February 20, 2011

In Support of Activism

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Last week, thousands of students, faculty and staff at University of Wisconsin schools walked out of class. In the capital city of Madison, democratic state senators walked out of office to stow away in undisclosed locations, while U.W.-Madison students rallied in front of the capitol building. All of this was in protest of Republican Gov. Scot Walker’s bill proposing to alleviate the state’s debt by cutting pay, benefits and collective bargaining rights for government workers. By decrying an issue that affects more than just a campus community, U.W.-Madison students are exemplifying their university’s rich history of political activism. Speaking out in support of an issue reaching beyond the confines of campus is a lesson Cornell students should take to heart. While the continuing waves of protest in Wisconsin are controversial for the questionable methods Democratic state officials are employing, the students involved should be applauded. These U.W. students are actively engaged in state issues and informed of their impacts at the university level. Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo slashed New York state funding to higher education for the next fiscal year. Here on the Hill, this move will undoubtedly affect students in Cornell’s statutory colleges as tuition continues to rise in response to decreased state aid. Yet students remain silent. Cornellians should asses how state issues impact them individually and consider whether silence is in their best interests. Student activism is part of Cornell’s “historical legacy,” as Prof. William Trochim, policy analysis and management, told The Sun in 2009. “Any student who doesn’t confront the issues of the time is missing out,” he said. “Activism is a great tradition at Cornell.” Through the 1950s and 1960s and now into the 21st century, Cornellians have stood up for what they believed in.  At progressive institutions like Cornell and the University of Wisconsin, academic freedom prospers, and students are encouraged to foster independent points of view and intelligently question their professors, peers and administrators. This environment has, through the years, encouraged students to knowledgeably question authority when necessary.  However, student protests at U.W. and, historically, on the Hill have been most effective when driven by constructive thinking, not by emotional radicalism. Intelligent discourse and nonviolent protests can be powerful tools that are — and should be — natural outcomes of education at liberal institutions. Students at Cornell should look upon the protests in Wisconsin as an example and resolve to intelligently confront authority on the necessary issues, even if that authority is in a capitol building rather than Day Hall.