March 1, 2012

Professors Question Cornell-Technion Partnership

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At a panel discussion Thursday, several professors questioned Cornell’s partnership with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, sparking heated debate and causing one Cornell professor who formerly taught at the Technion to walk out.

“I used to be a professor at Technion, and I’m very proud of it,” said Prof. Yuval Grossman, physics. “Just to let you know, my political views are very, very different. I think you are my enemy.”

Grossman, who spoke up after panelists criticized the University for its partnership with the Technion, was the only professor at the discussion who defended the Technion.

While seeking its bid for the NYC Tech Campus, Cornell announced Oct. 19 that it would collaborate with the Technion. Since then, students and faculty have raised concerns that the parternship constitutes an endorsement of Technion’s involvement in the Israeli military-industrial complex and some major defense corporations.

Students for Justice in Palestine, a pro-Palestinian student organization, hosted the discussion.

Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, criticized Cornell for not, she said, thoroughly considering the ethical implications of the partnership.

“Cornell seems unable to do an ethical investigation of the consequences of embracing Technion,” she said. “We have to convince this University that great universities do owe it to the world to have a conscience, to have some kind of moral voice.”

Other panelists challenged the University’s decision-making process, claiming its partnership with the Technion was cemented before administrators sought input from the faculty.

“There was no debate in the deliberative bodies of the faculty before those decisions were made,” said Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, English and American studies.

Cheyfitz alleged that the University kept its decision a secret to prevent faculty from voicing concerns about the partnership.

“I think it was probably kept secret so that [faculty] would not have debates about it before the fact, so that it would not trouble the waters,” he said.­­­

Cheyfitz quoted a section of the bylaws of the University, which stated, “The functions of the University Faculty shall be to consider questions of educational policy which concern more than one college, school or separate academic unit, or are general in nature.”

Sanders echoed Cheyfitz’s sentiments, saying that Cornell has acted as a corporation and not democratically.

“That’s how the administration operates, because it can … because it has absolute power,” she said.

But as the panel opened for questions from the audience, Prof. Yuval Grossman, physics, rebuked the panelists’ criticisms.

In response to Prof. Beth Harris, politics, Ithaca College, who called the partnership Cornell’s contribution to the “death machine,” Grossman raised his voice.

“I just heard that I’m the ‘death machine?’” Grossman said.

Adding that he has a research grant funded by the Technion, he added, “Do you think people who support you should boycott me?”

“It’s not a question of us wanting to boycott you. We think you should stop working with Technion,” responded Max Ajl grad, a member of SJP.

Provost Kent Fuchs has said that the partnership between Cornell and the Technion is intended not as a political statement, but rather as an opportunity for the University to foster global academic cooperation.

Cheyfitz said that faculty should prioritize responding to international issues.

“This is the colonization of the globe by universities,” he said. “This is a particular situation where international laws are at stake … and where there’s an ongoing crisis that’s at the center of global consciousness.”

Yotam Arens ’12 and Emily Rotbart ’12, co-presidents of Cornell Israel Public Affairs Committee who attended the panel discussion, said that SJP’s event did not adequately address both sides of the argument. “The moderator repeatedly cut off audience members who voiced opposing viewpoints,” they said in an email.

“The goal was to paint the picture that Israel is solely responsible for the plight of the Palestinians. This is a poorly veiled attempt to delegitimize Israel,” they added.

The co-presidents of CIPAC added that Israel should be able to act in “self defense.”

“When people argue, as did panelist Beth Harris, that the separation wall was an Israeli ploy to steal land or crush Palestinian society, they deny Israel’s [rights],” they said.

Harris proposed that students and faculty prevent the partnership by “creating multiple kinds of campaigns exposing Technion in a bad light.”

“I think that there is something to be lost in terms of reputation and visibility,” she said.

Joining Harris, Sanders encouraged students to take a stance against the partnership.

“You as students, may be much freer to act,” Sanders said. “Cornell should break that contract with Technion. That is absolutely our first demand.”

Arens and Rotbart disagreed, saying that they will continue to show steadfast support Cornell’s partnership with Technion.

Dennis Liu reported contributing.

Original Author: Jinjoo Lee