are certainly free to participate in whatever political activism they choose. In fact, they can march in support of racial segregation all they like. But when an employee brings his political agenda into the workplace, he crosses a line. The Department of Campus Life is becoming an increasingly hostile work environment for conservatives and Cornell has an obligation to remedy this.

Joseph J. Sabia is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Cornell University.

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