October 15, 2014

THROWDOWN THURSDAY: The Hypocrisy of Cornell’s Political Bullies

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Political bullies on campus are defined by two characteristics. First, the fervent belief that they stand for the oppressed. As long as you aren’t “privileged” (usually meaning a white, heterosexual, Christian male) they will do whatever is necessary to liberate you from the second-class status supposedly conferred upon you by America’s inherently bigoted society. Second — as far as I can tell — the zealous conviction that as long as these groups advocate for what is “just,” they do not actually have to practice what they preach. They can ask others to do as they say, not as they do.

We see the same recurring patterns. When a controversial proposal one of the groups dislikes is suggested, they decry it as “divisive” and demand that it be defeated, launching vicious attacks against its sponsor. But when a proposal in line with their views is under consideration, any disagreement with the measure serves as proof of how far the powerful will go to prevent their definition of justice from triumphing, further reinforcing their perceived need for change. In the face of an opposing point of view, these bullies insist that the view must be based on illegitimate hatred and bigotry and should therefore be silenced. Yet, they derisivelydismiss mainstream American society as racist, sexist and homophobic without feeling a moment of shame for being so condescendingly close-minded. Cornell’s bullies demand tolerance but deliver intolerance; they demand civility but provide incivility.

Last semester, we witnessed a public relations spectacle in the form of a “takeover” of Cornell’s elected Student Assembly. About 100 agitated students — which makes up less than one percent of Cornell’s student body — halted an assembly meeting to replace it with their own. They called this an example of “democracy.”

Yet, weren’t these the same students who once ranted about the supposed horrors of rule by the unelected “one percent?” Why do 100 self-appointed students have a more legitimate claim to represent Cornell’s student body than the elected members of the Student Assembly? Cornell’s bullies seem to think that election results can be ignored when they do not like who gets elected, and that undemocratic rule by the “one percent” is fine so long as they are the rulers. We should not take lectures about the importance of democratic institutions from people who deny the democratic rights of others.

Recall what triggered the Student Assembly “takeover.” Several students pushed a resolution calling on the Student Assembly to promote divestment from several companies operating in the State of Israel that they believed to be committing human rights violations. These same students had recently urged Cornell to abandon its partnership with Technion, an Israeli university, in the creation of the Tech Campus in New York City. They insisted that Cornell would be complicit in human right abuses against the Palestinians through this partnership, and that those responsible for human rights abuses deserve to be boycotted.

But while these students are eager to call on Cornell to boycott Israeli universities, they decline to sever their relationship with Cornell for maintaining its Technion partnership. Even though they now consider the University to be complicit in war crimes through its partnership with an Israeli university, they continue to pay thousands of dollars to Cornell for their Ivy League education. How is it “just” for them to ask for Cornell to cease the construction of a brand new campus when they do not cease their relationship with Cornell?

To Cornell’s anti-Israel ideologues, the blatant hypocrisy doesn’t seem to matter. Boycotts are a great idea when someone else has to make the sacrifices. However, when it comes time for them to take a stand when they actually risk losing something, they come up with every excuse to avoid having to do so.

For a final example, consider a recent rally held on campus two weeks ago. At the rally, some demonstrators made the perfectly reasonable demand that Cornell do more to stop sexual assault on campus. Yet, that sensible message was hijacked by students who insisted that Cornell could never reform its sexual assault policy because it is an irredeemably corrupt and immoral university. One student remarked that “we are wasting our time … thinking in terms of trying to reform an institution wedded to the status quo,” concluding that institutions like Cornell must be “destroy[ed]…by fighting back from the ground.”

I doubt that these protesters — or anyone else for that matter — would acquiesce to the demands of someone who made similar threats of destruction against them. So why should Cornell listen to people who insist that, no matter what it does, the University deserves nothing less than complete eradication?

Cornell’s radical ideologues usually get away with their hypocrisy because they react with such venomous hostility to anyone who calls them out on it. They only celebrate “speaking truth to power” when they are the ones doing the talking.

The voices of those that have truly suffered, or may come to suffer, from racial and gender discrimination, and other denials of basic human rights, are lost in the din of accusation and demonization. Let me be clear: Some of these bullies truly are victims. Still, they should recognize that that does not give them the right to bully others. All of us would benefit from addressing these important issues in an open, honest and democratic way, leading to the implementation of better policies with the added legitimacy of being supported by the Cornell student body.

As much as some students may not want to live by the same rules they seek to impose on the rest of us, accountability requires something very different. If Cornell’s political bullies ever hope to establish a modicum of moral authority, they might actually have to stand with liberal principles of freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom to dissent.

Julius Kairey is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Always Right appears alternate Thursdays this semester.