March 12, 2012

Campus Reacts to Selection of Bloomberg for Convocation

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Correction appended

Despite their opposition to his strong defense of the New York Police Department surveillance program involving Muslim students, student leaders from Cornell’s Muslim community expressed measured support for the selection of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg as this year’s Convocation speaker.

Bloomberg once again plunged headfirst into the muddy waters of post-9/11 security last month by backing an NYPD program that has tracked the emails of Muslim students and Muslim student organizations in 2006 and 2007.

“The police department goes where there are allegations,” Bloomberg said in a press conference on Feb. 21. “And they look to see those allegations are true. That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”

This fiery defense of police conduct ignited widespread criticism on campus, both from Muslim student leaders and administration officials. Those critiques, however, have not necessarily translated into discontent for his selection as commencement speaker.

“It’s been disappointing how [Bloomberg] handled the NYPD situation,” said Sara Rahman ’12, president of the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture and president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice. Though she also cited Bloomberg’s previous support for the Park 51 “Ground Zero Mosque” as another reason to be disheartened by his position on this issue, she noted that she thought that his appearance at her graduation could nonetheless be an opportunity for constructive dialogue.

“While he’s here, I think it would incredibly productive if he met with the Muslim community at Cornell,” Rahman said. “Cornell has some of the most vibrant and incredible Muslim leaders … and I bet if [Bloomberg] met some of us personally, he wouldn’t be as quick to approve the NYPD actions.”

Tommy Bruce, vice president for the University’s communications office, outlined the University’s position on the Convocation choice.

“In general, we don’t make a practice of commenting on past actions of speakers our students invite to Cornell. We, of course, do not condone police profiling on our campus,” Bruce said.

He expressed excitement for Bloomberg’s address, saying, “On this campus of many voices and opinions, we’re honored to have Mayor Bloomberg address our very accomplished and diverse graduating class.”

Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, also referenced Mayor Bloomberg’s support for the Muslim community center near Ground Zero as proof of a “track record of fairness and transparency,” and strongly defended his selection as the keynote speaker in May.

“I think that before we judge Mayor Bloomberg’s actions and response, it’s important to gather all the facts … He has the complex job of ensuring New York City remains safe, while keeping would-be troublemakers from inflicting harm on its citizens, all the while balancing citizens’ rights to privacy, security, and safety,” Alexander said. “He is an excellent choice to be the Class of 2012’s Convocation speaker, and I am looking forward to hearing him.”

However, many faculty members said they do not support the decision to bring Bloomberg to campus for Convocation.

According to Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, Bloomberg’s support of initiatives such as the Park 51 Muslim community center does not excuse his support for the NYPD surveillance program, nor does it merit his selection as Convocation speaker.

“I don’t think it is appropriate for a variety of reasons, including the outrageous recent surveillance operation,” Sanders said of Bloomberg’s selection. “It would be nice if the speaker were someone who better supported our professed ideals.”

Sanders’ concerns were echoed by Prof. Eric Cheyfitz, American studies.

“I think the invitation to Mayor Bloomberg, given his support of  the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of Muslims, sends a negative message to the entire Cornell community about respect for civil liberties,” Cheyfitz said.

Similarly, Royce Novak ’12 expressed reservations about Bloomberg’s selection in a letter to The Sun.

“Many of us [seniors] are upset because, in this past year, Bloomberg has attacked a wide range of basic civil liberties,” Novak said.

Another senior, Student Assembly Vice President Adam Nicoletti ’12, a member of the S.A. Convocation Committee, which arranges each Convocation address, said that he supports the Mayor’s appearance because he believes Bloomberg is a “prolific and respectable speaker.”

“This ongoing controversy does not dilute or reduce the value of [Bloomberg’s] experience in both the political and business worlds when offering the Cornell students of 2012 advice they can follow for the rest of their lives,” Nicoletti said. “The sentiments he provides us will be extremely valuable regardless.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly extrapolated the meaning of a quote provided by Tommy Bruce, vice president for the University’s communications office. In fact, Bruce did not comment on any action taken by the NYPD. Also, due to an editing error, the original headline of the story incorrectly implied that the whole Muslim community at Cornell was backing Bloomberg. Sara Rahman ’12, president of the Committee for the Advancement of Muslim Culture and president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice, did not say she “backed,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Original Author: Jacob Glick