A contentious Student Assembly meeting on Thursday ended with the Assembly chair breaking a tie by voting against a resolution that would have created a task force to investigate and increase faculty “ideological diversity.”
The resolution, Expanding Ideological Diversity among Faculty Members, spurred a chaotic 90-minute discussion that frequently resulted in calls of order from S.A. President and Chair Jordan Berger ’17 and shouts from Assembly members and the resolution’s advocates.
The resolution would have called on the Faculty Senate, with the University Counsel Office, to create a task force to “investigate practical steps toward attaining increased faculty ideological diversity.”
Mitchell McBride ‘17, the resolution’s sponsor and vice president for internal operations, pushed back against assemblymembers who said the resolution was solely aimed toward hiring more politically conservative faculty members, countering that it was about broadening general class discussion.
“Having more ideological diversity on campus would help students because I think that if students go into class and are faced with a professor with different views than them, then they’re tasked with challenging every single subtle assumption the teacher puts out,” McBride said.
But many members of the Assembly did not buy that argument — noting that the resolution refers to a 2015 report in The Sun that showed 96 percent of faculty donations over four years went to Democratic campaigns — and some people speaking in favor of the resolution contradicted McBride’s statements.
“We are a severe political minority on campus,” Cornell Republicans Chairwoman Olivia Corn ’19 said, referring to Republican-leaning students. Corn and others in favor of the resolution frequently cited the majority of liberal-leaning professors in several departments.
Assemblymember Richard Wang ’17 added an amendment to the resolution identifying conservative perspectives that sponsors of the bill were trying to increase, citing what he said were the “intentions of the authors during the meeting.”
McBride told The Sun after the meeting that he saw the addition of that amendment, which passed 14 to 4, as a “poison pill amendment to kill the bill.” He maintained that the lack of conservatives among Cornell faculty is a problem and said it was “disheartening and demoralizing” that the resolution did not pass.
“If we are truly going to live up to our university motto, we must have free and diverse thought, and this requires professors who come from different perspectives, in order to foster that critical thinking which is the purpose of a university,” he said.
Assemblymember Traciann Celestin ’19 said devoting time and resources to researching ideological diversity would take away from efforts to increase other kinds of diversity among faculty that she said should take priority.
“As a black female on this campus, I know that black students have been fighting for their rights here and have been trying to form committees like this since 1969 when they took over this very building,” she said, referring to the takeover of Willard Straight Hall in April 1969.
Celestin added that attempts to increase racial and economic diversity among faculty would likely result in more diverse ideological viewpoints.
Assemblymember Hannah Reichel ’17 said the hostile conversation taking place in the Memorial Room on Thursday night was a microcosm of the increased politicization and polarization of conversations at the national level.
“If there are students who feel not safe on this campus, for any reason, we should be looking into that and that’s why this resolution has some weight for me,” Reichel said. “This contemporary tendency to politicize everything and … decide whose diversity is more important, I’m so sick of that conversation.”
After a motion to send the resolution to the Diversity Committee failed to garner enough votes, the Assembly held a roll call vote on the final version of the resolution.
The Assembly deadlocked at 10 to 10, with three members abstaining, forcing Berger to break the tie, which she did with a vote against the resolution.
When the vote was announced, a student shouted to Corn and others that they should call Fox News personality Jesse Watters over dinner and tell him about the vote.
The provocative Fox News correspondent was told to leave campus by Cornell Media Relations in 2015 when he and a camera crew asked students about political “indoctrination.” Watters was able to continue his interviews off of campus property.
Corn declined to comment after the Assembly meeting on whether College Republicans are in contact with or plan to reach out to Watters about the resolution.
“I think this was absolutely ridiculous,” Corn told The Sun of the Assembly vote. “We need to create a safe environment for every student and I don’t have that environment when I walk into the classroom and a teacher tells me that ideology is violent and oppressive.”
The resolution is dead unless, at the next Assembly meeting, one of the members who voted against the bill motions to resurrect it and two-thirds of the Assembly agrees.