Republican commentators Charlie Kirk and Candace Owen were supposed to bring their trademark fiery conservatism to Cornell’s McGraw Hall on Nov. 13 as the grand finale of their nearly six week tour across college campuses.
But then the University on Oct. 29 released a statement saying that it is postponing consideration of the speaker event planned by Cornell’s chapter of Turning Point U.S.A. — a grass-roots conservative organization headed by Kirk and Owen that primarily works with college students.
“My priority was to get a conservative speaker to campus, not provocateurs,” Marshal Hoffman ’19, TPUSA president, told The Sun in a late afternoon interview on the Willard Straight Hall patio.
But friction between the student organizers and the Cornell bureaucracy seems to have prevented the event from happening on-campus, with both sides blaming the other for the derailing of the event’s planning process.
Despite the setbacks, Hoffman seemed adamant to bring Kirk and Owen to Ithaca if not Cornell when interviewed last Wednesday. The event’s eventbrite webpage — which did not list an event location in mid-October — now lists Hotel Ithaca at 222 South Cayuga Street as the location of the event.
While the University maintained in both public statements and private emails that they were not cancelling the event and invited the student organization to reschedule the event, Hoffman lamented that “postponing” the event is the same as cancelling it — at the time it appeared unlikely that the two speakers would be able to reschedule their visit.
The University pins Cornell’s chapter of TPUSA for the event’s cancelation, blaming it for failing to “take the steps required to complete the event registration process.” Meanwhile, Hoffman maintained that the fault is on the University for being inflexible during the event planning process, condemning the University for not adequately supporting freedom of speech in a Nov. 1 email to Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur.
“I find it horrifyingly ironic that an event designated to promoting freedom of speech is canceled using the slimmest of evidence possible to cancel it in the first place. It’s pretty upsetting,” Hoffman said in an interview.
The concerned TPUSA president provided The Sun with some of the digital exchanges between him and the University.
TPUSA did not exist as an officially registered Cornell organization until this September, but plans were in motion since early last semester to start a Cornell chapter. According to a social media interaction provided by Hoffman, then national TPUSA organizer — identified as Alana — reached out to him in Feb. 20 asking if he was interested in helping set up a Cornell chapter of the organization.
Alana could not be reached through email, but there is a LinkedIn account of an Alana Mastrangelo, who identifies herself as Regional Director of TPUSA.
While Hoffman said he started setting up his organization during the spring semester, he did not request to register his organization with the University via OrgSync until Sept. 26. Hoffman said that he did not register his organization until two months ago because TPUSA organizers told him not to and because he needed extra time to recruit e-board members for his fledgling chapter.
Roxanne M. Edsall, campus and community engagement employee, conveyed to Hoffman via email that she approved the organization’s registration that very same day. In the same email, Edsall recognized that the Cornell chapter may bring “high profile speakers” to the University and gave a brief overview of Cornell’s event planning process. She specifically noted that organizations sponsoring any events with more than 49 participants must submit the event registration form at least four weeks in advance.
Hoffman said that he submitted the event registration form on Oct. 10 — before the four week deadline. He said he subsequently had the first discussions with members of the Event Management and Planning Team and Cornell Police on Oct. 18 and Oct. 19.
Hoffman said problems then emerged the following week.
Mary Beth Grant, senior associate dean of students, reached out to Hoffman via email on Oct. 22 to set up a meeting for the very next day, Oct. 23. She offered to meet him either before 11:30 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m. to “review all the expectations EMPT provided to you last week.” Hoffman did not respond to the email until 5 p.m. on Oct. 23, at which point he said he hoped to set up a new appointment time at the next EMPT meeting, slated for Oct. 25.
However, that meeting never happened. Hoffman wrote in an email that he could not attend the Oct. 25 meeting on the day of the meeting — a move Grant told Hoffman was a “last minute cancellation.”
Hoffman defended his non-attendance to The Sun, saying that he realized only shortly before the meeting that he had to attend a mandatory class. Email records show an administrator within minutes following up on the email, asking Hoffman if any of the four members of the TPUSA e-board can attend in his stead — Hoffman told The Sun none were available.
Grant replied to Hoffman within the next few hours in two emails where she expressed that she was “very concerned” by the TPUSA president’s non-attendance.
“This event is a very complicated one, Marshall, and it is only 19 days away,” Grant wrote in the first of the two emails. “The EMPT is working to help you, but this event, like other student events, is put on by students, not the EMPT. You and your colleagues must be prepared to put in the effort required to have a top-notch event.”
Then, in the second, follow-up email, Grant demanded that a TPUSA e-board member must meet with her the next day, Oct. 26, offering three different time slots for the meeting. In it, she said that “EMPT will not approve this event” if no one can attend the meeting.
Hoffman replied to Grant early morning on Oct. 26, agreeing to meet with her at one of the time slots Grant offered.
Then, Hoffman failed to attend the meeting at that time slot, sending an email to Grant 50 minutes after the meeting time apologizing for his absence. He told The Sun that he could not attend this meeting because he had to attend a review session for an exam.
In the same email, Hoffman assured Grant that he will meet her at one of the latter time slots she offered. Grant replied in a brief message within minutes: “4:30 is no longer an option.”
Hoffman later wrote to Grant if there was an alternative time that he can meet her. Instead of a response, Hoffman received an email from Pendakur — the dean of students — on Oct. 29, which read:
“Due to the missed EMPT meeting on Thursday, October 25th 2018, and the subsequent missed one-one-one meeting with Mary Beth Grant on Friday, October 26th 2018, we have no choice but to postpone consideration of this event at this time.”
What happened afterwards was a back-and-forth between Hoffman and Pendakur, where the two sides took turns blaming the other side for the event’s cancelation. Hoffman wrote:
“I apologize further, as something may have been lost in communication, but I am unaware of the flexibility you are referencing in regards to the Thursday meeting. I was never given an alternative time for the EMPT meetings, nor told that the time could be changed.”
Then, Pendakur replied: “We have been extremely flexible to date in scheduling planning meetings to avoid conflict with your classes and other academic obligations, offering numerous alternative meeting times and inviting other members of your organization to participate in your stead. We remain committed to doing so.”