September 21, 2012

Email Impersonating Skorton May Be Criminal, Is ‘Outrageously Offensive,’ Cornell Says

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A forged email sent Friday impersonating and mocking President David Skorton is “outrageously offensive” and could constitute “criminal behavior,” a University spokesperson said Saturday.

While the identity or identities of those responsible for the email remain unknown, it resembled in form and substance previous messages sent out by the anonymous group Scorpions X. On Friday, Scorpions X published 1,000 copies of a 16-page fake newspaper called “The Cornell Nightly Moon” that criticized and belittled the University’s response to a string of recent reported sexual and racial attacks.

Friday’s email — which was sent to dozens of student leaders and administrators, as well as members of The Sun — pretended to represent Skorton’s response to that publication.

“Dear Cornell Community,” it began, in imitation of Skorton’s previous University-wide notifications. “This morning a number of copies of a student paper were found intermixed amongst copies of The Daily Sun. Those papers contained very strong criticisms of Cornell University policies, including the [U]niversity’s reaction to the recent sexual assaults on campus as well as the racially-motivated attacks which set such a dark tone for the beginning of our semester here in Ithaca.”

The email, however, then proceeded to parody the University’s allegedly apathetic response to the racial and sexual attacks, mirroring criticisms advanced by the Scorpions X publication.

“Even though many members of the Cornell community may be terrified due to the permissive atmosphere which has allowed sexual and racist and homophobic assaults to proceed unabated, we do not feel that criticizing the policies which have incubated that atmosphere is the best way to proceed,” the email, falsely signed by “David J. Skorton,” states. “Nor do we believe that attempting to hold those who have drafted and implemented the [U]niversity’s prolific pro-diversity policies responsible for the inefficacy of those policies is a fruitful path.”

Though unsigned, the email bore several marks of previous Scorpions X statements, including the group’s self-proclaimed “radical press” printed Friday. One of the articles in “The Cornell Nightly Moon,” for instance, also mocks the University’s purportedly blithe, naive response to the racial and sexual attacks.

“Our strategy for thinking about the oppression that has been institutionally embedded at the University is to think and talk about something else entirely,” a front-page story, written by “Alexandria Renard, director of the Center for Fluff-and-Stuff,” states. Instead of talking about racism or other forms of oppression, then, we will talk about dancing and singing and getting along.”

Tommy Bruce, vice president of University communications, said Saturday that the email has been forwarded to the “appropriate authorities.” Kathy Zoner, chief of the Cornell University Police Department, confirmed that campus police has begun its preliminary investigation, but said that it is too soon to determine whether the message could represent a prosecutable offense.

Bruce likewise did not comment on whether the email could be considered grounds for expulsion, saying, “I’m not going to speculate on that.”

Still, he said the fake email was “entirely unacceptable.”

“In a community of trust that is Cornell, where our collective efforts should be focused on improving the Cornell experience and lifting the climate on campus, this fraudulent behavior can have serious unintended consequences,” Bruce said.

Check on Monday for an updated version of this story.

Original Author: Jeff Stein