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Emma Hoarty / Sun Staff Photographer

October 31, 2017

Pollack Details Task Force, Speech Code, Sexual Misconduct Policy to Grads

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Correction appended.

Less than a week after the administration informed students of updates to the presidential task force, President Martha Pollack detailed the nomination process to graduate students on Monday.

Along with outlining task force nominations, Pollack also addressed the issues of sexual misconduct and free speech on campus at a meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly on Monday night.

On issues of diversity and equity, Pollack said that several initiatives are already underway, which include the creation of the resolution dispute system and the launch of the Center for Teaching Innovation, which aims to help faculty and graduate students better address the social issues in the classrooms.

Pollack said students have shown “overwhelming interest” in the nominations for the presidential task force since it was released. She said that all recommendations will be taken into consideration, and the goal is to set up a task force of “reasonable size” that is action-oriented and that can provide recommendations in three “buckets:” immediately, six to 12 months and aspirational.

Jesse Goldberg, grad, asked Pollack if she will bind herself to the recommendations of the task force. Pollack said she will not because of her fiduciary responsibility to the University, but restated that she will bind herself to the commitment to solve the problems.

Goldberg, after the meeting, told the Sun that he was dissatisfied with the answer and the University’s attitude reflected in Pollack’s response.

“President Pollack asked us, ‘why would I set up a task force if I wasn’t serious about these problems’, and the answer to that is fairly obvious — the University has to demonstrate that it cares about something, but demonstrating care is not the same thing as solving problems,” Goldberg said.

Former GPSA President Nate Rogers, grad, was concerned that the task force could diminish the democracy of the shared governance system, whose potential idleness in reaching conclusions sometimes conflicts with the University’s need to find a speedy resolution.

At a meeting earlier this month, graduate students went so far as to question the value of shared governance at Cornell after deeming the administration’s response to a letter raising issues of diversity “inadequate.”

“If the administration is waiting for the shared governance … to get to a conclusion that they really want it to make, and if we don’t get there, or are taking too long to get there, will they begin removing something from our process?” Rogers asked.

Rogers added that he fears that the administration will pick up an alternative system where the policy-making process might not be fully revealed to the Cornell community.

Pollack said that the task force will not be “usurping” the power of the student assemblies, and that the administration has asked the presidential task force subcommittee that is reviewing speech and harassment issues to coordinate with the University Assembly, which is also considering these issues.

Also on the topic of shared governance, Pollack repeatedly voiced her support for free speech. GPSA and its undergraduate equivalent, Student Assembly, have both passed resolutions to limit hate speech on campus.

However, Pollack worried about the backfire a speech code would bring to marginalized communities at the meeting.

“I have been continually worrying that wherever there has been these speech codes, they have backfired, and the very people that we were trying to protect were the ones that got hurt,” she said. “That was certainly my experience at the University of Michigan.”

According to Pollack, a University-level debate on whether Cornell should set up a speech code will take place on April 10, 2018.

“The only thing that I reject is the [simple] idea that we could just have a speech code — that we can ban all the hate speech by next week,” Pollack said.

On the issues of sexual misconduct on campus, Pollack referred to recently released survey results and acknowledged the increase in students’ awareness of the help resources, but also expressed concern about reports where offenders of sexual misconduct were faculty members. A GPSA resolution raised this concern last semester.

Pollack said the administration is setting up a committee — which will consist of students of undergraduate, graduate and professional levels, as well as faculty and staff — to monitor and correct the ongoing sexual harassment issues.

Eugene Law, grad, asked if Cornell will uphold the policy recommendations of the Obama administration in 2011 and 2014, and whether policies that “exceed the bare minimum of the law” will be taken into consideration.

Pollack responded that the administration is still reviewing the newest recommendations to determine its feasibility for the University, but gave an affirmative answer to the possibility of adopting a stronger policy than the current administration proposed.

Pollack said there are some complications that will “make it difficult to exceed the bare minimum,” but said she is committed to “do everything that we can to continue to educate, to suppress, to stop and to respond appropriately through legal processes to sexual assault.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Pollack as saying she had a financial responsibility to the University that prevents her from binding herself to the recommendations of the task force. The previous version also incorrectly said that the task force will aim to make aspirational changes right away.