Courtesy of Cornell University

The Vice President of Finance stepped down after backlash over CPU's controversial decision to disinvite a pro-life speaker.

March 28, 2019

Cornell Political Union Board Member Resigns, Says CPU’s Statement After Disinviting Speaker Was ‘Deliberately Misleading’

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Vice President of Finance of the Cornell Political Union Brendan Dodd ’21 stepped down from his post on Wednesday afternoon. Dodd said he chose to resign after CPU responded to conservative speaker Jannique Stewart’s allegation of “VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION” with a “disingenuous” and “deliberately misleading” statement.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, pro-life speaker Jannique Stewart alleged that the Cornell Political Union discriminated against her because of her conservative Christian views, The Sun reported. The accusation came after CPU disinvited her from speaking on the topic of abortion in April out of concern for “security” of their members and fear of high event security fees, CPU said in a statement to The Sun.

Dodd, who said he helped craft the statement, called the response an attempt at “self-preservation.” Dodd wrote a guest column for The Sun in which he said that the decision to disinvite Stewart was “a decision made primarily due to Stewart’s beliefs.”

“There was no risk assessment done by the University or CUPD,” Dodd told The Sun over the phone.

CPU originally invited Stewart in January as a representative of the Life Training Institute — a speaking organization that “trains” pro-life advocates to speak persuasively — for a talk that was scheduled for April 23, CPU President John Sullivan Baker ’20 told The Sun.

Stewart wrote that her invitation to speak on abortion as a “moral wrong” was rescinded because of her “Conservative Christian” views in a Facebook post that had garnered nearly 300 comments and 180 shares by Wednesday night.

CPU refuted this claim directly in a statement to The Sun.

“The accusations of discrimination that Jannique Stewart has levelled against the Cornell Political Union are false. We have never negatively characterized Ms. Stewart’s beliefs, nor have we ever attacked her character,” the statement read.

Vice President for University Relations Joel Malina said that free speech is “an essential part” of the University’s campus in a statement to The Sun.

“Recently, we learned that an independent, student-run organization, the Cornell Political Union, had already decided to rescind an invitation to a speaker for an event on our Ithaca campus. They made this decision without engaging with the administration on event planning or security,” Malina wrote.

Dodd and Baker both told The Sun that an event registration form had not yet been filed when CPU rescinded Stewart’s invitation to speak.

“The University in no way requested or suggested that any guest be excluded from attending this campus event,” Malina continued. “Cornell has established a clear and collaborative process through which student organizations partner with the administration to bring speakers they invite to campus. This is a process that every student organization is asked to follow and, indeed, hundreds of organizations each year engage in this process, resulting in safe and successful events.”

Baker expressed disappointment over Dodd’s resignation.

“I’m disappointed that Brendan made the decision to resign,” Baker said. “I appreciate all the work that he’s done in the [executive] board to promote free and open discourse.”