Morgan Cohen

Members of the GPSA discussed academic freedom and tax issues in a Monday meeting.

March 23, 2016

GPSA Discusses Academic Freedom at Cornell

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Correction appended

Cornell’s Graduate and Professional Student Assembly discussed academic freedom and its application to Cornell Policy 6.4 — which prohibits discrimination, protected-status harassment, sexual harassment, sexual assault and violence — at its meeting Monday.

Nathaniel Stetson grad said the policy allows a faculty member accused of sexual harassment or assault to appeal on the grounds of academic freedom or a special relationship. The faculty member is then heard by a committee specializing in dealing with such issues, and the complaint must be proven at a higher level — requiring more evidence than at a typical complaint meeting, he said.

“If you, as a faculty member, are complained against, the hearing that you go to will be the preponderance of evidence standard,” Stetson said. “If the faculty member raises one of these appeal grounds … then the appeal will require you to show your complaint by clear and convincing evidence, so there’s a higher evidentiary bar to clear when you appeal on these grounds.”

Stetson connected the policy to broader issues of academic freedom, including issues with trigger warnings — words or phrases that could possibly upset students.

“[A professor may be] giving a lecture in criminal law, on rape, and some student in the audience feels harassed by the tenor of the conversation,” Stetson said. “That student might complain, and the professor might say, ‘This is an academic freedom issue. I need to use the words that I see fit in order to teach the subject in an unfettered way.’”

The GPSA also debated a resolution, which was ultimately tabled until its next meeting to hold Cornell and the IRS responsible for recent issues encountered by international students after they were denied their 2015 tax refunds.

Iian Smythe, GPSA mathematics representative and international student, said the IRS notified students in February that it did not agree with the withholding amount on Form 1042-S — a form provided by Cornell to non-permanent residents who have received a non-wage income on their 2014 taxes.

Smythe added that the IRS told students that, instead of getting money back as expected, the students were now expected to pay the IRS.

Cornell announced that this was the result of a software error, according to Smythe. He said that the goal of the resolution is to make sure Cornell addresses the errors that have occurred.

“The purpose of this resolution is to let everyone know that we, as graduate students, are aware of this, and we want Cornell to be vigilant about it and fight for us going forward, and that we want Cornell to do their best to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” Smythe said. “Ultimately, the responsibility is not on the students involved.”

GPSA President Richard Walroth grad emphasized that this is a national issue and that Cornell is not necessarily responsible for the problem.

“As far as I can tell, anyone who filed a 1042-S is in this situation right now, so it’s a fairly huge issue affecting the entire country,” Walroth said. “[It is not] Cornell that we have a problem with, it’s just the actions we’d like Cornell to take.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Iian Smythe’s name.