The Cornell American, less than a year old and already known for its vitriolic attacks on all things liberal, played defense Wednesday when the Cornell Literary Society, its parent organization, came under fire from the Student Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“As members of this University community, we are all bound by certain ethical guidelines that require [an] organization and its members, as well as members of the [Student Assembly Finance Commission], to follow,” said Kate Nadolny ’06, co-chair of the SAFC in her opening argument.
Nadolny, Darius Dillon ’05, co-chair of SAFC and Liz Falcone ’06, vice chair of SAFC public relations, represented the SAFC, while Eric Shive ’07, editor-in-chief of the Cornell American and president of the Cornell Literary Society, represented his organization along with Ross Blankenship ’05 and Michael Hint ’06.
Blankenship is the president of Students for Academic Freedom and Hint is the publisher of the Cornell American and treasurer of the Literary Society. Nadolny then outlined the alleged ethics violations.
“The first issue that the SAFC had was in relation to the advisor listed in the budget in the spring 2004,” said Nadolny. She was referring to Hint, who worked as a part-time employee for the university.
Nadolny said that the second violation stems from the Literary Society’s minimal disclosure of the nature of their publication, which was described to them as dealing with “cultural, political, and social issues.”
“They told us they were putting out literature and poetry and they put out a conservative publication. That is our issue,” said Dillon.
“We expect all groups to tell us the nature of their group as well as the nature of what they’re doing. We have a fiscal responsibility to make sure we know exactly who we’re giving it to,” Falcone added.
Shrive retorted that, “To be perfectly honest, I can’t even imagine how this would be a poetry publication when last semester, it says commentary on cultural political and social issue. It can’t be any clearer. But just to be even clearer, when we were in charge and applied [again] this semester, we said, the Cornell American’s motto is limited government, traditional values, America first. I can’t attest for last year’s hearing.”
After short arguments from both sides, the appropriations committee spent the better part of the hour asking questions of the two involved parties. The main focus of the questions revolved around why Hint thought he was an employee, why the SAFC singled out the Cornell Literary Society, why the Literary society did not state its conservative nature and whether the Literary society engaged in “social outings” and poetry readings, which are mentioned in the society’s purpose of organization statement.
The appropriations committee asked each of these questions at least three times, to the frustration of the SAFC and Literary society representatives.
Hint explained his situation by saying that, “The university felt that I was a staff and student at the time. We believed at the time under our reading of the regulations that that was appropriate. We found out that it wasn’t from Dean Hubbell.”
“We complied with what Dean Hubbell told us to do and got Richard Baer on as the advisor and did perfectly well, and have another advisor this semester who is a staff member of the university,” Hint said.
“As soon as I found out I was in violation I immediately complied with the order of Dean Hubbell and moved forward,” Hint concluded.
When asked for the first time why they singled out the Literary Society, the SAFC representatives replied that Hint’s status switch from advisor to treasurer set off “red flags.”
Additionally, Falcone said that, “We deal with a lot of publications … One of the main things that they asked for us funding for … is to fund the publication called the Cornell American and it was in the previous budget, as you can see, that we ask groups to state their purpose.”
“In their spring 2004 budget, they did not state in their purpose that this was what they were going to do,” she added.
Nadolny also noted that the SAFC had only “decided that possible infractions may exist,” which is why the matter was referred to the S.A. appropriations committee as opposed to when the SAFC is certain that infractions have occurred, in which case the matter is resolved internally.
Blankenship argued that the society’s partisan nature was irrelevant in that it indeed addressed “commentary on social, political, and cultural issues/events,” which the purpose of organization statement also stated.
Perhaps the main focus of the appropriations committee’s questioning, however, was whether the Literary society still participated in “poetry reading gatherings,” which were mentioned in the statement. The question was raised five times by the committee, with slight variations.
Shive deferred on this point, admitting that “It’s true that we haven’t had poetry readings in a while, that’s true.”
“But our purpose has shifted … but that is still a function of the group,” he said. “Conservative literature is still literature.”
He said that poetry readings and guest authors had been a staple of the group. “[The Cornell Literary Society of past years] did have literary discussions, they did bring authors to campus,” he said. “But another part was that they were conservative oriented. It was not intentionally misleading; [readings and literature were] actually part of the group’s nature.”
At one point, Blankenship questioned the motives of the S.A.. and SAFC. “How many groups have you audited? … Have we audited all groups that receive funding? I think that the answer is that [the literary society] is the only group, and that causes some concern, because, as president of students for academic freedom, we pride ourself in a non-partisan approach to politics on campus,” he said. “We want to encourage discourse for everyone … what we see here is a fundamental act of censorship taking place.”
Josh Bronstein ’05, Student Assembly vice president of finance and non-voting chair of the appropriations committee, said that the committee would make a recommendation behind closed doors which would then be deferred to the S.A.’s ombudsman, who would make a recommendation back to the committee, which would then come to a final decision.
“Hopefully, he will get his response to us as quickly as possible,” he said. “Once that response comes, the appropriations committee will meet as soon as possible and finalize its decision.”
In an interview after the meeting, Shive said that he was not optimistic about his organization’s chances of having funding restored.
“I felt the meeting was very tense,” he said. “It was quite apparent that many members of the S.A. Appropriations Committee were openly hostile to the Literary Society. Because of this obvious enmity I would not predict their coming out in favor of us.”
Archived article by Michael Morisy
Sun Senior Writer