May 1, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Cayuga’s Waiters

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To the Editor:

Last month, I attended the memorial service  for a Cornell classmate of mine, Robert Cohen, of the Class  of 1960. Bob and I met on my first day at Cornell, in September of 1956; and although not close friends, we remained good friends over the next 56 Years, until his death last December. Among other things, and perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Bob’s life was his lifelong membership in Cayuga’s Waiters. In that capacity, Bob  attended every Cornell reunion, not only those of our class, over the past many years. He and his colleagues provided enormous pleasure and a welcome infusion of  Cornell spirit at those events.

Against this personal backdrop, I write to say that I am shocked that the University elected summarily to force the permanent disbandment of the Waiters after so many decades of their contribution to Cornell in  providing great enjoyment  to  alumni and friends of the University. That the Waiters may have engaged in some foolishness cannot be ignored; but the reports which I have seen of the events leading to the disciplinary action which the University has taken, make absolutely  no mention that participants were forced to act against their will, or that any injuries occurred.

I think that one of the most important aspects of American life, and particularly college life, involves the voluntary participation in social and communal groups. Many sociologists have attributed the loss of this involvement to larger problems in our country. If the Waiters did something as absurd as is reported, and if the behavior was clearly violative of some previously and clearly enunciated standard of behavior  applicable to conduct on the Cornell campus, that might provide a justification for some type of discipline; but, even in such case, the permanent termination of a voluntary association of Cornell students, when no demonstrable harm derived from the condemned behavior, would not be just.

I write as the member of a family, three generations of whose members have attended Cornell.  What has happened is an unjustified manifestation  of an in loco parentis approach to the relationship between the University and its students, something which I would have thought had been gone from Cornell since the events of May, 1958.

David Simpson ’60

  • Logan M. Cheek ’60

    I concur, and will underscore Dave Simpson’s comments.

    The Waiters began in 1949.

    Yes, they acted like sophomoric idiots. I could use a more crass term, but that’s not my style.

    But more correctly, specific members acted as the sophomorons. And all those baddies are known to the Drones in Day Hall.

    So, since the culprits are known, and hazing is a felony under NY law, why aren’t the perps prosecuted? Why are we throwing out the baby with the bath water, and in so doing destroying a nearly 69 year old (ha!) Cornell tradition, totally confusing nearly the entire alumni body as to just what the hell is going on in Ithaca?

    This warped practice of finding collective, rather than individual guilt / responsibility, coupled with a hearing / judicial processes that come closely mimic those of the Stasi furrows my geezerly eyebrows as I nervously clench my checkbook.

    In my day, the “Office of the Judicial Administrator” was called, simply, the Proctor. (Those were the days we learned from Strunk and White to limit our verbiage, which the drones in Day Hall seem to have forgotten in creating job and organizational titles almost long enough to be job descriptions or mission statements.) Cornell”s proctor in those days was Lowell George, a retired FBI special agent. In my first semester at Cornell, Proctor George caught several of my freshmen classmates when they dyed Beebe Lake green during homecoming weekend.

    Or maybe it was for the Dartmouth game weekend.


    Hey, that was 60+ years ago.

    Lowell demanded they pay for cleaning up the damages, or be summarily expelled. He didn”t even think of expelling their roommates, their dorm floor mates, or dorm, or the entire freshman class. And when the perps initiated a class solicitation asking all of us to share the expenses, we, as a collective group said “Hell no!”

    If this was Hunter Rawlings’ decision, the President Pollard could send a quick and clear message by reversing the decision, returning to that great western tradition of individual, not collective responsibility.