To the Editor:
Re: “To Eliminte Discrimination,” Opinion, Feb. 11
Yesterday’s article, “U.A. Passes Non-Discrimination Clause, Changing the Campus Code of Conduct,” addressed many of the issues arising from the University Assembly’s recent revision of language in the Campus Code of Conduct concerning harassment on campus. Although some items were not addressed — or not adequately addressed — by this news piece, we were far more troubled by the editorial, “To Eliminate Discrimination,” which egregiously mischaracterized the resolution. It is imperative that the university community be presented with an accurate narrative of the facts when discussing important matters such as free speech, harassment and discrimination. Likewise, President Skorton must consider the full and true facts when he is presented with the U.A.’s recent resolution.
We believe that it is absolutely vital that the harassment addressed by this resolution not be conflated with the type of scenario that occurred last spring — the Chi Alpha incident. That incident was a case of alleged discrimination in membership of student groups. The new language adopted by the U.A. does not even mention “discrimination.” This resolution addresses the separate albeit related issue of harassment on campus. This resolution is unconnected to the U.A.’s previous attempts at tackling Chi-Alpha-incident-type discrimination. Indeed, this resolution, as initially presented to the U.A., included prefatory language alluding to the Chi Alpha incident and the U.A.’s prior actions regarding it, but the U.A. removed that language in the final resolution so as to prevent the very type of equivocation of “harassment” and “discrimination” engaged in by the editorial.
Additionally, this resolution poses a significant threat to free speech at Cornell. When governing bodies put the campus “on notice,” as Andrew Brokman put it in yesterday’s article, that harassment has consequences, it is vital that this notice be for true harassment, which indisputably must be prosecuted and punished. However, when such consequences may arise not just from true harassment, but from legitimate exercises of free expression, a chilling effect is imposed on speech — something which cannot be tolerated on a university campus. This policy poses such a threat because its over-broad terms could be used to prohibit perfectly legitimate actions. Other universities, for example, have attempted to apply policies with nearly identical language to everything from the simple act of reading a book to legitimate expression such as that in the campus newspaper. It is quite ironic that the Sun has editorialized in support of a policy that could readily be used against its own important expressive role on campus. Cornell needs to prioritize First Amendment rights for its students, protecting free speech; in the tradition that universities have long served the public good as arenas to give voice to opinions and foster debate upon topics that in some circles were unpopular for their times. For this reason, we dissented from the U.A.’s well-intentioned but misguided approval of this dangerous language, instead preferring a more precise and narrowly-tailored policy that would combat true harassment without providing grounds to infringe upon legitimate expression. We therefore urge President Skorton to consider the effects that this new policy will have on the marketplace of ideas at Cornell. The President has previously expressed fear of infringing upon freedom of speech on campus, and he should do so again so as to protect the richness of the campus dialogue.
John Cetta ’10, Undergraduate Student Representative, University Assembly Liaison to and Convener of, Codes and Judicial Committee
Edward Strong grad, Graduate and Professional Student Chair, Graduate Student Representative, University Assembly
Kade Laden ’10, Undergraduate Student Chair, Undergraduate Student Representative, University Assembly