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April 24, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Prof. David Collum, Chemistry, is owed an apology and a retraction

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To the Editor:

On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students: Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman.

The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum, chemistry in the most serious ways, accusing him of being a rape apologist, misogynistic and unfit for the position of department chair. Several of the letter writers were graduate student union supporters active in the union vote drive. Prof. Collum has been widely criticized by union supporters for opposing the union drive. The letter appears to be payback.

In publishing that letter, The Sun gave a platform to a smear campaign against Prof. Collum in a manner that did not allow Prof. Collum to respond or provide for a verification of the context of the supposed evidence. I have researched several of the key tweets and quotes attributed to Prof. Collum in the letter, and it is clear that the way in which they are presented in the letter is misleading at best, and, in some cases, presents a false portrayal.

For example, the letter includes a tweet regarding controversial social media personality Michael Cernovich by Prof. Collum. The letter alleges:

“He has tweeted support for Mike Cernovich, a rape apologist whose social media record includes statements like: ‘Have you guys ever tried ‘raping’ a girl without using force? Try it. It’s basically impossible. Date rape does not exist’.”

Yet the actual sequence shows that the tweet in question by Prof. Collum concerned an appearance by Cernovich on 60 Minutes, not a general endorsement of everything Cernovich has done or said in his life.

In the sequence, after twitter account @volcelscience called Prof. Collum’s attention to the controversial 2012 Cernovich tweet, Prof. Collum responded “good point” and then deleted his own tweet.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 11.34.06 PM

Thus, the sequence showed that rather than endorsing Cernovich’s 2012 date rape tweet as the letter suggests, Prof. Collum rejected the message in that tweet when called to his attention.

One or more of the letter writers surely were aware of this sequence because the first named writer, Kevin Hines, posted about the tweet and deletion on his own Facebook account contemporaneously with the deletion.

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 11.34.25 PM

Ominously, the exchange ended with a prediction that the twitter exchange would be spread to female grad students in Prof. Collum’s lab, which it was through the Sun letter:

Screen Shot 2017-04-24 at 11.34.33 PM

So not only was Prof. Collum’s tweet about Cernovich misrepresented by suggesting it related to anything other than the 60 Minutes appearance and by leaving out the full sequence, it appears that one or more grad student union supporters were involved in or monitoring the exchange right at the time the union organizers were attacking Prof. Collum for his opposition to the union drive.

Another accusation in the letter regarded the quote from Prof. Collum’s 2015 Year in Review, a 135-page document in a format published by Prof. Collum annually. The letter quotes a single sentence from page 95 as follows (emphasis in letter):

“In an effort to stem a perceived epidemic of sexual violence against women, the Department of Education sent strong messages to universities” — David B. Collum, Year in Review 2015

From that single sentence the letter argues Prof. Collum was “pushing the myth that rape on college campuses is a “perceived” threat.” The words written by Prof. Collum do not say that, of course.

Moreover, the letter leaves out the fact that that sentence ended with a footnote to a Slate DoubleX article by a prominent feminist author questioning the facts in the movie The Hunting Ground. So not only does the sentence not, by its words, amount to a denial that there is a sexual assault problem on campuses, the “perceived epidemic” wording was referencing a prominent feminist critique of a particular case.

Equally important, the letter leaves out that in the same section, Prof. Collum wrote: “Women have been the object of abuse since abuse was first invented. It is obvious to all that this is wrong an [sic] should be opposed by all rational means.”

By selectively choosing one sentence from a 135-page document, stripping out the footnote, and ignoring other language in the same section, the letter writers presented a false portrayal of Prof. Collum’s writing.

The letter also claimed that Prof. Collum “told a friend to “bring roofies” (a date rape drug) on a trip to Las Vegas.” The tweet in question, however, was taken out of its sequence and context. The twitter users were making movie references, including to Fargo and Coen Brothers movies. Prof. Collum’s tweet appears to reference the movie The Hangover, in which a group of men partying in Las Vegas can’t remember what happened because they were given roofies. I confirmed with Prof. Collum that that was what he was referencing. Prof. Collum’s tweet thus was not suggesting anyone actually bring roofies to Las Vegas, he was referencing a movie theme. This is the exact opposite of what was claimed in the letter.

Had any one of the letter writers or The Sun contacted Prof. Collum, he could have provided that context, which should have been obvious from the sequence anyway.

Another tweet used in the letter was one that said, “Moral of the story: sue your accuser.” From that tweet alone, the letter argues that Prof. Collum “has told men accused of sexual assault to sue their victims (‘accuser’).”

But the link in the tweet showed that Prof. Collum was quoting the article he was linking in the tweet, and that it was about a very specific incident at Amherst in which the male claimed to be a victim of a sexual assault by a female but asserted he was not treated fairly by university administrators. Why didn’t the letter inform readers that the tweet was a quote from another story, and provide the context, which would negate the suggestion in the letter that Prof. Collum was telling men generally to sue their accusers?

There are other accusations in the letter, which I presume readers can view in the context of the grad student union supporters’ hostility to Prof. Collum.

What is critical is that they key evidence used to smear Prof. Collum as a rape apologist is misleading, taken out of context, and creates a false narrative as to what Prof. Collum was writing.

I wrote to each of the original letter writers raising each of the points raised above and asking for a response. As of this writing, I have received no response.

These accusations in the letter to the Sun forever will appear in search engines when Prof. Collum’s name is searched. To paraphrase Raymond J. Donovan after his acquittal on fraud charges, to what department does Professor David B. Collum go to get his reputation back?

The Sun and the letter writers owe Prof. Collum an apology and retraction.

Prof. William A. Jacobson, law

183 thoughts on “LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Prof. David Collum, Chemistry, is owed an apology and a retraction

  1. It is incredibly disgusting that those students would intentionally defame a professor over a grudge. They should apologize, and so should the Sun. The Sun never should have published that original letter without a response from Collum or an investigation (I guess looking back through some tweets is too much work, and you have to wait for a law professor to do it). The Sun should also either remove the letter, or post a big link to this letter and the retraction/apology at the top.

    I think the original authors didn’t respond to this because they are realizing the possible legal repercussions of their actions. I am not a lawyer, but it seems that they or the Sun may have engaged in libel, libel by omission, or false light, with malicious intent. This is no joke.

    • It isn’t libel. It cites his published tweets, reaches conclusions about his fitness as a handler of sexual harassment/assault claims based on his tweets and other public statements, and this is clearly published as opinion. He has libeled himself by publishing his stupid tweets. No one forced him to do that. His opinion is that this is revenge because he is anti-union. Proof? Don’t see any.

      An op-ed letter is not reportage. The ability for media to publish uncensored opinion pieces by citizens, without couching them in “other side” reporting, has primarily been championed by LIBERTARIANS who think that the proper response to unfavorable statements made by private citizens in the public sphere are pieces like what Jacobson has written, not prior restraint. More speech is more freedom, right? I guess not…

      • I am not a legal expert either, and it does seem to me that libel might be hard to prove here, although not impossible. Libel can sometimes include using technically true information in a way that is misleading. Even if this is borderline in the legal sense, it makes the letter no less despicable. As Jacobson pointed out, “to what department does Professor David B. Collum go to get his reputation back?”

        It is reasonable to be in favor of free speech and also support libel laws (we’re not talking about Trump wanting to sue CNN for reporting on him). This case may be below the legal standard for libel, though, I don’t know. Even if it is labeled opinion, opinion articles can still be libelous. For example, the EFF (similar to the ACLU) says

        “merely labeling a statement as your opinion does not make it so. Courts look at whether a reasonable reader or listener could understand the statement as asserting a statement of verifiable fact. (A verifiable fact is one capable of being proven true or false.) This is determined in light of the context of the statement.”

        So, the students’ assertion that he supports Cernovich’s awful statement about rape, while nestled in an opinion piece, is an assertion of fact. In fact, though, as Jacobson pointed out, Collum actually specifically rejected that view (and the students were likely aware).

        Also, “prior restraint” isn’t related at all. No one is suggesting the government approve articles ahead of time to make sure they aren’t libelous. The Sun, however, does have a responsibility as a newspaper to make sure that assertions of fact in opinion pieces are true just as they make sure that news articles’ assertions of fact are true (they really don’t want to be sued either).

      • I don’t know libel law either, but while truth is a defense, a statement that is literally true can still be quoted out of context in a way to mislead. The letter writers Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman probably thought they were being clever when they quoted tweets exactly to convey falsehoods, thinking they were safe legally. They’re not.

        Armstrong v. Simon & Schuster, 649 NE 2d 825 is a good starting point. It discusses the well-known tort of “defamation by implication”, true statements that leave a misleading impression.

        Neither, I would guess, is The Cornell Daily Sun safe from a defamation suit, now that it has been put on notice, unless it takes action to correct the false claims. That’s probably more important, because likely the grad students don’t have any assets worth suing over. The Daily Sun, though, could remedy the situation by retracting the letter. That is in any case what it should do morally, but it might simplify the decision to find out the legal consequences if the Sun does not take action.

        One useful result of this, at least, is that universities that are thinking of hiring Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman as faculty now have a bit more information as to the trustworthiness of their lab results and citations. Their advisors ought to read their dissertations carefully too, in case they are no more reliable than this, which is perhaps their first publication.

        • Who are you, the F’in thought police?! The university JA?!!

          You’re certainly not a female grad working in the chem dept who’d be subject to filing any complaints though this jerk himself. This issue is whether or not Collum is qualified for the responsibilities of his professional position — this main point seems to getting lost in the thread amid personal insults and threatening statement directed toward the authors and the newspaper.

          And if you “don’t know libel law” as you admit — probably best not to speculate on its application and/or cite court cases just to make it look as if you know what you’re talking about

          • Not saying this should or is going to happen. Also not necessarily saying defamation applies in this case but you can absolutely find lawsuits won over defamation.

          • So your argument is the F’in imaginary bullshit person the previous post claimed the professor to be, by taking him out of context, will hurt women?

            I’m guessing you’re not in a STEM field as you seem incapable of understanding that imaginary people don’t actually cause real harm to anyone anywhere.

            But best of luck in your fight to keep women safe from your imagination.
            Maybe that really is a necessary and difficult fight Dustin. I don’t you well enough to know either way.

        • Please, do leave it to the lawyers. The case you cite is inapplicable because this is opinion arising from Collum’s own public statements, not inferences based on false information. The Milkovich doctrine applies. There is no libel case here!

          BTW Dave’s free speech rights, nor his right to privacy, cannot impinge other’s right to comment on his public speech. Tweets are not “out of context” as it would be to take a person’s quote out of a longer one. They are in the context of Twitter, stand-alone comments as the platform was designed to support (140 characters).

          You are suggesting students falsify information in their research results because they have a narrow opinion about your buddy because of gross stuff he has put out into the world…that’s incredible.

          • The Milkovich doctrine works against the letter-writers, not in their favor. One commenter says,
            “The Court made it clear that henceforth, rather than
            attempting to discern whether a media defendant in a defamation
            case was simply expressing its “opinion, ‘ the courts must focus
            on whether the defendant falsely accused the plaintiff of some
            wrongdoing. … in a case against the media for allegedly having
            defamed a person about a matter of public concern, the defendant
            cannot prevail by asserting that it was merely expressing an

            As for credibility, “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” has some truth to it.

          • I don’t say Milkovich saves, I said it applies–still, there is no libel case here.

            The “wrongdoing” is precisely that he published several tweets (which he did), indicating his views, which do raise concerns about his ability to perform a major component of the job (fielding harassment complaints in his department). There is no other wrongdoing.

            In this case, he actually might not even be considered a private individual, as all of this pertains to his position as a department chair which is a public role. So it might not even be Milkovich. Either way, it is a mess but not libel.

          • I am still waiting on someone to point out where exactly in Policy 6.4 it states the Department Heads fields harassment claims????

        • Just one more thing…in NY state court, context, tone and purpose provides robust protection for opinion under the state constitution, as long as the writers rely on accurately stated and reported facts. The “facts” here are Prof Collum’s own public statements.

          • Tone and purpose can provide protection for statements, or they can provide elements of malice that aggravate the defamation. If, for example, John Doe made misleading statement X about Mr. Y and it turned out that Doe was opposed to Y on unionization and would benefit from his embarassment, that would hurt Doe in court, not help him.

          • The connection between Collum’s unionization views and his gross tweets about other stuff has been forged newly by Prof Jacobsen…that there is wide discussion among grad unions about sexual harassment in STEM and grievance procedures generally is no secret, but Collum is just an example of a problem in that regard, not THE problem. What are you getting at?

            The gross tweets exist, sir. They aren’t made up, and they aren’t misleading. Don’t distract people with far-fetched theories about the “real” reason for this…it kinda sounds conspiratorial, like the Illuminati. Some people in the list of signatories are on their way to six figure jobs after this semester…they aren’t personally benefitting from “embarrassing” Collum in connection with grad unions or anything else.

        • These grad students went looking for trouble. And these tweets are the best they can come up with? Really?

          These millennials seem so busy getting offended by anything anyone ever said, I wonder how they have time to even study for their exams. Perhaps they should consider getting a job or offering something of value to society or demonstrating their profound brilliance to the University so that the University voluntarily offers them more money? Then, they wouldn’t have needed a union in the first place. SJWs be careful. Employers are watching. I’m watching. Hiring people is the single most expensive thing we do and it often can end up costing us more money that the person is worth or even destroying the reputation you spent decades building (United flight). When hiring, I look at everything I can get my hands on…Facebook, Twitter, Accurint Background searches, Google, everything I can. I call the supervisor personally to ensure the recommendation. I’ve learned the hard way about hiring bad apples. I wouldn’t hire the accusers.. I wouldn’t touch them with a 20 foot pole. If I employed them and if they didn’t sue me, they’d probably sue a customer or cause a customer to sue me. These people are toxic to organizations. I can’t run fast enough from people like them. You’ve got to be real careful about this. Out here in the real world, you’re feel good SjW moment has consequences. You have to demonstrate value in the real world. You have to make us money. If you don’t, you’re of no value. Sadly, this seems to be lost on this young generation. You guys are in for such a rude awakening when you get out of college and learn that the world doesn’t care about you. At all.

          • Ohhhh I’m sooooo afraid of the boogeyman!!! “Employers are watching” so don’t cause any trouble and keep your head down and do exactly what you’re told now young children!!!

            Hey “Employer,” I’ve got a message for you: we don’t give a rat’s ass.

            And just for the record, I’m employed just fine plus interested in hiring folks who aren’t just little rule-following ninnies. And I sure wouldn’t touch whatever job you’re offering with “a 20 food pole”!

            It’s possible these folks could have been a bit more strategic w the letter, but kudos to them for having the balls to stand up for something. Our dear “Employer” surely doesn’t

      • You say it isn’t libel but you can in fact restate comments in such a false light that it damages somebody’s reputation and is actionable. The grad students who did this sought to misrepresent the professor’s statements. Morally, and I think legally, they flat out lied. That is actionable in many ways under the law when it harms someone. I’m glad Professor Jacobsen listed the names of each accuser in his letter so that when the defamed professor’s name is searched their names come up as disgusting false accusers.

        • You know what? They did not lie. The opinions based on Collum’s own public statements are tailored to his fitness as an assessor of sexual harassment claims.

          Dave Collum is free to state his opinions on everything under the sun on Twitter. People are also free to state what those opinions mean to them. He touts this kind of libertarianism all the time–there are no safe spaces, no one can silence me, etc. He doesn’t get to claim there are no safe spaces and then create a claim that his reputation has been damaged by reactions to his own “free speech”! If he sued the writers for defamation it would be precisely the kind of chilling that he claims to abhor.

          I suspect he is getting his twitter/finance pals to write in claiming he might have a right to sue, knowing he doesn’t but trying to make it appear as though the writers are the bad actors while he gets to remain on his high horse.

          • You are half right, they did not lie at all, context, context, context. In today’s world anything said on social media is fair game. First Amendment and all that. People forget that while we may say whatever we choose, we are also susesptible to the consequences of what we say. As I stated in another reply, a lawsuit would likely be lost. But if the writers took things out of context, that can be a frightening thing, imagine if it had happened to you?

          • Hey Bob,

            They are not out of context, though…The Twitter platform IS the context. Prof Jacobsen is claiming that if the letter-writers had checked with Collum, he would have explained what his tweets meant….but that is not a thing Twitter is designed to support. People encounter “tweets” as they are: short blasts of information–and the tweeter is responsible for the content. What kind of context does one reasonably expect to be included when using an app designed to create stand-alone commentaries?

            As far as how I would feel…If it really was heavily edited–perhaps to show me saying the opposite of what I had actually said–then I would have a claim of fraud among other things. But if you look at the original letter, nothing is edited. It is editorialiZED by the writers, but that is the nature of the op-ed.

      • Not a student, nor a legal expert in any sense, I remembered that George Zimmerman sued NBC over the editing of his 911 call implying him to be a racist, which is neither here nor there. He lost the suit and the appelate court threw out the appeal. So while it may not technically be libel and he may not be able to sue, it is still an attack piece in an attempt to defame him.

  2. Thank you, Prof. Jacobson! You put a great deal of time and effort into this really thorough repudiation of the previous letter. As a grad student in the chem dept I very much appreciate this!

  3. The Sun should have never published the original article. I wouldn’t be surprised if the students that wrote it got sued for defamation.

  4. Say what you will, but I’m still glad I’m not a female working in this jerk’s lab.

    And I sure as hell wouldn’t have much faith in due process for a sexual harassment claim that gets filed through this guy — as they do in Chem under Cornell policy 6.4 since he’s also the dept chair

    • “Say what you will, but I’m still glad I’m not a female working in this jerk’s lab.”

      Did you even read the article?

    • Agreed. If you were a female working in this Professor’s lab; given that you seem entirely willing to believe lies anyone claims about him?
      You’d have a difficult time.

      Actually, given your inability to choose facts over fiction and horse excrement; you’d have trouble in ANY Chemistry lab anywhere.
      Facts are particularly necessary when doing STEM work.

      You’rte probably better off in your field of … let me guess, Education? Sociology?
      Middle-Eastern Non-CIS-Gendered Women’s Feminist Basket-weaving?

      I’m close with that last one, right?

      • Actually my field has more to do with testing various forms of animal manure to identify their content: this one looks like bullshit

        Yes, I did read the article. (And Karen, I’m an adult. No need to grow any taller).

        Did any of you read the cornell grad school’s policy on grievances related to sexual harassment:
        Grievances and Complaint’s: “Step 2. Contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). If a satisfactory resolution is not reached at Step 1, the aggrieved may file a grievance by sending a letter describing the issue to the DGS in her/his field.”

        It’s true that “If the DGS is the ‘source’ of the grievance, Step 2 should be skipped and the grievance letter sent directly to the Dean of the Graduate School.” But let’s remember the “Dean” is still Dean Knuth — the one who just tried to ruin the career of an undergrad who decided not to follow her orders (see the Mitch McBride case) and also violated a number of labor laws during the union election.

        The point is that if I were a female w a sexual harassment complaint, I don’t see a lot of over sight in any department — but chemistry seems particularly inhospitable given collum’s statements. I actually agree they are taken (somewhat) out of context, but there remain real issues w the content, as pointed out by other commentators on the thread. The fact that folks like “bert” think this’s no problem here is quite disturbing

  5. What about the part where he uses trans* slurs and argues that supporting young people in their gender identification is child abuse?

          • Right??? I mean seriously, the dude just needs to stop talking before he digs himself into a deeper hole.

          • Kevin Hines, another Community College success story. Holyoke (Mass) Community College, class of 2010.

          • TC, While I am no fan of Kevin Hines in the least, and you have every right to say what you please, that remark was probably wholly unnecessary.

          • So, looks like Kevin went to Community College and is now in a PhD program at an Ivy League university.

            I also finished part of my undergraduate degree at a community college.

            You know why? I was poor, my parents never went to college (Dad only got his GED before he enlisted in the army) and didn’t really encourage me to go either. I paid for it, and the rest of my four year degree, working off-campus full-time and going to school full-time. Graduated MCL from a “public Ivy.” While paying my own rent, food, and other keep.

            Now here I am, wasting my time pissed off at classist trolls while taking a “break” from writing my brilliant dissertation in my windowless TA office just off East Ave. And it’s sunny and warm outside. TGIF.

            So many writers “against” the original letter are just showcasing their own privilege and bias and taking away all their own “credibility” as defenders of what’s supposedly so right and good and just…I’m sure you probably consider yourself a good ol American “got here on your own because you deserve it” “every man for himself” kind of guy too, TC? God.

          • Lol classist?!?! This privilege nonsense is neo marxism with an unhealthy portion of post modernism. I don’t understand why this ideology keeps coming back when it ends in tyranny every time.

          • @grad Yeah, it’s super postmodern to work full-time put yourself through college because your parents can’t/don’t want to. I like to call it “deconstructed waitressing.” Waking up at 5 am and going to bed at midnight for three years was a comment on time-space compression, and smiling through being asked out by jackass customers all the time was actually performance art inspired by the work of Judith Butler (or was it??)

          • TC, a lot of people go to community college because they don’t have money, not because they aren’t smart. To many, this remark comes off as making fun of someone because of their social class, even if you didn’t mean it that way.

          • It depends on what you mean by “smart”. All top universities offer need scholarships. Lots (almost all?) middling universities offer scholarships to top high school students. Baylor, for example, gives free tuition to National Merit Finalists. The average person who goes to a community college is above average IQ, but is not a National Merit Finalist. Probably the top student who goes to a community college is not a National Merit Finalist either.

  6. I am deeply disappointed in the Sun’s shoddy fact checking and hope that they address this on a lengthier piece. This is journalistic incompetence carrying out the work of malice. I am for unions and I am also for disciplinary action against defamers of those with other opinions.

  7. It’s interesting that Prof. Jacobson didn’t bring up David Collum’s transphobia. This is interesting, but not surprising since Jacobson’s right-wing blog “Legal Insurrection” has A.F. Branco as a contributor:

    If you don’t know who Branco is, he is the proud author of many transphobic cartoons:

    As the department chair, David Collum would be responsible for any cases of discrimination, harassment, and bias against transgender students. David Collum uses transphobic slurs and has shown support for an organization that supports harmful “gay conversion therapy” and sees being trans as a mental disorder.

    Defend that.

    • Where are you getting this idea that he has anything to do with policy 6.4 violations? Those are handled independently of the department.

    • Trans was a disorder until about five minutes ago when the changed the term to dysphoria. The DSM is one of the most politicized books. There is absolutely no evidence that the unbelievably high suicide rates are from oppression. 80% of kids with trans feelings settle into there sex by the time they are adults. Giving small children hormone therapy and surgery is absolutely child abuse because they do not know enough to make that decision (this is the basis for the age of consent). Transgenderism is much more similar to anorexia than anything else. Aren’t you a scientist? Have you looked at the data? Condoning disorders and mass delusion is only going to harm these people. These people need our help. Telling somebody who is anorexic or schizophrenic that there delusions are ok will not help anyone and this is no different.

    • phobia means irrational fear. Thinking that gender identity disorder is a mental illness does not mean there is an irrational fear of transgender people. You are conflating skepticism about the transgender movement with hatred for a certain group of people. This is not logical reasoning.

    • What’s the correlation between research productivity and the time spent on your social justice crusade? Kids like you are destroying the reputations of respected research institutions.

  8. Kudos to Prof. Jacobson for penning such an eloquent response, which clearly stated the facts regarding the tweets and other comments that Dave has made and presented lucid arguments and rebuttals, as opposed to the half-witted, contrived slander whose sole purpose was to smear Dave’s name and tarnish his reputation. I hope, if nothing else, that those behind the original piece realize that if you are going to try and bring to light a perceived injustice to the media, you’d better get your facts straight and be sure of what you’re doing first …

  9. Let’s not forget that Professor David Collum and Proffessor William A. Jacobson are among the tenured professors at Cornell University, people who have some of the highest forms of job security that a person can have in our society. I am proud of my fellow graduate students for speaking up about Collum’s repulsive tweets, and I applaud them for doing so while being precariously employed and facing uncertain futures without any of protections that Collum and Jacobson enjoy.

    I am so proud of my fellow grads and I think both of these professors should be ashamed of themselves.

    • LOL. You’re proud of the fact that your colleagues embellished/spun social media postings of Dave’s to suit their narrative and their agenda? That’s real special.

      • Yes I am. I think their narrative is correct and their agenda is good. David Collum’s tweets are worrying and I don’t trust him to perform his duties as chair. I don’t think it’s particularly special of me to think that way.

        • I guess you didn’t read Jacobson’s response in its entirety, then. Or you’re just too stubborn to admit when you’re wrong. *Trigger Warning*: Knowing Dave personally, his tweets don’t worry me in the least, and he is actually a fairly swell guy with very good intentions.

    • It’s true that Prof. Collum is tenured, but Professor Jacobson is not. He’s on a clinical appointment, which is not eligible for tenure. Which, in a way, makes his spirited defense of a colleague in a different college of the university a lot more courageous than it may seem.

      • Yeah it’s real brave of him to defend Collum calling people closet t******* online while also being the point of contact for harassment claims in his department.

        Jacobson is the director of a law clinic and runs a big conservative blog. He’s not taking on any risk for his future employment by defending Collum. The grads are taking on a risk for standing up to him.

        • Correct. They took a risk. And like all risks may, taking this one turned out poorly. Supposed good intentions (and even there, we may disagree) do not excuse employing idiotic and slanderous methods, for transparently ideological reasons, in an attempt to silence and/or ruin an excellent academic because he does not agree with them. They took that risk, and now they should pay for their egregious misconduct. Actions like these have consequences, and I for one hope that these grad students experience them to the fullest extent, both legally and by being prevented from pursuing academic careers any further. People who are willing to act in such bad faith, with such an openly disdainful attitude towards the truth, have no place in academia. Sue them and expel them.

          • Collum was the one who made these statements public! Why does he get all the benefits of free speech, and none of the burdens? This is certainly not the libertarianism he espouses with his “there are no safe spaces” rhetoric.

            And people who think those speaking out against his statements deserve to be sued and expelled–you don’t get it: they cannot be sued for re-publishing Dave Collum’s own tweets and stating their opinions about them. Get a grip on your ideology.

          • As a libertarian: No reasonable person wants any of these people sued. Both parties accept the consequences of there speech when they make there statements public. Collum for potentially offending some people and being perceived as a bigot. Kevin and the others for looking like absolute fools publishing a smear article that takes everything out of context. None of these people should be censored or expelled. In today’s climate professor Collum should probably try and separate his political views from his academic job, knowing that these things may make some feel uncomfortable if they do not know him. Kevin and the rest should be more honest in their reporting and virtue signal less.

  10. Let’s put this to rest, right here, right now (or not, but I’ll try anyway) … As a cis gay man who has worked closely with Dave Collum for the last 15+ years, I have had nothing but productive (we do work together after all), professional, and in many ways, enlightening and certainly very interesting conversations with him. These include numerous work-related topics and discussions, but also some of a personal nature (including a few excellent exchanges about homosexuality – and I like to think I enlightened him a bit on some things there … ). The “torch and pitchfork squad” who are trying their hardest to tarnish his reputation using shoddy journalism techniques, and in some cases, flat out lies, have been called out now by Prof. Jacobsen, and they will hopefully rethink their approach in the future, and perhaps even look within themselves to try and do better as members of society. In the meantime, Dave saw fit to address the department earlier today via email, and as usual, his words speak volumes to his character. Assassinate (as in the “character fashion”) if you will, but in my opinion, you’d be after the wrong guy … I’m sharing with you his message, because I highly doubt Dave sent it to over 200 people without expecting it to grow some legs. It gives way better insight about him as a person, and as a representative of Cornell University, than the original letter, of that I am absolutely certain.

    (DBC’s email begins here)


    I try to write short emails, but this one is a bit of a blog. As you all know I played a potentially important role in what eventually became a failed attempt to unionize graduate students. It goes without saying that the organizers of this three-year, possibly multi-million dollar effort were not pleased. As some of you know, they recently published a letter to the Cornell Daily Sun that my behavior on unrelated social issues makes me unsuitable to be department chair. (They should have asked me; I could have given them many more reasons.) Although it was clearly a post-failure retribution, the accusations were, read independently of their motives, quite serious. Although I am reasonably impervious to what is called reputational risk—that ship sails daily—it was not a good day for me.

    The outpouring of support from the chemistry community was heartfelt. I have openly spoken up in defense of others simply because it felt like the right thing to do, but I now fully understand how important that was. The plotline has now thickened: a Cornell law professor (William Jacobsen) has jumped into the fray and mounted a defense with a clarity to be expected from that elite institution.

    The effort that Professor Jacobsen must have put in to clarify this situation in a futile effort to retrieve my reputation is unfathomable.

    I would like to clarify only one underlying issue with some political commentary. I currently am in conflict with the emergent social justice movement. It began when a student was, in my opinion, falsely convicted of a serious crime. I had hard data showing the accuser has a history of using the legal system for retribution, but my data never made it to court. The victim in this story is sitting in prison as I type. I support the rights of individuals to act freely no matter how idiosyncratically they may seem when compared to the always-changing societal norms. Any other stance would be hypocritical. The social justice movement, however, is becoming toxic. Lives are being destroyed. I will continue to fight and will do so in plain sight without wearing a mask to hide my identity. As friends, family, and acquaintances have known for 62 years (as of today!) I cannot be silenced. Bad behavior hides behind closed doors and is enabled by cowards. To be more precise, the most egregious breaches that have occurred within universities across the nation stem from cowardly university administrators. Find the injustices that rankle you, and fight them.

    On the most serious of note and at risk of sounding like a bloviating administrator, we as a department—and I believe I can speak for my colleagues—firmly believe that the Department should provide an environment that optimizes everybody’s sense of well being, happiness, and professional progress. I would like to believe that anybody can bring any problem to me without fear. I recognize, however, that I am a polarizing figure and an acquired taste (….brief pause for you to gather your composure.) Fortunately, I have a couple dozen colleagues who are collectively thoughtful, sensitive, and warm human beings. Go to them. We have a college dean and provost who are stupendous. Solve your problems. Life offers no emotionally safe spaces—statements to the contrary are a crock—but you can take actions to optimize the world around you. The adults on campus are poised and anxious to help.

    I would like to finish by saying that it has been an extraordinary honor to be a member of this department. I sincerely believe it is the most benign and benevolent collection of chemistry faculty in the nation—an extraordinary group that students often do not fully appreciate until they go elsewhere.

    Never forget some important aphorisms (duck-filled platitudes):

    “Your only goal is to be happy; the rest is just a vehicle.”

    “Don’t worry about the little things, and everything is little.”

    With that all said, I’ve got to go because there are proposals to be finished and jokes to be Tweeted.



    David B. Collum
    Betty R. Miller Professor of Chemistry and Chair (for 76 more days)
    Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
    Cornell University

    • I can’t believe you reprinted that email…He calls the social justice movement “toxic” (sounds like Ann Coulter) and supposedly has “hard data” that “never made it to court” to exonerate someone…what the hell? If he was called as a witness in this case or had real “data” that could actually be used as “hard” evidence, what on earth could be stopping it? Were the Rules of Evidence written by SJWs? Please.

      That Dave thinks he played a role that was potentially important in the election speaks to his out-sized ego and conspiratorial tendencies, not the motivations of the letter-writers. His attempt to distract his followers from examining his bad behavior by conjuring up a hero role for himself is not surprising.

      His actions surrounding the election did indeed verge on breaking labor law, that’s true–and if he had succeeded in carrying them through to his desired conclusion, he might have played a “potentially important role” in getting the results of the election THROWN OUT–not “failed,” thrown out with a re-do. So ironically, the arbitrator’s order saved him from having to explain on twitter why he engaged in activities that would have ended up serving the cause of the evil, existentially threatening grad union.

      finally…guess what. GRADUATE STUDENTS ARE *ALSO* ADULTS! Are you freaking kidding me with this “The adults on campus are poised and anxious to help” when he is addressing adults? This is is his big offer? His “big daddy” thing, the mix of clever libertarian maxims with paternalistic anxiety…if this is comforting or charming to anyone, they must have Stockholm syndrome.

      • I am not at all surprised that what I thought was a well-thought-out, respectful response was met with this level of condescension, not to menti ad hominem attacks. You just proved Dave's point about the toxicity of the social justice movement. on said:

        AMC Jr.

        • Getting in here before someone else decides to be a dick, I think you switched the name and comment fields.

        • Grad worker sure did – talk about toxic. Wow. As a Cornell grad, all I can say is, what the heck is going on at that place? Has the place gone mad? How sad.

      • I am not at all surprised that what I thought was a well-thought-out, respectful response was met with this level of condescension, not to mention the ad hominem attacks. You just proved Dave’s point about the toxicity of the social justice movement.

        (Better? LOL.)

        • The social justice movement is focused on furthering human rights and social equality. In what way is this toxic? This is a sincere question.

          • Won’t speak for AMC but what I will say from my perspective is that furthering human rights is a noble goal, and no human rights are not enjoyed equally by all in the US (or anywhere else for that matter). But viciously attacking people for any statement slightly out of line with current social norms is not helpful. It just pushes people further and further away until they start to think they are the ones being targeted, and you get Christians with a persecution complex. What if, instead, we took smaller transgressions like offensive jokes as teaching moments to try and make the other person see the reasoning of your side. I’ve seen that technique work first hand. And yes, this does put the burden on the people affected, which is why good allies should be having those conversations themselves when they hear the remarks made. Turn one problematic person into a good ally, and the number of people making harmful remarks will drop off exponentially.

            When people refer to SJW culture they are usually pointing to the (completely unhelpful and actively harmful) strategy of targeting a few out of context statements made by an individual and using it as an excuse to go after that person extremely aggressively with no attempt at converting them. They become one of the “enemy” and everyone gets a nice high from using them as their personal punching bag for a while.

          • Okay I agree with you that attacking people is never helpful to a cause. Conversations about equality bring up a lot of emotion so it is easy to become reactive and attack. So I agree that it’s counter productive and is something that people need to control.

            However, I don’t think that the argument above, which most people I think would accept, means that the SJM is ‘toxic’. The agenda of SJM is to help acheive the social equality we desire and I will always support/fight for that cause.

            Belittling people is not the strategy of the SJM, but it is something that some people who align themselves with the SJM do. I too think it’s wrong, but it does not make the SJM wrong or toxic.

            I’m actually far more angry that Collum called the SJM ‘toxic’ than the content of his tweets. AMC said he wanted to “put this to rest” but actually shot himself in the foot.

          • Well, it looks like we’re coming closer to understanding each other, I thought that was impossible on the internet. I understand your point, and really it’s the flip side of what I was saying before. Some people decide to go overboard with the attacks and they give a bad name to everyone else. Half the time, you can take any comment section on the internet, swap five or six nouns, and suddenly everyone has flipped sides completely. There’s no side devoid of people more interested in venting their anger than having a real conversation, and they can spoil the conversation for everyone (as a side note, yes there are groups comprised entirely of trolls, ie the alt-right, I’m not including them here).

            So, when this person says SJM is toxic, it’s because they have only seen the viciously attacking side. If I was on the receiving end of that, I can’t imagine I would have a good view of anyone happy to embrace the term SJW and would start painting all of them with a broad brush, even if I agreed with their principles once they were explained in a way I can understand. This is exactly what is happening here. Someone gets called out for a few tweets out of context, and the context doesn’t fully exonerate them. They start getting attacked and labeled the great satan. They go on the defensive, and now everyone is stuck yelling at each other. And now the chemistry department itself is getting dragged through the mud because they are refusing to let someone they know to be an overall good person be treated that way.

            I would not describe the SJM as toxic inherently, but ironically it is not good at reaching out to people outside the movement, and does not do a good job presenting a welcoming environment for people to engage in. All this meant as constructive criticism, because if we are to advance as a society we can’t keep shouting down people we disagree with, even if their views are utterly reprehensible. Because their views don’t die, they get relegated to echo chambers and only grow.

          • I don’t disagree with anything said here. From what I’ve gathered, you agree with the ideologies of the SJM, but have issues with the execution of their agenda. I understand why someone would feel that way. I hope that Collum feels the same way as you do–that he desires social equality, but that he disagrees with methods used to achieve this goal. However, since his email damns the SJM as a whole AND he has posted questionable remarks on twitter, I’m very hesitant to assume this about him. I don’t know Collum at all so I could be 100% wrong in my views of him, but I haven’t seen any material, even material written by himself, that puts him in a positive light.

            Of course everyone is entitled to their opinions–even if they’re sh**–and they shouldn’t be publicly attacked for it. That being said, the fact that he’s an educator and influences the lives of students is what makes his statements worrisome. If he was just some administrator at Cornell that wasn’t responsible for students, his statements would not matter since his views wouldn’t affect other people. But like I said, I’m open to the possibility that Collum is actually an awesome guy who is being set-up.

          • And here is a sincere answer … while I agree that human rights and and social equality are important and that as a society we can improve in so many ways … I have a problem with the tactics they sometimes use. I also have a real problem when the SJW’s think that they get to decide who can speak, where, and when. Take a couple of talking heads in the news recently: Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopolous … sure, some of their opinions are totally whack, their delivery is inflammatory on occasion, and I certainly don’t agree with everything they say, but they have just as well a right as anybody to share it with others. Those like Kevin Hines will respond that they should not be immune to judgment and consequences of their actions and words, and that would actually be correct in my mind, but proverbial “line in the sand”that should not be crossed (to me) is when disruption of their scheduled events takes place at the hands of the SJWs, and especially when it involves vandalism and violence (Milo’s somewhat recent trip to UC Berkeley, for example). I also have a problem when people (on both sides of an issue) resort to personal attacks and almost a “holier-than-thou” condescending sort of attitude when presenting their arguments. Civil discourse and respect towards people, regardless of their viewpoints on the issues are almost unheard of today, thjough I think a lot of that has to do with people hiding behind their computer screens.

          • AMC, your last post brings up a lot of different arguments that would take a long conversation to get through. If I knew you in person, I’d be happy to have this conversation. So I’ll just say this–Dave Collum is not Ann Coulter or Milo. Neither of those 2 people work directly with students and influence their careers. I really do think that’s the essential difference here. If Dave Collum were a figure like Ann or Milo, I would simply shrug off his comments. I don’t like Ann or Milo, I think they’re basically caricatures of right-leaning people and actually make them look bad, but their comments are easy to ignore. Collum has to answer for his statements because of his influence over students–which include the people he is supposedly making bigoted statements about.

            Therefore, I don’t think calling the SJM ‘toxic’ because of these complaints against Collum is a coherent criticism. As I’ve stated, if Collum were some desk jockey making these statements, it would be silly to confront him about it. But that’s not the case.

          • Fair enough. I do think the movement as a collective can be toxic (at times), so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to use that descriptor (maybe we can agree to disagree here?). Certainly a valid point about the differences between the Coulter’s and Yiannopolous’ of the world, and Dave. I would like to point out that you wouldn’t have to look far in these comments, on social media, and elsewhere to see how Dave has had quite a positive influence on people over the years, and that include several female and URM students as well as postdoctoral researchers and visiting scientists.

            All in all, good talk. 🙂

          • Although I agree that people resort to toxic methods when trying to convince others to see things their way, I don’t think that’s a fair description of the SJM. I mainly say this because I think describing the SJM as toxic infers that the ideas/motives of the SJM are toxic, which I will never agree with (this was originally what I thought you meant btw). In fact, I would bet that anyone who gets angry about the SJM=toxic comment probably thinks this is what you mean. It would probably best for Collum to clarify such comments in the future–what exactly does he find toxic?

            Also, I honestly don’t know what to think of Collum right now since all of this has happened so suddenly. I’ll do the research that you suggested though. Hopefully I’ll meet him in person one day and I’ll get to judge for myself.

          • Most major religions argue that they’re focused on furthering human rights and social equality. They also tend to engage in behavior and take positions that are in opposition to their supposed aims.

            Like religion, “SJ” is not exactly a ideological framework that lends itself to rational or scientific thinking, and thusly it often takes positions that are based on orthodoxy and heresy.

            This is why they frequently conflate criticism with harassment, speech with ‘violence’, and application of individual moral principle with “hate”.

          • “”The social justice movement is focused on furthering human rights and social equality. In what way is this toxic? This i a sincere question.””

            The Social Justice “Movement” is ‘toxic’ mainly in that it is not a movement in any real sense at all

            It does not have any specific, coherent goals. It does not produce any organizations that have any clear mandate or objectives.* It has no identifiable leaders, and no grassroots activities by which actual progress is effected in local communities.

            What it is, by and large, is = “people mobbing anyone who disagrees with them on social-media, and attempting to use their mob power to smother dissent”

            Its all about “call-out culture” and “shame mobs”. None of which actually accomplish anything positive, its noble-claims aside.

            It seems mostly to be a fashionable posture latched onto by people who want to be seen as virtuous by their peers. And they gain virtue points by lashing out alongside others at anyone/anything that draws the ire of the mob.

            It doesn’t actually foster any better social-conditions. It doesn’t produce any economic benefits. It doesn’t add value to anything. Its just a form of populist witch-hunt, which occasionally earns a ‘scalp’ when it destroys someone’s life/career. (see: Justine Sacco, et al).

            What is possibly worst about it is not its “toxic” elements described above, but rather the opportunity-costs it imposes on people’s lives.

            For example – look at this current little tempest in a teacup. A good professor is having his reputations dragged over the coals, and students are engaging in petty, spiteful, intellectually dishonest behavior.

            Why? To what end? Couldn’t all of these same energies have been put into some sort of productive effort that didn’t require students behaving so poorly, or trying to engage in personal attacks on an accomplished faculty member?

            That’s really the worst thing about it. That it is a vortex that sucks in people’s time and energy and produces absolutely nothing of value.

          • The social justice movement is not exactly focused, but is certainly concerned with a broad spectrum of political issues, taking positions it deems to be furthering human rights and social equality. The difficulty is that, in the opinion of many, it frequently is mistaken as to what it is, in fact doing and as to standards it proclaims. The toxicity arises from that movement’s obdurate insistence that it has been vouchsafed the truth on these matters and that no disagreement or opposition can be brooked. Worse, to disagree or to oppose is ever characterized by these self-righteous True Believers as due entirely to the basest of motives: racism, sexism, misogyny, various -phobias, etc. In a nutshell, they form our own domestic Taliban.

          • Frank Tisdale, it’s not obvious to me that “A good professor is having his reputations dragged over the coals, and students are engaging in petty, spiteful, intellectually dishonest behavior.” As of now, there is a lot of conflicting information going around. Even before his tweets were published, I heard from other grad students that Collum has made inappropriate remarks to students. If the alleged bigoted statements he made on twitter are in fact real, that is a legitimate cause for concern. As I’ve stated in previous post, his opinions matter because he influences the careers of students, many who belong to the group he’s supposedly making these bigoted statements about. His remarks hold much more weight than the average person for this reason.

            Maybe what you’re saying is true and Collum is a good man being set-up. But, I don’t think these students should come under fire just for bringing his statements into light. If you’re a powerful person making statements publicly, you will be judged for them. As to what’s really going on here, I will wait to see how things develop.

          • Statements such as? You’re anonymous, so your credibility is low anyway (and I can see why you want to be anonymous). But when you don’t even say what the claimed offenses are, what are we to learn from you? An anonymous person says Professor Collum did something bad, but she won’t say what.

          • Eric, I’m not here to try and persuade you that Collum is a bad guy, or even that the things I’ve heard are true. The reason why I have reservations about dismissing the claims against Collum are from my previous impressions of him. I’m not going to say what someone told me because I don’t know who’s reading this, and that person may see this and feel ‘called out’. They probably would figure out who I am based on my saying it. Again, this is just my personal reason for not having confidence in Collum. I’ve never met him so if you have, you would actually have a better idea of who actually is.

          • I understand that you don’t want to betray a confidence, and you shouldn’t. A big problem with vague charges, though, is that that they are vague. Somebody says, “Professor X is a sexual predator.” We then ask, “Why?” The answer may be, “He has been convicted of rape 3 times” or it may be “I’ve heard two girls say he complimented their dress in a way that made them uncomfortable.” It’s easy to convey wrong impressions, even to honestly misconvey them, when you’re vague.

          • Toxic. With suicide being a real concern on College campuses, isn’t this so very toxic?

            “An assistant professor at Cornell University (CU) told white students they must commit race suicide and reject the inherent privilege of their skin color to move past the events in Ferguson.”

          • Since when is it sufficient to judge a movement only according to its stated goals, rather than its demonstrated conduct? By that measure, Scientology, which I gather is focussed on freeing our minds from the ancient burden of alien ghosts and transcending our human limitations, is a pretty sweet deal as well.

        • I don’t disagree with anything said here. From what I’ve gathered, you agree with the ideologies of the SJM, but have issues with the execution of their agenda. I understand why someone would feel that way. I hope that Collum feels the same way as you do–that he desires social equality, but that he disagrees with methods used to achieve this goal. However, since his email damns the SJM as a whole AND he has posted questionable remarks on twitter, I’m very hesitant to assume this about him. I don’t know Collum at all so I could be 100% wrong in my views of him, but I haven’t seen any material, even material written by himself, that puts him in a positive light.

          Of course everyone is entitled to their opinions–even if their sh**–and they shouldn’t be publicly attacked for it. That being said, the fact that he’s an educator and influences the lives of students is what makes his statements worrisome. If he was just some administrator at Cornell that wasn’t responsible for students, his statements would not matter since his views wouldn’t affect other people. But like I said, I’m open to the possibility that Collum is actually an awesome guy who is being set-up.

          • oops, “even if they’re* sh**”. This is one of my pet-peeves and I just did it.

          • I would say the strong defense from his students point to him being an overall stand up person, it’s getting harder and harder to tell though. Maybe Trump is actually a strong feminist! Ok, that last part was a bad joke, but seriously this whole thing is causing me to reevaluate how I’ve viewed every news story post internet. By the way, you have restored some of my faith in humanity for willing to talk through this in a reasonable way, so thanks for that.

          • Yeah I think it’s still too early for me to make a reasonable judgement on this situation. I actually work in the chem department, although I’m not in chem department, so I’ll keep an eye out for any new developments. I’m glad your faith is restored! Reason shall prevail! 🙂

          • The social justice movement is based on collective justice, not individual justice. It judges people according to the groups they can be sorted into. It strips them of individual responsibility, individual guilt and individual innocence. It’s warmed over Marxist theory with a soupcon of postmodernism. Sounds toxic to me.

            By all means, pursue justice. Justice for individuals, not “social justice.”

      • >He calls the social justice movement “toxic”

        I can understand why that would upset you. After all, the truth hurts.

        >finally…guess what. GRADUATE STUDENTS ARE *ALSO* ADULTS!

        Then maybe you should start acting like one.

    • I admire your integrity, your eloquence, and your optimism in thinking that your post will make any difference to the smear merchants.

  11. How does Professor Jacobson know that “several” of these people were “graduate student supporters”? Is he surveilling them? Or just guessing that based on the fact that “several” hundred grads voted for unionization? Or did Collum tell him that?

    Don’t understand why libertarian/conservatives like Jacobson and Collum think the right to free speech means they can publish whatever gross stuff they want in the most public of spheres and no one has the right to say what they think about it in public. I thought the lefties were the snowflakes…

    It doesn’t make sense that in order to understand a tweet that recommends bringing roofies somewhere, you have to have watched some movie from 2009. Twitter is designed to house soundbites. I would say that fear, or the experience, of being roofied by a stranger is far more useful context in the reader “getting it.”

    The point: Collum has indicated by his PUBLIC statements that he is skeptical of, unsympathetic, or at least tone-deaf to the issue of sexual harassment on campuses and the fact that he is in charge of adjudicating them by dint of his position as chair is of serious concern. Getting a lawyer to explain away his statements by claiming they were JUST tone-deaf, and look, here is the necessary backstory that isn’t in the tweet that proves it! does not defeat that claim.

    • Oh my god. I probably shouldn’t even try, but did you read the article? Tweets aren’t in a vacuum, the tweet about rufies was in direct response to his friend, so yeah context is there. Issue with twitter is that people can later go and only take one tweet and pretend the rest didn’t happen. The context was pretty obvious to me and many others. As for the issue around “perceived” somehow showing he doesn’t consider sexual assault an issue, later in the same damn year in review he says that women have long been the subject of abuse, he acknowledges that abuse happens literally in the same section. Take any long enough work that touches on this issue and you will be able to cut out an inflammatory sentence. He calls SJW culture toxic because a single tweet out of line is enough to get you attacked on all sides, regardless of context or intent.

      As for this nonsense of him being able to stifle sexual harassment complaints, just take a look here: nowhere does it say the chair of a department is involved at any level with policy 6.4 violations. In fact, he wouldn’t even be involved in the grad school grievance process, that goes to the DGS.

    • “in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”

      If you read this on a twitter feed you may assume the person posting it is likely a dedicated Catholic with a penchant for latin. Another interpretation is the person posting it is a fan of the movie “Boondock Saints” about two irish brothers on a mission from God to clean up the streets of Boston with vigilante justice. In truth you simply don’t know without the proper context. Context is what lends that statement meaning one way or another. This is true for Collum’s tweets as well. How you could argue otherwise I find baffling.

      “How does Professor Jacobson know that “several” of these people were “graduate student supporters”?”

      It’s really not hard to google their names and find they are linked to the union in some form. Kevin was an organizer for it and a several others have written in support of it in the Cornell Sun. In the age of information it’s not that hard to do a bit of research.

      The point: While many times a little off color and/or abrasive, I know of no person in Cornell Chemistry that would find Dave Collum deaf and dumb to sexual harassment (or other criminal) accusations brought to his attention.

  12. Your context argument is, with all due respect, ridiculous. Stating part of the Our Father prayer is non-threatening, uncontroversial speech (at least in the US)–if someone comes across the tweet and makes the honest mistake of thinking someone is a Catholic but they are actually quoting from any one of dozens of films, no harm done, right? Unless that person has papophobia. But most women will experience some kind of sexual violence in their lifetimes, and “roofies”–slang for any number of drugs slipped to unsuspecting women–are especially feared, for good reason. They are scary. I was dosed in college and all I can say is, thank God I with my friends–the guy thought I was alone.

    Dave appearing to promote the use of date-rape drugs–which, by the way, was not a quote, but some kind of a loose reference!–does not get explained away by claiming that you just don’t have enough of the specific context to get the joke.

    For crying out loud: joking about roofies is DISGUSTING. I don’t care how many fine films feature that particular thigh-slapper. If I were a student in Chemistry I would be afraid of being made the subject of a joke if something bad happened to me under his indirect or direct supervision.

    • I understand where you are coming from here. I know two close friends who were roofied in college and it was a horrifying experience. Luckily they were both ok. I was actually drugged once also when a female friend of mine said her drink tasted funny so I finished it. I woke up a few hours later face down in a public bathroom. Terrifying.

      If the reference Collum was making was to a movie in which a girl gets drugged then it would be highly offensive, of course. But it wasn’t. It was four male friends and one of them accidentally gave everyone a roofie. This isnt promoting the use of date rape drugs. I can understand why the tweet would appear quite bad since the movie was almost ten years ago, but this is why context is important. By your logic of context doesn’t matter, any mention at all of roofies would be “disgusting”. That is the same as saying The Hangover movie in general is promoting the use of these drugs. This just isn’t the case and he was by no means condoning criminal behavior. Context and intention are always important.

      Hope we can find some common ground here.

      • Thanks for saying so, grad, I appreciate it very much. Sorry in advance for the long post.

        I guess there bigger issue here, outside of me, is that there are LOTS of terrible jokes. Saying something is just a joke has long been a way to excuse plenty of offensive and even harmful behavior. Women, black people, Jews, queer people, et al…all have had the dubious privilege of having whole genres and subgenres of jokes/slurs made specifically about them, designed to denigrate them, and allow the “jokers” to receive immunity because they can claim that “context” (ie, an environment in which its OK to denigrate minorities) is on their side.

        Hazing has also been explained away as “just joking/fooling around” but has been shown to contribute to numerous unhealthy outcomes, up to and including death. That it was always just a joke is no defense, right?

        I’m not saying no one can say anything about roofies. I’m saying jokes about them are in terribly poor taste–including the original one in the Hangover, but that did have the necessary narrative context to give it a “cushion” and leave no doubt as to its intent. There is no mention of the Hangover in or anywhere near Collum’s tweet, so there is none of the “context” that people are claiming unless context is just that there is some other way the tweet can be explained, if you look hard enough.

        Finding the extra context and intention of tweets make little difference to how they are received as a stand-alone statement, which is what the form of Twitter itself intends. It is not up to the reader of a 140 character statement to find some more context for it to explain what it says–if they know what roofies are most commonly used for, and what Vegas is, the likely interpretation is clear.

        One must assume that a speaker provides what one needs to know to understand them. If it is taken “wrongly,” it is more often a matter of how the statement was made, and not the fault of the hearer who is taking the statement in. Writers have responsibilities to get the point across that they want, and not a different one. We know this, as academics.

        I do not think the letter-writers were out to “get” Collum because of any unstated reasons. I see that they are concerned with his apparent agreement with harassment/assault-skeptical organizations, his approving citation of anti-gay hate groups (ACP is one, according to Southern Poverty Law Center)–and yes, also his taste in jokes–in relation to whether he can be fair about sexual harassment, and/or whether a student would be comfortable discussing it with him at all.

        • So if I am offended by Stephen Colbert or something on SNL should it be banned? People held accountable? Will you support holding these jokers accountable? I think the ugliness on late night TV is contributing to numerous unhealthy outcomes. Is it ok that Alec Baldwin, who has a history of misogyny, is allowed to demean Kellyanne Conway and get away with it? That it is a joke is no defense, right?

          • No one is banning anything…I think Collum is still tweeting. Relax. The world is still on its axis.

            Alec Baldwin is gross, and I don’t really watch him, and yes, you can talk about how offensive he is, and do a petition or something. But as far as I know, he has few duties other than being a dipshit and getting paid a lot of money for it. If he were suddenly appointed as the head of an office where his past statements cast serious doubt on his views, and thus his abilities to fulfill his duties, then there would be issues.

            What people joke about and how they joke about it indicates what they are thinking and how they are thinking about it. It’s simple.

            The entire past election cycle was about this on a tremendous scale. As a quasi-private citizen, Trump makes disgusting jokes about women, and we all breathe a sigh of relief that he isn’t in charge of anything more than his own little fiefdom (although many private lawsuits were filed in that fiefdom). When he became a candidate for the president, those same jokes became much, much more significant because the potential for bad outcomes–on a national policy level–became much, much more significant.

  13. With all due respect, I’m sorry you were drugged but that does not mean Collum was encouraging other people to do the same. Nor was he making you personally the subject of such a joke (which would be rather insensitive and worthy of being angry about).

    The point of my analogy is that a quote taken out of context does not serve anybody any justice. Statements (online and offline) are always said with a context and that context should always be taken into consideration. Most people have said a great many things that, when taken in isolation, can be considered hurtful, insensitive, or even hateful. Taking such a quote without the context it is given in is to misrepresent the original meaning of the text.

    Jokes are just that. Jokes. People will make off-color jokes around you and to you. Some people find them funny and some people do not. You can either find some humor in the world or decide to be offended by things that other people find humorous. What ever you choose is up to you.

    • Just curious, if someone were to make a joke about lynching black people, would you excuse this as just an ‘off-color’ joke? What if it’s made by an educator? If your answer is ‘no, I would not excuse it’, then please explain how this is different than jokes about drugs used to rape people.

      • Are they making a reference to a movie like Blazing Saddles? Or are they suggesting that beating and hanging a person is itself a objectively funny? These are two very different contexts.

        • From what I understand, the movie the Hangover was actually never referenced in this conversation. Even the writer of this article says “Prof. Collum’s tweet APPEARS to reference the movie The Hangover” but then he does not show the actual conversation to prove this. Can someone provide a link to this conversation, please? I would like to see for myself what was said!

          So to answer your question, say the lynching joke was made in the same context. Let’s say that Collum and his friends were going on a trip to a formerly confederate southern state and he replied “Don’t forget to bring the nooses”. Perhaps referencing a movie or perhaps not–a reference was never stated directly. Is this acceptable ‘off-color’ humor? Again, if not, how is it different than the roofie joke?

          • The context is important. The context of the movie reference is the guys were drugged by their friend for a wild night in Vegas. It wasn’t a movie about 3 guys going to Vegas to drug and rape an innocent woman. Roofie was the buildup and the rest of the movie was the punchline. If you don’t find the movie funny you won’t find the reference funny either. If you want to read for yourself what it said then you are more than welcome to scroll through 3-4 years of Prof Collum’s twitter feed in order to find it back in 2013. Or you could ask him directly.

            As for your question. You are basically asking me to pass judgement on a statement that was never uttered in a hypothetical situation that you won’t define. Grad Worker Cornell had said

            “It doesn’t make sense that in order to understand a tweet that recommends bringing roofies somewhere, you have to have watched some movie from 2009.”

            To paraphrase, It doesn’t make sense that in order to understand a tweet making a movie reference, you have to understand the movie it is coming from.

            But of course you do. Kevin and the rest of the authors were only interested in reporting a single tweet, a single soundbite, out of the context it was written in. They are guilty of quote mining.

          • So if you don’t get a joke, a man should lose his job?

            You then imagine the good professor saying something on a trip you think he could possibly take on a conjured scenario with non-existing friends? The very idea you connected Professor Collum to this dreamed up accusation is offensive.

            It is no one’s responsibility to explain the context of jokes you do not get.

            I don’t know anyone who uses the term “formerly Confederate Southern State”. So odd.

          • Chemistry grad student: okay fair enough. You’re right in that it is about context, so the only way to know if his comment is inappropriate is to look at the conversation for ourselves. Keeping in mind that this conversation was posted publicly on twitter (which he knew)–at the very least, it was not smart of him to make this comment.

    • And the joker receives blanket immunity for *his choice* to publish disgusting statements because it was “just a joke.” I get it. Free speech and everyone should just STFU and let assholes perpetuate the attitude that date rape drugs are funny.

      tip for the budding comedians out there: if your “off-color” joke requires that much context, rest assured it will only be funny to a tiny audience that already groks that context and will appear disgusting to everyone else. So don’t publish it on Twitter unless your plan is to disgust a lot of people. Doubly so if your job description includes vetting harassment claims.

      • Blanket immunity is a bit far off the mark as the jury of public opinion (or at least your opinion) has already decided he is a rape sympathizing monster. Let’s not forget that free speech also allows you to call him an asshole. I’m not saying you have to “STFU” about it either. If you want to be angry about it then be angry about it. If you want to be offended by it then be offended by it. Rant and rave all you want, it’s your life. The fact of the matter is this, as a member of Cornell Chemistry myself, Prof. Dave Collum, while at times possessing an abrasive personality, would fight for anybody in the chemistry department if they have been a victim of assault or abuse. I’ll quote Dave Collum (through this letter) but I would urge you to read the source it came from for full context. Page 97 for the curious.

        “Women have been the object of abuse since abuse was first invented. It is obvious to all that this is wrong an [sic] should be opposed by all rational means.” -Dave Collum

        Whether you believe him is up to you but there it is. If you really want to make your point I would suggest finding an example where Dave Collum willingly turned away and used his influence to shut up a person who made a sexual assault claim. That would speak volumes more than a stale movie reference. Do that and I would be more willing to change my position that he is a rape sympathizing monster unfit to not only be Chair but also an adviser at Cornell (or any) University.

        Another tip for budding comedians out there. If your jokes rely on slap-stick comedy that don’t require any context you will only be funny to a tiny audience. You can find loads of comedians who have made a successful career whose sets include off color and offensive jokes ranging from all sorts of topics I’m sure you would find not funny in the slightest. Louis C.K., Jimmy Carr, Dave Chappelle… and the list goes on. If you don’t find these people funny that’s fine. Their careers speak for themselves though.

        • No one is saying anything about “slapstick” (like Buster Keaton?)…The lack of a shared context is death to ANY joke, and hoping your audience can grasp an unspoken shared context when your joke is otherwise risque–well, it’s risky, isn’t it? The metaphysics and ethics of jokes, though, are actually studied here. Check out Paul Fleming in the German Studies department.

          FWIW I did see the Hangover and STILL didn’t find the reference to roofies funny! If someone makes a joke that is a bad, ugly joke, they don’t get off by passing the blame to a movie, nor by calling it a joke–that it’s considered funny by Collum is itself an indication of his personality. By your logic, blackface (derived from minstrelsy) would not be considered the racist, offensive shit that it is, because it refers to a form of entertainment and is clearly not *actually* harming black people. Maybe you also think that the offense of blackface just depends on whether or not you “choose” to take it some particular way. God, I hope not.

          You can’t claim dependence on context and free choice at the same time, unfortunately. Either we share the context and the joke is good or bad, or you figure out whether you think something is funny based on your own analysis and don’t pay attention to context (or cobble it together yourself).

          • I agree with you. The lack of shared context is death to any joke. The broader context of Collum’s tweet was in reference to other movie references being made and a mention about meeting up in Las Vegas. Without this shared context this joke isn’t a joke. With this context it is (albeit a poor one). How funny you find it is up to you.

            If you watched the movie and still didn’t find it funny then you simply didn’t find it funny. And maybe it wasn’t objectively funny (few things are). In some contexts I find a man being punched in the testicles hilarious, in others I do not. I did not think the tweet was “laugh out loud” funny myself, but I also don’t think it was a declaration of approval for the use of date rape drugs. In any case I fail to see how you are making the case that Collum is a rape sympathizing monster from a joke that fell flat.

            The dependence on context I am stressing is whether or not a quote accurately represents the meaning it was originally intended for. Without the proper context you could quote me and suggest that I thought “the jury of public opinion…has already decided [Dave Collum] is a rape sympathizing monster.” To do so would be intellectually dishonest. There is a separate issue of whether or not you are going to are going to believe it is funny. Those are two separate things. Context is important and gives true meaning to statements. It is your choice to think a joke is funny or not depending on the context it is in.

            I think you’ve hit on something in your last paragraph though. A joke isn’t either hilarious to all people or insensitive to all people. There is a spectrum. Comedy depends on the audience it is being addressed to and people (collectively) aren’t binary. Something that is funny to one person may not be funny to another. In the proper context you may find a joke to be inappropriate (as certainly happens), or in the proper context you may find it on a broad spectrum from mildly amusing to downright hilarious. Some jokes are more inappropriate than others. Putting on blackface on making a mockery of a person’s skin color is, in the social and political context of society, very inappropriate. Making a joke about a woman being drugged and raped is very inappropriate. Making a reference to a movie about 3 guys who were roofied in Las Vegas by their friend, I would argue, is not the same as either of the previous two cases. In terms of Collum’s tweet, the context was there, Kevin and the other authors just didn’t feel inclined to share it.

          • Just keeping digging in deeper and deeper. And avoiding the issue of the selective editing of a man’s expressed opinions in order to paint him as anti-whoever.

            Slapstick refers to broad physical comedy (and I would argue not to Keaton who did physical comedy but not broad, slipping on a banana or Keystone Kops style). The Hangover is a broad physical comedy that, while offensive to many is also funny to many. You do not appear to be among the many.

            You continue to appeal to a small and diminishing audience in your flailing attempts to justify the unjustifiable in the context of the dishonest attack. Probably you would be best served by stopping. BUT I am not telling you to STFU.

          • @Chemistry Grad Student, thanks. I realize the proclivities of humor and I definitely don’t find some stuff funny that others do, but I am also not immune to appeals to my cruder side. Ironically, I take humor seriously. Because I love it. It’s important to me that humor remain funny 🙂

            But just one correction: the context was not there…there is not a reference to the Hangover anywhere in or near his tweet, and Prof Jacobsen even states he had to call Collum to ask him what the context actually was. If twitter required people to call to confirm the real meaning of every tweet it would be the opposite of what it is (and obviously wouldn’t exist).

            Context that isn’t clear isn’t context, really. It may be an excuse but whether it’s accepted depends–you got it–on context.

          • @Grad Worker at Cornell. Prof. Jacobson said he gathered the context by reading the other tweets and confirmed context with Collum. Considering the other members of the twitter exchange were also sharing movie references (along with the mention of Vegas) it is not unreasonable to say the context is there. Kevin and the others either willfully chose to ignore the context, or they didn’t understand it and chose not to investigate it. I’m honestly not sure which is the more dishonest of the two.

            Not all context needs to be clear and plain to everybody else. Inside jokes are such an example. I share jokes with friends (on and off social media) that other people looking in wouldn’t understand but I know the target of my joke will. Is it no longer a joke because other people don’t clearly understand the context? Do I suddenly mean something else because a stranger has decided to read something malicious into it? I would argue not. The intended meaning has context and people looking in must understand the context of a statement if they are to understand that meaning. For a journalist, that may mean asking one or more of the individuals involved to explain it. Professor Jacobson did just that. Kevin Hines did not.

          • @Chemistry Grad Student…inside jokes are also private. Tweets are public. If you make an inside joke on a public platform, it suddenly isn’t “inside”–it has an “outside” audience that you don’t control, but you have chosen, by dint of your method.

            The tweet that Collum responded to was about a trip to Vegas, not movies…

            Even his friends don’t appear to get his reference, as one of them makes ANOTHER joke about 714s (quaaludes) and the person he responded to says something about his wife and roofies. So, I’m sorry…where is this long string of contextualizing tweets? because the only thread I’m seeing just makes it look like he publicly cracks a joke about bringing date-rape drugs on vacation, and everyone is lolz-ing about that, with literally zero film references.

            He may have been referring to that movie. Cannot reasonably be considered context here because it is undetectable–unless you ask him personally, in which case it isn’t context, it’s an explanation, and the whole point of Twitter fails.

          • You’re really digging deep to show that this tweet was a crime against humanity. The easiest explanation is that Collum was making a Hangover reference that you didn’t understand, not that he is Satan himself. Instead of blowing a gasket, upon finding out it was a movie reference, people that aren’t looking to make a scene would have said, “Oh ok never mind.”

          • @grad: no one is calling him Satan, especially not me…and no one is saying it wasn’t the joke he said it was. The point is that his “joke” doesn’t appear to be the one he said it was, even in the “context” everyone is talking about. Prof Jacobsen’s claim that there was context for this tweet that proves his point is contradicted by the context which, if one just looks up the tweet, is found.

            Context is surely important. But it seems that the deepest digging is being done by the ones who claim that a joke about date-rape drugs is defensible based on all this context which has yet to be shown and has only been stated by the law prof, whereas I simply googled “bring some roofies” and “Collum” to find the context I did.

            I would love to see the supposedly indemnifying “film reference” context, instead of just hearing about it. Finding out how one might find it would also be good, because it seems that the most basic of methods arrives one at the other “context”.

      • The more I read your comments (it’s painful), the more obvious it is that “vile” is your style. You’re really winning over admirers to your positions. (sarc) You are both bitter and toxic. Wow.

        • Dear Grad Worker —

          You can’t take humor seriously if you think Buster Keaton did slapstick.

          My friends and I can trade out of context movie references all day — and nothing you are typing or claiming explains or excuses the shoddy behavior of the union organizers who lost and are now lying in retaliation.

          Can you at least admit that it is retaliation?

          • Well, I suppose you might have a point there. But I think Mr Keaton might slightly disagree, as he entitled his only autobiography “My Wonderful World of Slapstick”:

            I wasn’t the author of the letter, so I can only assume based on its content–but there is nothing here that indicates it is retaliation (for what? his attempted but ultimately failed interference in the election?).

            One of the big issues in most grad unionization campaigns, including the one here, is fixing broken grievance systems, particularly to do with sexual assault and harassment in the workplace and particularly in STEM fields where there is more “employment”-like supervision between advisors and assistants and therefore much more control and contact. The writers are highlighting a concern about Prof Collum’s fitness to serve in his capacity as a responder to these sorts of issues in his department.

            It’s clear the way it has been received by some is as a “personal attack” on a well-respected academic and I would not myself have expressed myself this way–but Collum’s OWN statements are the issue here: no one forced him to tweet this stuff, and they are, like it or not, a reflection of him that looks very bad in the context of his duties as chair. That’s the whole point: SELF-expression.

            If you trade comments of any sort between friends, then that’s just you and them, isn’t it? If you publish those exchanges, it’s a different story. You broaden your audience and consequently the likelihood that people who aren’t your friends–and therefore not able or willing to call you up and ask you what you meant–are going to read it and take it for what it says. That’s the burden of free speech.

            I don’t think the writers are lying–point to a lie?–and as far as I know they aren’t “union organizers”: they are grads. If they are also union supporters, that isn’t a surprise: there were, and still are, hundreds and hundreds of them. Despite Collum’s “important” and not-quite-legal efforts 🙂

  14. Have you ever seen the video of him dispensing financial advise from the basement of the Chem Dept at Cornell?Not now or ever would an ounce of attention be paid without the prestige of the Cornell name behind him.Not sure,but an awful large amount of time is spent vying for attention from real world financial Wizards on twitter.Very sad…

    • Why don’t you just not pay attention to his financial advice if you disagree.

      This comment isn’t even close to relavent to anything we are discussing in any way.

      I’d expect better from a “female veteran Wall Street trader”

  15. As a disinterested observer here, the issue seems to be less about the perceived veracity of the claims of “Misogyny, support of Rape Culture” etc…. or basically, “any heresies that can possible be gleaned from selective interpretation of someone’s twitter feed”….

    …and far more about the Modus Operandi of the grad students, which seems to be: “If someone disagrees with us about issue X, instead of debating the points of issue X, we will instead engage in character assassination using any evidence we can find, no matter how irrelevant to that issue”.

    It strikes me as a wholeheartedly willing embrace of intellectual dishonesty. I don’t really care if they are right or wrong about the Professor’s attitudes towards women. To me the concerning detail is the utter lack of any intellectual integrity by the younger people, who seem to see “trolling of social media” as the first go-to option whenever they have a difference of opinion on some unrelated policy-issue.

    Its like the lowest form of political beltway-politics, expanded to every single human with a twitter account. And young people seem to think that this is a perfectly normal way to behave.

    The only take-away I’d make from this is to add the names of any of these student to a list of “people to never hire”. Because who would want these sorts of people working alongside you in an organization?

  16. I do a lot of hiring of technical people (including PhDs) and let me give y’all some advice:
    For the most part, people like me are very forgiving of stupidity on the part of an undergrad. People mature at different rates and most of us oldies are rather thankful that our immature acts went down a memory hole. But a grad student is a grownup. You don’t get a pass. And let me be very clear: a grownup who believes that he has the right to publicly shame someone else is someone who is a very dangerous colleague. And nobody in their right mind will hire such a person.

    The people who signed the original letter will pay for it, perhaps to the tune of hundreds of thousands or millions over their lifetime employment. Not to mention the relationships they have foregone because people will be afraid of being in their company – for any definition of company.

    • I’m hoping things like this don’t alter the opportunities for the rest of us reasonable and hard working grad students, knowing that we came from an institution where this type of thinking is fairly common.

      • I’m a Cornell grad, and I can second your concern. It makes me wince to see my alma mater in the news like this, embracing the insanity that has taken over much of our country and most of academia. How very sad, unnecessary and shameful.

      • You’ll be fine. It won’t touch you. The signatories told everyone that they are unreasonable, but their outburst doesn’t reflect on Cornell’s reputation for turning out excellent graduates.

  17. Libel or not the attack on the professor is little more than a smear job and not worthy of print. I bet I could scour the facebook or twitter posts of all the authors and take thinks out of context to attack them

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  19. Grad students, let me tell you, college isn’t real. ALL private sector employers WILL LOOK at your commie social justice BS pulled against real world success like prof Collum and will never hire you.

    I know in college it feels like you have power. You don’t. Employers REQUIRE HR to find out if you were a complainer in college, bc your generation is a joke.

    • How do these grad students have so much free time? Has Cornell become such a joke that grad students are professional union organizers/social history private investigators? Go on there is not job listing for GRAD STUDENT

      Let us not forget that the SJW are the ones who want to “ban the box” so you are unable to know the criminal history of someone you hire. Are women safe under this scenario?

      • Hey Karen, what should they do instead — spend all their time writing bullshit academic journal articles that nobody will ever read?!

        Experience as a professional union organizer sounds much more marketable. And Morgan, let’s not be so afraid of the boogeyman. I’ve caused lots of trouble in my day, and I’m self employed exactly for this reason. And I love it.

        • “Hey Karen, what should they do instead — spend all their time writing bullshit academic journal articles that nobody will ever read?! Experience as a professional union organizer sounds much more marketable.”

          Dude, go home you’re drunk.

          • Hey “gradstudent.” The tone was comical, but my point was not. Most of academic publishing is hidden behind paywalls or — even if it weren’t — so dreadfully irrelevant to anything in the outside world that it’s a large part of the reason PhDs have a hell of a difficult time transitioning outside of academia. Too many years learning to write in an arcane and boring style & acceptance of the fact that success in much of academic is based on drinking the koolaid of thinking this is just how it is well.. it produces a bunch of smart people in their early thirties who are basically unemployable. My point — that actually participating in the political process via the union campaign might actually be more practical — was a serious one.

  20. Cornell Daily Sun April 16, 2016

    The Employee Assembly expressed support for a resolution urging the University to remove questions about previous criminal convictions from its job applications

  21. Welp, that Richelieu quote about six lines penned by the most honest man comes to mind.

    Looking back, I can only say I’m glad the union was defeated.

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  25. LOL at the people trying to figure out whether the original claims about Collum were libel because they were supported by tweets.

    Collum has grounds to sue because the tweets were clearly (and, as is pointed out in the current article, quite likely intentionally) portrayed under a false light that at a minimum demonstrates reckless disregard for the truth.

    • Not only tweets, but to (what I think is) your point: “False light” claims are not recognized in NY State, so he cannot sue.

      Defamation law in NY has robust protection for opinion and fair comment, over and above the constitutional minimum. As long as opinions are supported by observable facts, you can even call people names. And as this was published as an editorial by non-reporters and not a news story, courts would rule that the context is clearly opinion.

      Nayway, there is no reckless disregard for the truth when finding the “truth” would require calling a person and ask them what they really meant when they published something.

      • Learn to read, my friend. I did not claim that he would sue under false light laws. States without false light laws (such as New York) *do* allow you to file suit for defamation because something was portrayed in a false light.

        And the reason that false light is not recognized in New York is not about the nature of claim (i.e., New York does *not* allow you to intentionally misconstrue what someone has said in order to make them look bad), it’s about the nature of the damages: “false light” laws are about emotional distress, whereas “defamation” laws are about actual monetary damages caused by loss of reputation. (The kind of loss of reputation that comes with being called a rape apologist by taking your statements out of their obvious context.)

        • I read quite well, I think. You were unclear (which is why I said “(I think is your) point”). You used the term false light which is a specific term of art in law 🙂 Unless what you mean is that the statements were edited? They weren’t. And while there is a a lot of talk here about taking statements out of “obvious context” I have yet to see any real evidence this is so…in fact the little looking I’ve done seems to indicate the opposite–that the context, whatever that seems to mean, is not very mitigating. And if you have to look deeper, you cant say it’s obvious, can you?

          The claim that the opinion piece was “misleading” is precisely not a claim under NY state law. Opinion is protected under NY state defamation law, over and above Supreme Court minimums. As I said.

          As far as calling someone a rape apologist: It is a term that describes people who find reasons not to believe a rape victim is telling the truth about their rape. If you publish “Moral of the story: sue your accuser”…sorry, that’s a hard one.

  26. As an outside observer and parent, I am adding this to the list of schools to which I will block my sons from applying. This “safe space” generation is destroying some of the best colleges around the country.

    • As a concerned mom, ditto. When my son was applying to schools 3 years ago we noticed all this ‘Social Justice as a Weapon’ nonsense infiltrating Brown, Cornell, Yale, Duke, etc. and thought we were safe with Princeton – but now even Princeton has turned Social Justice into a Weapon. Harvey Mudd, Caltech, UCSD Science and Engineering, CalPoly, etc. still seem safe, but who knows.

      • I’m a Yale alum, but Princeton is the only one of the Ivies I told my daughter to apply to. She didn’t get in, so we were spared the decision between Princeton, Hillsdale, and Baylor-Great-Books, which is non-obvious despite the big prestige differences, even ignoring the cost difference.

  27. The accusers and their supporters keep espousing their opinion that Collum has the right to his free speech, but is still subject to judgment by others … I think they may have overlooked the fact that this applies to them as well. People are taking notice.

    Also, still waiting on someone to point out to me where in Policy 6.4 the department chair is somehow responsible for sexual harassment claims within the department? Fairly certain Cornell has am entire unit within HR that handles and investigates those claims.

    Bueller??? Bueller???

    • Hi AMC Jr!

      I have been curious about this too and looked in this document:
      I did a search for “department chair” in this document and the only thing that came up was for “Religious Accommodation Request: Faculty
      and Staff Members, and Student Employees” on page 9 and a search for “chair” brought up something on page 15 which is about how WPLR is supposed to work with the department chairs to distribute policy info so now I’m REALLY curious what the accusers are talking about for policy 6.4…

      Also, thanks for all of your great comments on this thread!
      A chem grad student

      • The relevant portion is in the grievance procedure:

        “Step 2. Contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) If a satisfactory resolution is not reached at Step 1, the aggrieved may file a grievance by sending a letter describing the issue to the DGS in her/his field.”

        As I stated in a longer comment above, the policy does state this “If the DGS is the “source” of the grievance, Step 2 should be skipped and the grievance letter sent directly to the Dean of the Graduate School” so there is some minimal provision of exclusion of the DGS from the process, but there remains little or no independent oversight on the process. As has also been pointed out, it’s no accident that Cornell has more open Title IX investigations than any other university in the country.

        And.. the best part. The “Dean” here is white-collar criminal Dean Knuth, let’s just say this doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the system

        • Thanks Dustin, for the information. However, Floyd Davis is the current DGS referred to here, and Brian Crane had the position prior to that. Dave had the job before, but if I remember correctly, did not simultaneously serve as both chair and DGS. So that argument is still debunked, null, and void.

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