October 24, 2019

EDITORIAL: The Outrageous Ejection of Julia Feliz

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Julia Feliz’s rise to prominence has come for all the wrong reasons.

Once a participant in a somewhat unpublicized 12-week science fellowship, Feliz’s termination from the program has sparked furor on campus. The outrage followed a fiery Medium piece entitled, “Cornell University’s Alliance for White Supremacy” — mocking the “Cornell Alliance for Science” program from which they were unceremoniously ejected on Oct. 15. Feliz has since published a list of demands, seeking restitution from the University.

Feliz’s dismissal is an indignity. From what we know, Cornell appears to have ousted them merely for being a troublemaker. Feliz, in their article and in an interview with The Sun, detailed how a hostile encounter with a guest speaker led them to complain to Alliance for Science leadership, who swiftly moved to sweep it all under the rug.

In Feliz’s telling, Sarah Evanega Ph.D. ’09, the program director, first asked to meet Feliz alone, ignoring their requests for disability accommodation in the form of a support person. Then, after Feliz refused the meeting, Evanega tried to shuffle them off to HR. During this time, staffers were asking Feliz to not attend events and even to remove themselves from the program. Later, Evanega sent an unasked-for complaint to the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity on Feliz’s behalf. Two weeks later, Feliz was dismissed.

Cornell has not yet confirmed elements of Feliz’s account — but nor does it deny the broad contours. John Carberry, a top University spokesman, noted in a statement last night, “[The dismissal] was made after Mx. Feliz engaged in behavior that caused numerous and repeated complaints … due to ongoing interruptions of classroom lectures and discussions.” The statement did not specify what rules Feliz may have broken with their “ongoing interruptions” — only that they were “depriving other fellows of their opportunity to benefit from the program.”

This is a highly arbitrary standard, doing little to discredit Feliz’s claims of discrimination. And if Alliance for Science staffers came to believe Feliz’s behavior was impeding learning — but wasn’t violating any particular rules — that is grounds for a warning, not an abrupt expulsion. The ambiguity of a “depriving others of an opportunity” standard demands a clear disciplinary warning system. Feliz tells us they were given no such warning. Cornell didn’t comment in time for publication.

The University owes us a more complete recounting of the situation. If Feliz’s allegations are without merit, then say so. But if it is indeed true that Cornell dismissed Feliz without good cause, it will owe them an apology and full reinstatement into the Alliance for Science.

This afternoon, the Student Assembly will vote on whether to condemn the University’s actions. These public condemnations usually sail through the S.A. unopposed, as we hope this one does. Holding Cornell accountable is essential to the principles of shared governance which undergird the S.A., despite the administration’s checkered record of responsiveness. Perhaps this time it will even spur some action.

The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage and op-eds.