June 7, 2020

EDITORIAL | Fire Prof. David Collum ’77, Chemistry

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Editor’s Note: This editorial references anti-black violence and police brutality. It also discusses sexual assault.

On Wednesday, Cornell University published on their official Twitter account a quote by Toni Morrison, M.A. ’55 accompanied by the following caption: “As affirmed in our core values, Cornell strives to be a welcoming, caring and equitable community. We actively stand against racism and hatred, and we are committed to addressing these evils through our teaching, research and public engagement activities.”
A few days later, Prof. David Collum ’77, chemistry, tweeted his support to an audience of over 53,000 followers for police officers who shoved a 75-year-old man in Buffalo, cracking his skull. Collum’s tweet argued that the incident “wasn’t brutality.” “The cracked skull … was self-inflicted,” Collum wrote.



However, by the Buffalo Police Department’s standards, Collum is factually wrong. According to BPD’s use of force policy, police officers are only permitted to use force when there is “no other viable option.” In addition, the BPD’s use of force policy also requires that all officers who injure a person using force ensure medical treatment for that person. As the video above shows, the officers who chose to use force during this incident stepped over the man that they severely injured — as he lay unconscious, blood pooling around his head. Their actions showed a blatant disregard for human life.

Collum’s support for such a morally reprehensible police action is abhorrent. His remarks directly go against Cornell’s core values and impede the University’s ability to create a “caring and equitable” community. But what makes Collum’s tweets even more troublesome is that this is not the first time he has found himself on the wrong side of a civil rights issue.

In April 2017, when the University was known for having more active Title IX investigations than any other university in the nation, a group of chemistry graduate students denounced comments made by Collum regarding sexual assault. This group of students exposed Collum for encouraging his friends to “bring some roofies” (a date rape drug) on a trip to Las Vegas — although this is most likely a reference to the movie The Hangover as Collum later claimed. Collum also encouraged rapists and men accused of sexual assault to sue their accusers. The list of bigoted comments from Collum goes on and on, and his behavior is in violation of Cornell’s professor conduct policies.

This is not an issue of politics and partisanship, nor is this an issue regarding a professor’s right to freedom of speech. The Sun welcomes critical thinking, critique, debate and reform. But this is an issue of student safety and community. As long as Collum walks the Hill — grading students, conducting research, interacting with colleagues, influencing policies — Cornell is doing a disservice to its students. President Martha E. Pollack, fire Collum. And do it now. A simple statement calling Collum’s comments “deeply offensive” does not make amends for the harm that has been done by his words for years.

Of course, firing Collum will not solve the problem of systemic injustice within Cornell faculty. Examine the chemistry department: There are zero Black faculty members listed on their website, and 26 of 30 chemistry professors are men.

Collum’s tweets are simply a link in the chain of systemic injustice that plagues our institution. We don’t expect Cornell to solve this problem overnight, but they need to — at least — acknowledge it. And removing someone with a public, proven track record of alarming opinions is certainly a start.


An earlier version of this article failed to include the probability that Prof. Collum’s “roofies” comment was a joke and movie reference.

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, other columnists and advertisers.