December 17, 2015

Letter to the Editor: Mr. Bender Responds to the Ten White Students’ Letter

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Re: Letter to the Editor: A Response to Lee Bender ’84, Dec. 2

My letter dated Dec. 1, 2015, generated a firestorm of comments and a letter from a group of 10 identified white students, presumably from the Student Assembly, which impugned my character with ad hominum personal attacks displaying snark, lack of tact and disrespect.  I herein will not let this go unchallenged, nor should anyone else in a similar position.

Right out of the box, the very first sentence proves my initial point about the failure to permit free speech and the open exchange of ideas: “With all due respect, no one asked for your opinion and, to be frank, we’re pretty ashamed of it.” I can only surmise that you have forgotten your basic civics lessons on the First Amendment. Who asked me? The Founding Fathers, and more basically, my rights as an alumnus of this prestigious university. You obviously did not mean “with all due respect” here. And whether you, as 10 undergraduates, are “ashamed of it” — well, tough, I don’t need your affirmation or approval. I am not “daring to take the microphone away” from you or anyone, as you insinuate I have, but you clearly are trying to do so. That is fascist.

The main concern of my letter is the intolerance of those who (are mostly from the left) try to shout down others whatever their views. Cornell is already run by liberals; The Sun recently reported that 96 percent of faculty political donations over the past four years went to Democrats. That is clearly not diverse.

You have engaged in pure identity politics, by describing your race, and noting that I am “a white double legacy” (I presume through some opposition research on me).  First, my letter’s emphasis was on rhetoric, not on race, which you inserted in the bulk of your response. Yes, it is true, I am a proud third generation Cornellian, but also one you failed to note who has given back much to help make Cornell the great institution it is: as a member of Cornell Council, Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (where I have interviewed and recommended hundreds of students for admission, many of color) and as scholarship chair of the Cornell Club of Greater Philadelphia and part of a separate family scholarship for the past 25 years, I have overseen the distribution of approximately $500,000 in scholarships, many to minorities.  So, stop with the self-righteous, presumptuous and ignorant personal attacks on me and the thousands of alumni who have collectively built this university so you could reap its benefits. Is it perfect? Not precisely, but we all need to strive to make it so.

Which leads me to my direct challenge to you. I want all students to have fair opportunities to thrive at one of the greatest egalitarian, nonsectarian institutions of higher learning in the world, be honored and grateful that they have been accepted, and be humble and respectful of the amazing and rare gift they have been given. Contrary to your insinuations, I have actually been visiting the Hill often the past five years, speaking with students, administrators and professors, reading campus papers and other publications and monitoring online sites. I have not noticed any evidence of institutional racism or deprivation of opportunities for all students at Cornell. Here is the challenge: Where is direct proof of such racism on campus, specific examples of lack of opportunities for students of color, minorities and in fact all students, to thrive, live and study? If there is institutional racism on campus, as a concerned and proud alumnus, I want to know that so that we can rectify it. If you cannot provide direct proof, you have offered only pabulum.

Here is a constructive suggestion for the Student Assembly: Adopt the Chicago Principles on free expression, which a handful of colleges have done so to date: “It is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.” Instead, “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the university community, not for the university as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”

Finally, while I commend you for being outspoken and active on campus I can only hope that this will translate into constructive and productive action once you graduate to take your place in the uninsulated adult world beyond the Hill, by heeding the motto of Cornell as composed by President A.D. White, captured so eloquently on the Eddy Street Gate: “So enter that thou mayest become more learned and thoughtful. So depart daily thou mayest become more useful to thy country and mankind.”

Protect and defend Our Fair Cornell, help make it the best it can be but show a little tact, respect and above all gratitude.

Lee Bender ’84

  • Thank you for your original letter and your response, for what you do and have done for Cornell, for bringing up the University of Chicago Principles on free expression, and for teaching me a new word: pabulum.

  • Cornell Alum 2012

    Great reply. Poor timing. I hope this gets republished when students return to campus.

  • Just to emphasize it, for I fear that it may get lost in the middle of a letter that many will only skim:

    “Here is the challenge: Where is direct proof of such racism on campus, specific examples of lack of opportunities for students of color, minorities and in fact all students, to thrive, live and study? If there is institutional racism on campus, as a concerned and proud alumnus, I want to know that so that we can rectify it. If you cannot provide direct proof, you have offered only pabulum.”

    • Cornell Alum


      Excellent response to the petty, passive-aggressive, fact-free “10 white students” letter.

      • Cornell Alumn

        I agree. I’m not arguing with whether racism exists or not. Although, I think anyone who attended in the 1980s would agree things have improved greatly. No doubt more needs to be done. However, what bothers me is the complete disregard for any intellectual discussion. Anyone who disagrees is attacked. In fact, I’d go so far as to describe it as a lynch mob mentality (I guess they don’t teach history at Cornell anymore).

        All of these students will be very disappointed when they graduate and the Cornell stamp does little to help them given their decision to insult Alumni. It will hurt these students more in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, where the connection matters even more.

  • Becca Harrison ’14

    Precise definition of implicit institutional racism: The ability for one to say “I have not noticed any evidence of institutional racism or deprivation of opportunities for all students at Cornell.”

    • Gustavros

      So “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence” ms rumsfeld?

    • Cornell Alum

      So where is the proof? Evidence?

      One’s own feeling of being left out is woefully inadequate.

      The burden is on those who charge that such obstacles exist.

      • Becca harrison

        Mr. Bender’s clear inability to see his own ignorance, as evidenced by he quote I draw from the text. He’s simply proving the point of the letter he’s trying to respond to. I doubt it’s malicious or deliberate, but it is unfortunate.

        • Nick ’14

          Maybe you take the sentence out of context. Read the next three that follow and I don’t think it’s ignorant. I’m a young liberal too, but this need to argue to be the most politically correct has gotten out of hand. It is suppressing free speech when everyone reads a letter only for the purpose of trying to find something to call out, and purposely ignoring the main argument. I’m sure people reading this comment who don’t like it are immediately ignoring the point and searching for a one-liner they can quote and retaliate against to get some satisfaction. This entire chain of letters was just continual, intentional misinterpretation. Something everyone who argues politics is guilty of. And the comments section has been even worse at this than the letters! We don’t always have to play the role of arguing one side unconditionally like a defense attorney or a prosecutor. Humanity is losing its way in connecting and empathizing, as cheesy as that sounds. I blame television turning our populace into unfeeling zombies and the downfall of reading classic literature, perhaps the best teacher of empathy.

        • Chopper

          Yes , all enlightened people KNOW racism is EVERYWHERE. To deny this or to even ask for evidence of it is just plain ignorant. People like old man Binder don’t understand is that this is not up for debate. Clinging to those old fashioned ideas , free speech and the like , are also racist. Think of it more as a new religion, this is dogma, you are a heretic.

        • Cornell Alum

          You say Mr. Bender’s claim is proof of his ignorance. The logical path from that statement is that he is ignorant…of all the racism that exists at Cornell.

          So my point stands. If you and the 10 white students are so willing to attack people like Mr. Bender for their “ignorance” of all the racism at Cornell, you surely will be able to provide proof of that which Mr. Bender is supposedly so ignorant.

          Recorded incidents of Cornell faculty and staff systematically mistreating or targeting non-white students, perhaps? Orchestrated efforts to discourage minorities from applying? A university-sanctioned group or organization engaging in racism?

          Surely some evidence must exist beyond claims that some students “feel unsafe” because they see the word “plantation” on a university-owned plot of land or feel “unwelcome” because they are not as popular as they feel they should be.

          The 10 white students did not provide 1 fact, 1 report, 1 shred of evidence, and Mr. Bender is “ignorant” for not instantly rolling over to appease them?

      • Cornell Alum ’15

        In May of 2012, several black students were harassed and had beer bottles thrown at them along with racial slurs alluding to Trayvon Martin. Though this was the only incident that comes to mind when I was a student at Cornell, I’m sure there were other incidents that went unreported. Just last month, the Sun reported on black students gathering to publicly discuss the racism they have faced on campus recently. And you may label the racism they face as “microaggressions” but it’s still racism and its still an aggressive tactic no matter the size. Any language used to instill a power imbalance, to make black students feel lesser, is racism. I don’t understand why Mr. Bender feels like this is coddling? Not wanting to be bullied is not the same as wanting to be coddled. Though it is an ideal world we are asking for, in which no one is insulted about their skin color or where they came from, what’s so wrong with striving for the ideal? I don’t see that as liberal, I see that as egalitarian, as Mr. Bender so rightly called Cornell.

        • Cornell Alum

          Racist actions taken on the campus of Cornell does not mean that Cornell the University is racist. In fact, I recall the university holding and hosting numerous events regarding those examples you provide, as it should have.

          The faculty and administration as was lightning-quick to condemn those actions, again, as it should.

          The university cannot, however – nor should it – attempt to stop people from speaking their minds. Hate speech is free speech, as much as we might dislike what the person is saying. A racist will feel those thoughts whether or not they are allowed to say them.

        • George

          Utopia does not exist and it never will.

    • Mom of senior

      Thank you, Becca. You and a few other people commenting on all this give me some hope for Cornell–but what a barrage of depressing responses I had to weed through! (Note to trolls: I’m not taking your bait so don’t bother)

      • George

        Mom- Do you have a college degree?

        • Cornell Alum 1983

          Mom of senior’s definition of “troll” – someone that has an opposing viewpoint that Mom of senior is unwilling or unable to engage in a rational debate.

    • George

      Becca- are you serious? Does your statement even approach anything a rational person would say?

  • It’s so easy to cry “institutional racism.” But unless there’s actual cases of black students not having equal opportunities, what do you want Cornell to do? Hire more black faculty? They’ll hire the best faculty they can and hopefully not base that decision on skin color. Admit more black students? They have been for the last two decades. But again, we want the best students, regardless of race.

  • AC

    It does not matter what evidence exists or not exists. Even if it exists, the letter the students wrote has embarrassed me as a graduate (class of 1996). Mr. Bender is simply saying that we are killing off free speech, but attacking anyone who disagrees or attempts to debate a position. It doesn’t matter if the person who is disagreeing is wrong or write. The First Amendment protects those who are incorrect in their position, even if their position is completely stupid, these students will need to debate and will be challenged by people they disagree with in their communities, their jobs, etc., for decades to come. The ability to engage in discourse with those you disagree with, or even strongly dislike, it part of what they should be learning at Cornell. Even as a student of color myself, who is inclined to give the students the benefit of the doubt on the facts, their stance and their letter were an embarrassment to the Cornell, their fellow students, and to all the student who have come before them.

    At this point, in protest, I’ve instructed my company’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources to remove Cornell from the list of approved school we recruit from, which include mostly Ivies along with a few others (e.g. MIT). It is clear to me now, and I conclude this with great sadness, that quality of students at Cornell has degraded significantly over the past few decades since I walked along University Ave. I supposed this is what happens when you drop from a top 10 school (ranked #8 when I attended) to a school that struggles to stay in the top 20. Cornell no longer attracts top 10 caliber students is all I can conclude, and as a result, my company will longer longer actively seek to hire any students from Cornell. It pains me deeply to make this decision after spending countless hours (and money) supporting this institution for the past few decades.

    I wish the current students all the best. They’re going to need it. I wish Fair Cornell all the best, for this once mighty and prestigious institution is going to need it most of all.

    • If you’re actually being legitimate about removing Cornell from the schools you recruit from, then that’s a very poor decision. You’re going to find what you call this “degrad[ation] of quality” at most schools across the country, including all of the Ivies and even MIT. You call it degradation, I call it liberalism, but it doesn’t matter what you call it.

      Cornell has tremendous students, on the whole, and as “Senior Vice President of Human Resources,” it’s part of your job to seek those students out and not cast the entire lot of them based on an Internet comments section and some letters from a group that clearly is representative of one particular ideology. You even said that the letter was an “embarrassment to their fellow students,” and now you’re going to shut those fellow students out of jobs? Shame on you.

      • George

        If we ignore the destruction and decay that liberalism is causing to our great universities, and more generally to our society, it will only grow worse.

        • That’s fine, and I agree. But the battle is not with the students that are not falling into those traps. Don’t send anymore money to the schools. Work to get different people appointed into power positions. But don’t generalize across the entire system.

    • A true Cornellian.

      Good luck finding a school that isn’t having the same discussions as Cornell on this issue. Look at our peers Yale, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth (among others) all are seeing similar responses from students in this issue, and some more aggressive than the other.

      If you are removing Cornell from your list of schools to recruit from, you might as well remove all other top institutions, and to your company I say “all the best” because you will DEFINITELY need it. No true Cornellian would make a move this poorly through out.

  • Cornell Junior
    • Chopper

      Diversity group finds Cornell lacking in diversity. Kinda like insurance salesman finds me woefully underinsured. Shocking.

    • I’m sure there’s no self-selection going on in this study

  • Current Senior

    Thank you, Mr. Bender. I agree and will do my best to facilitate a campus that allows for all forms of speech, not to deny that racism, sexism, and other issues exist, but to support free speech so that we might see an end to these problems.

    Shunning these types of ideas by outspoken liberals will not end these problems, in fact, it may make them worse. If we want to see these end, it’s got to come down to action and speech on a personal level that isn’t simply negation either, but is a real dialogue.

    I will take these principles with me beyond Cornell and try to represent our school well.

  • John Smith

    This comment section is mad depressing

  • Young alum weighing in

    As a white person who has studied institutional racism with some of the top scholars in higher education, I can tell you that it does not matter whether Mr. Bender notices it or not. It occurs and there is much to be done at Cornell, along with all other institutions across the country, to rectify this situation. As someone who knows Mr. Bender, through Cornell related activities, I will tell you that he is not malicious, though his white male privilege is very apparent. His need to mention that his family has a scholarship that has been awarded to minorities and his involvement with CAAAN where he “recommended” (let’s be clear, as CAAAN members we are not making any sort of recommendation for admittance but just reporting on the conversations we had – maybe he needs more CAAAN training) students of color shows his need to defend that he is not a racist. Making such statements imply the opposite. While overt racism may not be his cup of tea, white people in general, commit many microaggressions towards people of color every day. We as a society need to work on recognizing and addressing these microaggressions in order to show our respect towards each other.

    Mr.Bender I’m sure does not recognize these acts as microaggressions, though he may not be ready to accept that he is committing them either. This is not a defense of his actions. As a white person, I’m always working to recognize these instances and I hope that anyone else reading this will too. I was confronted with little things that would bother a person of color and that helped me learn and grow. The work on racism will never be over, but we should take solace in knowing that there are alumni who are committed to this work.

    As an aside, let the record show that his reference to Cornell faculty being politically left due to the article on political donations is ridiculous. There are only 323 political donors out of 1628 total faculty. The staff put this number close to 10,000 people. Please look at the numbers before you jump to judgments…

    • What the hell is a micro aggression anyway? Sounds to me like it means hurt feelings.

      • Dr. Necessitor

        Micro-aggressions are subjectively imagined insults that grant “marginalized” Ivy League students enhanced victim status. In the past, a micro aggression was called rude behavior. And as I’m sure you know, when confronted with rude behavior adults used to either utilize a thick skin to ignore it or actively call out the rude behavior. Now a vast bureaucracy is required to constantly police the daily interactions among “adult” college students. However, I’m confident that hiring an army of meddling bureaucrats has had no effect on ever increasing tuition rates.

    • Cornell Alum 1983

      ” We as a society need to work on recognizing and addressing these microaggressions in order to show our respect towards each other.”

      Code for act in accordance with the dogma of “progressive” political correctness and suppress your first amendment rights to express differing opinions on “institutional racism” or be labeled a racist.

    • Cornell Alum

      “I can tell you that it does not matter whether Mr. Bender notices it or not. It occurs and there is much to be done at Cornell”

      Typically “top scholars” provide peer-reviewed proof to support their claims.

      Will you do us that honor? Or will you simply bloviate from your high horse?

    • George

      You, young alum and white person (apparently you felt it necessary to add that in order to validate your viewpoint), know not of what you speak.

  • Senior Student

    No one is infringing on First Amendment rights when they claim that they are ashamed of an opinion. The First Amendment means the government isn’t arresting you for your opinions, disallowing the publishing of your opinions, or allowing anyone else to do so. What others think of your opinions is up to them. I am ashamed that you fail to at least try to see things from a current student’s point of view. This does not tread on your rights to free speech. It does not mean I don’t understand the First Amendment. It means that MY opinion is that YOUR opinion is shameful.

    And no, the Founding Fathers did not ask for your opinion. They simply founded a country in which Congress couldn’t pass laws preventing you from saying whatever you like.

    While I agree with a lot of what you say about “free speech” on campus and the importance of challenging ideas, I don’t think it applies to the response towards your letter (which after all, is being published by a student-run paper!). Students have every right to disagree with you.

    • Cornell Alum

      Of course, you are correct on all counts.

      However, we’ve seen the attitudes promoted by those like the “10 white students” lead to actual infringements on first amendment rights. At Mizzou two employees of the university forcibly removed two journalists from covering a protest on the same issues that the “10 white students” seem to promote. Students at Yale recently spat on other students simply for attending a lecture given by a speaker the spitting students disagreed with (Yale students also used their first amendment rights to, laughably, sign a petition calling for the repeal of that very amendment

  • Old Alum

    Thank you Mr. Bender for striving to maintain the level of lively debate that I remember with fondness.

    The 10 white students write that students of color yearn for: “better graduation rates, the same resources that white students are granted, a faculty composition that represents our diverse university and for a campus free of slurs and derogatory remarks” Other than the impractical call for reconfiguring the faculty based on ethnicity(?), where did you find any opposition to any of this in Mr. Bender’s original letter? I guarantee Mr. Bender and just about any fellow alum I know oppose any vestiges of racism and true unfairness on campus.

    What Mr. Bender called for was shining the light of intellect on problems that will not go away even if we all agree not to discuss them in public. Perhaps the lack of spirited debate for fear of being labeled politically incorrect is the reason Harvard had to send its students home with talking points, lest they seem unprepared to debate the great issues of the day around the Thanksgiving table.

    I learned a great deal from those whose point of view differed from mine. That’s what College is all about-not prospectively cutting off discourse.

  • Cornell senior

    This school has become a far-left prison. I literally live in fear of actually speaking my opinions in class. I can’t wait to graduate and remove myself from these delusional partisans.

  • Bruno1776

    The politically correct party line nonsense at so many schools reflects Fascism at it worst, by students at our finest schools. Shameful

    “There is a German word which applies, “Gleichschaltung, meaning “coordination”, “making the same”, “bringing into line” is a Nazi term for the process by which the Nazi regime successively established a system of totalitarian control over the individual, and tight coordination over all aspects of society and commerce. The historian Richard J. Evans offered the term “forcible-coordination” in his most recent work on Nazi Germany.” Failure to follow the law will result in bankrupting fines, even if it violates deeply held religious tenets central to ones faith. ”

    So replace the State with say a University enforcing a politically correct Speech Code to create safe spaces and to favor all the “correct” causes. If you still can’t see the dangers to liberty then you are pretty far gone down the totalitarian road.

    Try doing the cancel replace test. Take your fact pattern and replace the cause you support with one you heartily oppose and don’t forget to replace the people you support with ones you oppose too. Now after the change, if you still think that treatment and out come is fair then you are being fair, no matter how much you may disagree with the cause. But if you are outraged then it’s time for you to reconsider your life, as your well on your way to becoming a petty tyrant.

    But if instead you think it’s terrible to treat anyone, even your worst enemy, that way then there may be some hope for you.

    As the saying goes (often misattributed to Voltaire, but no one really knows)
    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”

  • Jonathan

    The white tears in this piece and the comments are salty. Give me more.

  • Bruno1776

    Grow up but if you are still thirsty, attend a Obama or Boehner Press Conference.

    Otherwise as the most interesting man in the world says “Stay thirsty”