September 19, 2000

Ford Cars Stir Controversy

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Last week, the Ford Motor Company corralled its cars onto the Arts Quad while recruiting students for employment. As with any other campus event the University sought to forestall any potentially adverse effects, but controversy swelled in the wake of Ford’s exhibit before the Andrew Dickson White statue last Tuesday.

As the event prepared to run for a second day on Wednesday, University officials met with Ford representatives in order to discuss what had provoked the faculty and student backlash that led to the display’s abrupt conclusion.

“The Ford representative wanted to know why the cars were asked to be removed from the Arts Quad,” said A. Nicholas Komanecky, director of University Corporate Relations, a participant in the Wednesday meeting.

“I really don’t understand why Ford would want to bring their cars onto campus with those tires on them,” said Philip Lewis, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Throughout the day students and faculty streamed into the dean’s office, raising their concerns with the display. With protests that Cornell was “selling out” and with disapproval over the use of Firestone tires in the display, enough of the Arts Quad passerby’s found objection for the dean’s office to take action.

“We decided to ask them not to come back on the second day,” Lewis said. “We are not opposed to having things take place out there, but at a certain point we began to think it was really a problem.”

While the display evoked a strong response, students and faculty were left to wonder how Ford was granted access to the Arts Quad in the first place. The event’s sponsor, Mark Savage, director of Engineering Career Services, guided the event through various University offices — offices responsible for risk management, environmental health and safety, community relations and the Arts Quad itself.

John Gutenberger, assistant director of community relations, was one official to authorize the Ford event, according to the document that was used to regulate the event, the Use of University Property (UUP) form.

He said that typically if a company comes to campus with a legitimate academic purpose and its event can be carried out, then he will give it approval.

“All of those more routine things aside, we don’t police how a company portrays itself to customers,” Gutenberger said. “You make the assumption that employers are going to put their best foot forward.”

Regarding the issue that arose from Ford’s publicity as a subject of free speech, Gutenberger acknowledged the Arts Quad’s function as a forum for Ford’s recruiting message — and for the opinions of members of the Cornell community.

In fact, other staff members who signed the UUP agreed that the event’s publicity deserved attention, but that attention should have come from Ford, not from Cornell.

“I view that as poor judgment on the part of the company, not the University,” Gutenberger said. “We don’t get involved with how companies get involved in recruiting. We don’t get involved in images [either].”

Rather, many University officials who oversee events like the Ford automobile display prefer to allow companies to speak for themselves — in good times and bad.

“I don’t think that [the recent publicity] is a reason to prevent Ford from recruiting on campus,” Komanecky said. “I think the jury’s still out on Ford’s involvement [with the allegations directed at Firestone, Inc.]”

The Ford Motor Company could not be reached for comment.

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch