October 1, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Concerned with the Chosen

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To the Editor:

Re: “An Open Letter of Apology,” Opinion, Sept. 27

Last week, you published an apology from the alumnus who sent an offensive, fraudulent email to an undergraduate: pretending to be her professor, he abused and belittled her. The apology should not have been published.

While the apology misrepresents the attack’s nature and severity, this isn’t why it should not have appeared. Rather, this alumnus does not deserve the honor of addressing our community.

I’m not being harsh. To say, “No, thank you, we’re not interested in publishing your remarks,” isn’t to be cruel or unfair; it’s not to deliver a personal insult. In this instance, it’s an ethical obligation.

This alumnus, when accidentally emailed by an undergraduate in Bruce Monger’s class, decided to attack her. The Sun, offered this attacker’s ideas, decided to publish them. The Sun’s decision isn’t as grievous as that the alumnus made, but it was still wrong.

Many of us likely have been verbally abused by some stranger — obscenities shouted from a passing car, flaming blog comments, etc. It’s a drag. Perhaps some read the fraudulent email printed in The Sun and didn’t register how violent it was. Printed there in The Sun, in the open, beside the story explaining it, this email was no longer private: It had been defused.

Imagine: You’re at your computer, checking email. There’s a reply from your prof — or your boss, or the director of a fellowship selection committee. You read, and this professor, boss or authority whom you know rips into you: calls your ideas garbage, calls you an idiot, kicks you where it hurts.

When later you learn that this email was in fact from a stranger, not from the individual you’d originally thought: the past hasn’t changed: you’ve still been abused.

“I never meant for any part of the email to be an attack,” writes this alum in his apology. So, he meant it as a greeting? (“Hi, I see you’re a new Cornell student. Welcome.”) A question? “(Hey — I see you’re taking Monger’s course. I never did. What’s it like?”)

This alumnus violated a professor’s name, abusing the professor’s authority; he appropriated a professor’s institutional power to injure an individual student.

Also, the Sept. 21 article about the attack quotes the alumnus: He was interviewed. Quoting him was an error. Abusing a student, violating a professor’s authority and committing fraud — he’s not a credible authority. Handed The Sun’s megaphone, he issues his “statement to the Cornell community” about how we should get our “priorities in order.”

It’s not easy to get into Cornell. Last year, 37,812 individuals applied to join the class of ’16. And 6,123 were granted admission: 16.2 percent. We’ve all worked hard to get here. Perhaps sometimes it seems we’ve arrived — that all the awkward and difficult judging is over. It’s not. It’s a constant responsibility. To command the attention of this community is a powerful and meaningful privilege. To relinquish this privilege to one who abused essential standards of trust and decency damages our collective voice.

Joanie Mackowski, Assistant Professor