Yesterday many students returned to class as Cornell University moved forward in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks on the United States.
Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, explained that the administration decided to maintain the University’s operations “after much deliberation.”
“We believe keeping our offices open and having classes provides a way for us to come together as an academic community,” Murphy said.
Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, stated that the administration fervently believed in providing students with an opportunity to get together. “The way we get together most actively as a university is to hold classes,” Dullea said.
While President George W. Bush convened his cabinet yesterday, University President Hunter R. Rawlings III met with all of Cornell’s deans at 11:30 to share their reactions, according to Dullea. “They were very supportive of the University’s decision to remain open,” he said.
Murphy stressed, however, that the administration has told professors it is their prerogative whether or not they wish to hold classes.
But for many professors, conducting class was hardly “business as usual” yesterday. In a rare role reversal, several professors allowed their students to dictate the agenda.
In English 366, Prof. Dan McCall, English, told his students that it was “up to them” whether he should proceed with his lecture on The Scarlet Letter. “I was ready to cancel class, defer lecture and just talk, but the vast majority of people were there and wanted to stay,” McCall said.
Like the administration, McCall perceived a student body searching for an avenue of distraction from the attrocities of Tuesday. “Somehow I got the impression that my students wanted to do something, and that if they didn’t they’d just be back at the dorm watching the news,” he said.
McCall was initially convinced that the appropriate response was to shut down the University. “Someone told me Harvard closed immediately, and I thought, that’s what a university should do.”
However, he explained that he was persuaded “by the suddenly eloquent Mayor Rudolph Giuliani,” calling on New Yorkers to “do the work the way you do it, to go about your business and honor the dead by not letting the terrorists win.”
Rather than lecture on the causes of World War One, Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Kirshner, government, allowed his students in Government 181 to decide the course of the session. He answered questions from his students and gave a short commentary on the events.
“In my opening comments, I reminded people that we didn’t know a lot and therefore had to be very cautious about what we’re saying at this point,” Kirshner said.
He explained that he tried to set the disaster in the context of the class by noting how violence is often used to advance a political goal. But Kirshner stopped short of presenting a full discourse on the events. “I didn’t feel it was appropriate to engage in dispassionate, analytical discussion while there were people lying dead.”
Kirshner commended the administration for giving professors the discretion of whether to hold class. “In my opinion, the benefit of having the session was giving students an opportunity to talk calmly and analytically about it,” he said.
While the University has not released any numbers of Cornellians killed in the World Trade Center attack, many students remain indirectly affected, still searching for information.
Sharon Dittman, assoc. director community relations for Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, said that counseling facilities at Gannett “were quiet on people specific to this incident.” She attributes this to the overwhelming degree of support students have given each other in the past two days.
“We’re very busy checking into public places such as Willard Straight Hall and the Campus Store, and we’re extremely impressed with how students have held up this first line of support.”
However, Dittman explained that Gannett is preparing to meet students’ needs in the next phase of this crisis. “[Monday and Tuesday] were days for gathering information. Now fewer people are getting the news they needed,” she said.
Within the next few days, Dittman expects people will begin to get confirmation of terrible losses of friends and family. But the attacks will impact all students psychologically, and according to Dittman, some will suffer physically and mentally from stress in the aftermath. “We want people to know that they don’t have to be going through this alone,” she said.
The University administration has also pledged its support to reaching out to Muslim and Arab students who may feel targeted, according to Murphy.
“To date they have not felt victimized; we have asked the leaders of Mecca and Pakistani groups to let us know what they need,” she said.
“Things seem to be okay; I hope the Cornell community will keep it that way,” she added.
Lindsey Schuh ’02 attended Monday’s vigil on the Arts Quad and was somewhat surprised that none of the student leaders made statements. She supported the administration’s decision to continue holding classes. “The more I would sit and watch the news, the worse I’d feel. I need a constructive outlet,” Schuh said, adding that she hopes to see a Cornell presence in the rescue efforts.
Tom Sheldon ’02, a naval ROTC student, said that he has the same feelings as his fellow students. “ROTC makes me think far more globally about America’s role and what we do in the future. It seems there will be a paradigm shift in the way we treat terrorism. But I don’t have any more fears than anyone else,” Sheldon said.
He described how ROTC units often become “close-knit families” and how events such as this “shake the foundations of those families.” Sheldon feels honored that the Navy is now defending New York and Washington. “It is a privilege to be able to serve in that capacity,” he said.
Archived article by Ken Meyer