November 20, 2003

Groups Oppose McKinney

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After months of lament and complaint from community members concerning the selection of former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, groups around campus will finally have the chance to question the Georgian this week in a series of public lectures.

McKinney will speak tonight in a lecture entitled, “Confronting Ourselves, Confronting the World: What Kind of America Do We Want in the 21st Century.” Originally, the talk was slated to focus on the issue of “Frontline Females: Military Woman and Civilian America.”

Earlier this week, McKinney changed her topic because “there was so much interest around the controversies about her appointment,” according to Linda Grace-Kobas, interim vice president for University communications and media relations.

“[The change] makes sense because it is a broader topic and it is the issue which people has attacked her for,” Grace-Kobas said. “This is her opportunity to expound on it.”

Over the past few months, students, faculty members and alumni have voiced their concern over McKinney’s controversial and supposed anti-Semitic and anti-American rhetoric.

Many University organizations have been deciding in the past week their plans for addressing McKinney’s visit. An approach taken by many groups including the Cornell Hillel Jewish Student Union (CHJSU) and the Cornell Democrats, are waiting to hear what McKinney has to say in her appearances.

“At the moment, we know she is here and we are intently watching what she says,” said Matt Jossen ’04, executive chairman of the CHJSU. “We’re going to obviously get people [to the event] and depending on what she says, prepare a response.”

According to Tim Lim ’06, president of the Cornell Democrats, he said that for the most part, members are concerned about McKinney’s arrival but added that unlike other groups he suspects, the Democrats will not take any action.

“I’m going to take a guess that the Republicans are going to do something,” Lim said.

The College Republicans, who were among the most vocal opponents against the McKinney appointment, plan “to be very present in lectures in a decent way” according to Elliott Reed ’05, chairman of the College Republicans. At the events, Reed said that there are going to be members of his group which will ask “thoughtful and pointed questions.”

“If we’re going to be a world-class institution, they should bring in world-class professors,” Reed said. “We want to know why she deserves to be a professor at Cornell … It’s something that cannot go unnoticed.”

Reed also claimed that his group is in contact with others like the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee (CIPAC). On the other hand, according to Ari Stern ’05, senior vice president of CIPAC, the organization has not made any plans with the Republicans. Stern said that he and his group, “can only respond to what [McKinney] says.”

McKinney’s lecture tonight will be followed by a panel discussion tomorrow evening entitled “U.S. Foreign Policy: What We Are and What Are We to Become?” Although Lim speculates that there “will be students vocally protesting her presence,” other faculty members are confident that the events will be relatively orderly.

“I expect people will come and ask questions which she will respond [to],” said Peter Katzenstein, the Walter S. Carpenter Jr. Professor of International Studies and a panelist in Thursday’s event.

Many of McKinney’s supporters encourage students to listen to what the former Congresswoman outlines in person before forming any opinions. Students have the right to disagree, “as long as it’s premised on civility” according to Kenneth A. McClane ’73, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature and a faculty member who wrote a letter of recommendation for McKinney’s selection.

McClane describes McKinney as “incredibly articulate, measured and intellectually forthcoming” who “argues for American values.” He expects that students will be “generous” of the visiting professor.

“I don’t think people will be jumping up and being rude,” said Elijah Reichlin-Melnick ’06. “I think that most people whether or not they supported her appointment, will be reasonably respectful now that she’s here.”

Archived article by Brian Tsao