April 9, 2003

Cornell to Discuss War

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As the war in Iraq escalates, Cornell is working to provide an outlet for student expression through speak-out sessions and a teach-in scheduled to take place within the next few days.

While less formal speak out sessions are expected to occur regularly, an official teach-in is planned at 4:30 in Kennedy’s Call Auditorium for this Thursday.

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Isaac Kramnick said that Salah Hassan, history of art, Roald Hoffmann, chemistry, Peter Katzenstein, government, and Judith Reppy, science and technology, will be speaking. Kramnick also said that the group includes speakers who are in support of and opposed to the war.

Kramnick noted that teach-ins became more frequent in the 1960s and ’70s in response to the Vietnam War. Teach-ins provide “an opportunity for the whole university community to come together and listen to several professors who are well-informed and engaged on the topic, usually a topic of crisis and world affairs. The community has the opportunity to ask questions of those faculty and also has a chance to offer their own thoughts, reflections, and concerns.”

Kramnick also said that Cornell has a legacy of teach-ins.

“Teach-ins began at Cornell and the University of Michigan. Cornell has played a historic role,” he said.

Within the last few years, there have been several major teach-ins on the Cornell campus.

“There was a well-attended teach-in on Sept. 18, 2001, a week after Sept. 11. Last spring, there was a teach-in on the Arab-Palestinian crisis,” said Kramnick.

Thursday’s session will be the third of these teach-ins within the last two years.

Less formal, “open mic” speak-out sessions have also been planned. Kramnick described the process of organizing the speak-out sessions and the difference between the formats of the speak out sessions and teach-ins.

“My idea was that we would revive what used to be called ‘free speech stump’, which during the late ’60s and ’70s was a tree stump north of the entrance to Willard Straight. There’s a little plot that’s there today that’s in memory of the stump. That used to be the free speech stump during lunch time when student speakers could speak about any subject, usually the war or civil rights, at a time when you didn’t have to register with the university,” he said.

“Part of this is to revive that spirit and to allow students, staff and faculty the opportunity to share with each other their views of the war in a setting that’s less formal and more spontaneous than the larger teach-in that we’re planning on April 10,” he added.

Organization of the speak-out sessions began around the time of spring break.

“We talked about it during the break as it became clear that the war was going to happen. In the conversation that the Dean of Students and I had, the idea was that it was important to provide an opportunity where people could have a chance to speak with each other about their views,” Kramnick said.

The first of this week’s two scheduled speak-out sessions was to take place on Tuesday at noon on Ho Plaza, but was postponed until next week due to a small turnout.

Sponsored by Kramnick, Dean of Students Kent Hubbell, and the Cornell Political Forum publication, the speak-out sessions, scheduled at noon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, will be about an hour long. The first half hour will consist of scheduled speakers. The second half hour will allow an open mic for people in the audience who wish to express their opinions.

Hubbell commented on the purpose of the speak out sessions.

“[They will be] places where people can express themselves in various interpretations of what’s going on currently…it will be nice to have the chance to do this,” he said.

Daniel Braun, editor in chief of the Cornell Political Forum, recognized the importance of involving both sides of opinions on the war.

“We are a nonpartisan organization, [and we] try to make sure that there is a balanced view and that voices from both part of the political spectrum are heard,” Braun said.

The Cornell Political Forum is a significant force behind the initiation of the speak out sessions.

The “purpose in this endeavor is to provide vigorous wide ranging discussion that is sensitive to the concerns of the student body,” Braun said.

Kramnick, Hubbell, and Braun all stated that the future of the speak-out sessions is dependent upon student turnout and demand.

Archived article by Natalie Adams