November 14, 2018

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The TPUSA Debacle & Cornell’s Flirtations with the Far-Right

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After more than a week of local confusion regarding Turning Point USA (TPUSA), this dark money-funded activist group cancelled an Ithaca-area event meant to feature far-right personalities Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. We feel the need to clarify a few things about what has recently transpired.

First, the university deemed TPUSA’s fascist provocaceutering “free speech,” legitimizing an alt-right event on campus that was solely cancelled for logistical and bureaucratic reasons. During initial negotiations, Cornell curiously identified no problem with TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” an online McCarthyist blacklist that counts several Cornell faculty among its “dangerous ultra-liberal academics.”  When TPUSA relocated the event to an off-campus venue, Cornell allowed it to retain the name “Cornell Campus Clash” — insisting that no brand violations or reputational concerns were at stake in an alt-right provocation directly targeted at Cornell students. It washed its hands of any further responsibility for an event meant for its own students, displacing event security costs onto the City of Ithaca and its local taxpayer base.

Second, TPUSA should be ashamed of its cheap anti-intellectual attack tying the campus appearance cancellation to the political environment of “elitist Ivy League Neighborhoods,” a dishonest tactic meant to deflect criticism of TPUSA’s far-right politics. Students with marginalized identities resist the alt-right because its vision has no place for them, save for their literal extermination.

Finally, it’s critical that Cornell re-evaluates its understanding of speech on and off campus. President Pollack is a fierce advocate of a “both-sides” paradigm, once forcefully disagreeing with a graduate student who importantly stated that “there is a point where speech can inhibit speech.” The words and actions of powerful public figures —  including the leader of this nearly $7 billion institution — have consequences. In light of the university’s alarming approach to the TPUSA debacle, we worry that its approach to matters of “free speech” could be devolving into tacit support for the malignant growth of right-wing extremism in the U.S. It is necessary for all of us to remain vigilant about future fascist encroachments on our campus and beyond.


Adam Khatib ’20

Steve Tarcan ’20

Khaddy Kebbeh ’19

Julie Kapuvari ’19

Christopher Hanna ’19

Ezra Stein ’20