September 16, 2005

Redbud Supporters Hold Forum

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Students and faculty in favor of preserving the Redbud Woods held a forum yesterday in Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium, to reflect on the administration’s decision to build a parking lot on the site.

While asserting the overall importance of the preservation struggle for bringing together people from all corners of the University, forum members condemned the administration for breaking the trust of the Cornell community and for refusing to listen to protesters’ demands.

Moderator Prof. Brett de Bary, Asian studies and comparative literature and director of the Society for the Humanities, moderated the panel, entitled, “Forum on Redbud Woods: Political, Environmental, and Cultural Analysis.” De Bary said that although the woods are gone, the fight to save nature is still important.

“There was an extraordinary alliance of faculty from widely disparate fields [protesting the parking lot],” she said. “As a humanist, I feel this vision is deeply humane.”

Continuing de Bary’s emphasis on the eclectic group of protesters that came together to save the Redbuds, Prof. Jane Marie Law, Japanese religions, spoke on the social relations in the struggle.

“We were student activists – students – musicians – soccer moms who voted for George W. Bush, doctors, lawyers -” she said. “We all fell in love with woods that are no more,” she added, dabbing away tears.

Law said that she first entered the protest as a mother and activist who cared about the environment and wanted her children to participate. But after becoming more involved in the fight, she said she connected with other protesters and became part “of a big, complex ‘we.'”

Patrick Young ’06, a member of the Redbuds Working Group, which protested in Ithaca over the summer, emphasized the unique community created to preserve the woods.

“We sat with people whose job it was 24/7 to work on the Redbuds project – we built a world around the trees,” he said. “We created a culture that transcended hierarchy – we did the best job we could to transcend race, gender, class and status. But although we made a good attempt at building a better world, we didn’t get it perfect.”

While these panel members focused on the Redbud’s positive effect on bringing diverse members of the community together for a common cause, later speakers stressed what they believed to be the administration’s betrayal of the University community.

Prof. Emeritus Royal D. Colle, communication, said many lost faith in the University administration after the Redbuds were cut down.

“Something else besides the trees was destroyed and that’s trust,” he said.

Colle said specifically that the administration endangered the health and welfare of students during the protest, in violation of the Campus Code of Conduct. Colle called for the drafting of a similar code for administrators to follow, which would allow students and faculty to evaluate questionable administrative decisions.

Also suggesting a Campus Code of Conduct for administrators who abuse power, Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, compared Day Hall officials to members of the Bush administration.

“But the president of Cornell is even more autocratic than the U.S. president,” she said.

Sanders said university presidents have the most autocratic power of any institution, because they are advised by people whose careers depend on them. And autocratic decisions, Sanders said, make bad results.

“We depend on the good will of [our University president],” she said. “But when you get leaders that don’t have that quality, you get results like Redbud Woods.”

Prof. Tim Fahey, natural resources, called for the presidential search committee to look for a candidate who is focused on environmental sustainability.

“Our hope is that on 30 years, there won’t be cars whizzing around Cornell, but more people will take public transportation and say ‘this makes perfect sense.'”

Other speakers included Sun columnist Danny Pearlstein grad, who provided a historical context of the Redbud Woods struggle and Lynn Feeley ’06, who gave an analysis of the print media’s ability to shape the news through its choice of verbs. The forum also included a short documentary of the Redbud Woods protest made by David Colle ’06 and Megan Vidler ’06.

Archived article by Olivia Oran
Sun Staff Writer