May 1, 2017

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Cayuga’s Waiters

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To the Editor:

Last month, I attended the memorial service  for a Cornell classmate of mine, Robert Cohen, of the Class  of 1960. Bob and I met on my first day at Cornell, in September of 1956; and although not close friends, we remained good friends over the next 56 Years, until his death last December. Among other things, and perhaps one of the most notable aspects of Bob’s life was his lifelong membership in Cayuga’s Waiters. In that capacity, Bob  attended every Cornell reunion, not only those of our class, over the past many years. He and his colleagues provided enormous pleasure and a welcome infusion of  Cornell spirit at those events.

Against this personal backdrop, I write to say that I am shocked that the University elected summarily to force the permanent disbandment of the Waiters after so many decades of their contribution to Cornell in  providing great enjoyment  to  alumni and friends of the University. That the Waiters may have engaged in some foolishness cannot be ignored; but the reports which I have seen of the events leading to the disciplinary action which the University has taken, make absolutely  no mention that participants were forced to act against their will, or that any injuries occurred.

I think that one of the most important aspects of American life, and particularly college life, involves the voluntary participation in social and communal groups. Many sociologists have attributed the loss of this involvement to larger problems in our country. If the Waiters did something as absurd as is reported, and if the behavior was clearly violative of some previously and clearly enunciated standard of behavior  applicable to conduct on the Cornell campus, that might provide a justification for some type of discipline; but, even in such case, the permanent termination of a voluntary association of Cornell students, when no demonstrable harm derived from the condemned behavior, would not be just.

I write as the member of a family, three generations of whose members have attended Cornell.  What has happened is an unjustified manifestation  of an in loco parentis approach to the relationship between the University and its students, something which I would have thought had been gone from Cornell since the events of May, 1958.

David Simpson ’60