May 7, 2004

S.A. Convenes

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At its last meeting of the year yesterday, the Student Assembly narrowly voted down the “Resolution on Academic Freedom” in an eight to eight tie with S.A. president Nick Linder ’05 casting the tie-breaking vote against the bill.

The Resolution on Academic Freedom was sponsored by Student Assembly representative Vladimir Gogish ’07, The Sun, Academic Integrity Hearing Board member Ross Blankenship ’05, Students for Academic Freedom member Jamie Weinstein ’06 and the president of the U.S.-India Political Action Committee Raj Shah ’05. The bill rejected by the S.A. was a simplified version of the Academic Bill of Rights advanced by political activist David Horowitz. A version of the bill was recently passed by Brown University and was sponsored by both the Brown College Democrats and Republicans.

The aim of the Resolution on Academic Freedom was to ensure ideological diversity among University professors. Opponents of the bill contend that the bill is a public relations stunt on the part of College Republicans.

S.A. representative Tim Lim ’06, who is also the president of the Cornell Democrats, expressed concern that the bill was a ploy by campus conservatives, noting that the idea for the academic freedom resolution originated with Horowitz, who is a prominent conservative.

“My biggest problem with the resolution is that it is redundant,” said Lim, who said that the Cornell philosophy of “open hearts, open doors, open minds” renders the academic freedom code unnecessary.

“Tim is right that David Horowitz did propose this but Democratic organizations on other campuses have supported this,” Weinstein said, one of the sponsors of the resolution.

Dan Greenwald ’06, president of the Cornell-Israel Public Affairs Committee, who identified himself as a Democrat and spoke in favor of the measure, said, “I don’t think that something that the Republican Party supports has to be wrong.”

“This is a pivotal part in our time here at Cornell. This is not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. This is an issue for all students,” said Blankenship.

Linder, discussing his tie-breaking vote against the Academic Freedom resolution, said, “For eight months the sponsors of this resolution have asked me to place it on the agenda and for eight months I have advised them to meet and consult with Cornell administrators, faculty and the Board of Trustees. For eight months they failed to act. I could not in good conscience pass such an important document without first hearing the perspective of those it directly affects.”

Regarding his feelings about the contents of the resolution, Linder said, “I have no personal opinion on the substance of the document whatsoever.”

Blankenship was sharply critical of Linder’s vote.

“I think that Linder lacked the courage to take a stance on such an important issue, and the issue of academic freedom doesn’t affect just the Student Assembly but everyone. It’s disconcerting that the representatives couldn’t take a stance,” Blankenship said.

“I don’t think that some on the assembly like to deal with issues that may be somewhat political in nature. Even though I don’t think this resolution should be political, I think some try to paint it that way,” said Blankenship.

“Despite the outcome today, I strongly believe that when people look at what the resolution says, there will be broad support across ideological and political lines. Intellectual diversity and academic freedom are indispensable and we plan to move forward from here,” Weinstein said.

Also on the meeting agenda was an update from the Ad-Hoc Committee on Improving Cornell’s Image. The assembly voted unanimously to make the image committee a permanent standing committee of the S.A.

Peter S. Cohl ’05, the head of the Image Committee, presented the S.A. with the group’s year-end report. The presentation focused on the response of the administration to the committee’s efforts and elements of their recommendations that will be implemented within the next year.

“The administration has been exceptionally responsive,” said Cohl, “The dialogue has changed 180 degrees [since when we started],” Cohl said.

Cohl discussed the measures that Cornell will be taking over the next year, including a new website and an improved viewbook sent to prospective students. He also said that the University plans on replacing the current logo, known to critics as the “Big Red Box”, by the end of 2004.

Regarding the new viewbook, Cohl said, “The version I saw of the viewbook is exponentially better than the old one. Cornell once again looks like an Ivy League university while simultaneously demonstrating the wealth of opportunities not generally available at an Ivy League school.”

Archived article by Dan Palmadesso
Sun Staff Writer