Students and members of the Student Assembly sharply criticized on Thursday an assemblymember who videotaped and asked for the names of protesters outside of a Tea Party leader’s private lecture on campus this week.
Some members of the assembly said his actions may have violated S.A. ethics rules.
The controversy stems from Tuesday night, when about 15 students gathered outside of Rockefeller Hall to protest a lecture by Michael Johns, a Tea Party leader and former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush hosted by the Cornell Political Union.
Assemblymember Mitchell McBride ’17, who chairs the University Assembly Codes and Judicial Committee, recorded videos of some protesters with a cell phone and asked for their names, warning that their protest could result in judicial action by the University.
Two assembly members who were not at the protest told The Sun they believe McBride violated the assembly’s ethic standards based on accounts from protesters. The assembly’s ethical standards prohibit S.A. members from “using the name of the S.A. outside of the bounds of the individual’s described role on the S.A.”
Allison Lapehn ’17, who protested outside of the private event, said McBride told protesters he could use contacts within the administration to ensure the protesters were punished and that he could rewrite the code of conduct, a claim McBride strongly denied in an interview Thursday.
“I never said that I would rewrite the code,” McBride said. “I dispute that I was using my position on campus to intimidate them. I told them that I wasn’t there on behalf of any body. I was there as a regular member of the community trying to uphold the campus code of conduct.”
McBride said he videotaped protesters to help the University enforce campus policy and that Judicial Administrator Michelle Horvath had told him recording protesters is the appropriate response if protesters may be violating campus policies.
“It was important to attain that evidence, and that’s the way I was recommended to attain evidence based on meetings I had had with the judicial administrator’s office,” McBride said, adding that he has a responsibility to make sure the code is upheld.
Cornell Police were present at the event, which Cornell Political Union President Troy LaCaire ’17 said was made private at the urging of Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner, who he said cited security concerns.
Chief Zoner told The Sun on Thursday night that police had not referred any protesters to the Judicial Administrator for code violations. She declined to say whether protesters violated the Campus Code of Conduct, which forbids protesters from disrupting events or speakers “on the grounds that they find it stupid, immoral, or dangerous.”
“Whether or not a code violation occurred is left to the Office of the Judicial Administrator,” Zoner said in an email. “Our officers focused on keeping the peace and doing their best to keep the event from being disrupted.”
Executive Vice President Matt Indimine ’18 and Julia Montejo ’17, vice president of diversity and inclusion, said McBride appeared to have violated the ethics standards by invoking his status as chair of the U.A. Codes and Judicial Committee in conversations with protesters.
The S.A. Executive Committee plans to hold a meeting next week to discuss the potential ethics violation, Montejo said.
“I personally think it does fall in the area of an ethics violation, so I think this is a conversation the S.A. needs to have,” she said.
Indimine said he believes any student at Cornell has the right to videotape protesters, but said McBride appeared to have violated the ethics clause by mentioning his position on the committee.
McBride told The Sun that he only referred to his position as chair of the committee after protesters asked if he was an elected student representative.
During public comment at the S.A. meeting Thursday evening, students lambasted McBride, calling his actions “embarrassing” and “disappointing.”
One student, Jaëlle Sanon ’19, ripped into McBride for what she said was his “disgusting” behavior at the protest.
“Frankly, who do you think you are? That is my question — who do you think you are to be policing?” Sanon said, adding that McBride’s actions felt similar to racial profiling.
Several assembly members also used the public comment portion of the meeting to criticize McBride’s actions.
Traciann Celestin ’19 said she was frustrated that McBride did not use the S.A. meeting to interact with or respond to members of the public who were opposed to his actions.
“Usually he’s the most talkative white man in this room, using his white privilege, and I must say his silence is very disappointing today,” Celestin said.
“To limit free speech is honestly disgusting,” said Richard Wang ’18. “I think that no speech should be policed on campus in the way that it was, and I think everyone should be able to have their voice heard on campus.”
McBride, in the interview, said he is an ardent protector of free speech and that any notion otherwise is “fallacious,” noting that he passed an amendment in the fall that ensured students could protest with amplified sound between noon and 1 p.m. without needing a permit.
If McBride is found to have violated the ethics standards, the S.A. Executive Board, Dean of Students and the Office of Assemblies will determine the disciplinary consequences.
Indimine and Montejo said they were aware of multiple protesters who had gone into the Office of Assemblies and asked about the process of forcing McBride to resign from the assembly. Both assemblymembers declined to say whether they thought McBride should be removed.
Sanon said she plans to try to get the signatures, and Lapehn, the protester, said she thinks McBride should be booted from his seat in the assembly.
“Mitch McBride has not only made it clear that he will only protect free speech that aligns with his own views, but also that he is willing to shame and intimidate his constituents in order to push his platform forward,” Lapehn said. “I think that’s a disgusting abuse of power, and I hope that the S.A. recalls him.”
To force a vote on McBride’s seat, students would have to collect signatures from 15 percent of Cornell’s undergraduate population within two weeks. Then, the entire student body would vote on whether McBride should remain in his seat.
McBride said that he did not mean to intimidate students by telling them that their protest could violate the Campus Code of Conduct, adding, “If that did come off as a threat, I regret that.”
“I think that coming after me is fine, but I’m a second semester senior,” McBride said. “I think [protesters] should spend their time … advocating for what they believe in in a respectful manner that adheres to the principle of freedom with responsibility, as under the code.”