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Professor of Hatred By: Jamie Weinstein
Cornell Review | Friday, September 05, 2003


The appointment of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 professor at Cornell has garnered much attention from the media, both nationally and campus-wide. What is surprising, however, is that there has been little support voiced for McKinney in Cornell's largest newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun.

In the August 26th edition of The Cornell Daily Sun, conservative columnist Joe Sabia ripped into McKinney: "Cynthia McKinney was a disgrace to the U.S. Congress. The Democratic voters of her Georgia district rightfully tossed her out of office because they were tired of her increasingly overt anti-Semitism, her claims that the president of the United States was a mass murderer and her consistent support for America's enemies." Sabia concluded that Cynthia McKinney was "at best incompetent and at worst an appeaser of international terrorism." Fair enough. But this is expected from a person who many consider Cornell's premier conservative columnist. The irony is that Sabia's comments were much nicer than many others who let their voice be heard.

Not a single letter to the editor in the Sun could be found in support of Cynthia McKinney. There is no doubt that the Sun would have printed one if there were any. In fact I am surprised the Sun didn't scour the campus looking for someone who was at least slightly literate and slightly in favor of McKinney to pen a letter. If they did, their effort came to naught.

The only positive reaction McKinney got was the moderately positive response to her appointment by the Sun's editorial board. In one Sun editorial by the Sun staff, the paper declared that the University "will benefit from McKinney, despite controversy." Later in the week in the Sun's weekly Heroes and Villains segment, the Sun staff waffled on what to label Ms. McKinney (either heroic or villainous), so they settled on "VILL-OIC"-a blend of villainous and heroic. All and all, I don't think one could consider this such a stellar defense.

On the other side there were many anti-McKinney letters to the editor. The paper printed at least four, but one must assume that more letters came in than could be printed due to space. Anyways, among the more pithy letters was that of Professor Emeritus Peter Swartz. His comments left everyone wondering what he thought about McKinney. He stated in full: "The selection of Cynthia McKinney as a Class of '56 professor is an affront to the intellectualism of Cornell University. Ms. McKinney is a racist and anti-Semite of the first rank. If she were white and male, she would be David Duke. It is unfortunate that the selection committee was so open minded that its collective brain fell on floor." Ok. Maybe he gave an inkling of where he stands on her appointment.

Then there was Elliott Marc Davis '04. In his letter to the editor, Davis stated: "I'm glad you mentioned that John Pilger was named a Rhodes of Class of '56 professor at the same time as Cynthia McKinney…evidently the theme of the Class of '56 Professors this year is 'Bush is a Nazi!'" Davis' letter was obviously meant to elicit a chuckle from the reader, but behind the obvious humor is truth. Davis was even thoughtful enough to provide a suggestion to the Rhodes committee for next year: "Perhaps next year, the University will elect Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as Rhodes Class of '56 professors."

Even Nader-voting Cornell Government Professor Theodore Lowi opined negatively on the appointment of McKinney. In a column written to attack Joe Sabia, Lowi found some room to agree with Sabia on McKinney: "Mr. Sabia is quite right to object…McKinney was a disgrace in Congress and an embarrassment to democratic politics." He continued by calling McKinney's close association to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan "an affront to civilized life itself." Such criticism of McKinney, a possible Green Party Presidential candidate in 2004, by a Professor who voted for the last Green Party Presidential candidate in 2000 is very notable.

The campus reaction to McKinney is not unfair. Her past actions warrant such criticism, not a Rhodes appointment. It is also important to note that of the six Rhodes Class of '56 professorships awarded since the honorary post was created in 2000, one was a non political architect, two others were non-political scientists, while the other three were leftist journalists and politicians: John Pilger (journalist), Cynthia McKinney (politician), and Janet Reno (politician).

Viewing the breakdown of previous Rhodes appointees is significant in light of the honor's stated purpose. The Rhodes Class of '56 website describes its purpose in part as "to strengthen the undergraduate experience by bringing to the university individuals from every walk of life." I think that it is fair to say that individuals "from every walk of life" have not been represented thus far. Perhaps the Rhodes purpose should read "to strengthen the undergraduate experience by bringing to the university individuals from every walk of life, except if that walk of life happens to be conservative."

The Cornell community is rightfully outraged at the appointment of Cynthia McKinney as a Rhodes professor. They should also be outraged by the monolith of political thought among the Rhodes recipients-at least the one's that have been appointed because of their political and ideological nature. Recently in a column, Joe Sabia called on Cornell University to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights like the one being supported by Students for Academic Freedom. Such a bill would, among other things, "protect the principle of intellectual diversity." I stand firmly with Joe in this effort and implore Cornell University to adopt such a resolution.

As for Ms. McKinney, I think it is fair to say that things aren't looking too good for her right now.

Jamie Weinstein is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group.


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