September 4, 2023

ABUHASHIM | The Greatest Good for Whom? 

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“Cornellians are united by a shared purpose.” “To do the greatest good.” These quotes written by Ezra Cornell have been plastered on every known surface on campus. It begs the question: The greatest good for whom? This year, Cornell Progressives released the Disorientation Guide, a manual on all of Cornell’s shady business and not-so-known secrets. In the guide, stories of Cornell’s neglect and greed are overwhelming but not surprising. In 1985, Cornell’s trustees refused to divest from companies in South Africa despite the apartheid. Whose “greatest good” were they striving to achieve? Many low-income and BIPOC students could already testify that they knew this “greatest good” didn’t apply to them, but this guide made it clear to the masses. Diving deep into Cornell’s history, policies and actions, it’s evident that Cornell’s administration only caters to itself, the wealthy majority and the Global North.

When Cornell’s most questionable ties are mentioned, we have to start with our persistence to be included in war crimes. Most notably, Cornell’s joint campus with Technion Institute, whose military research is directly incorporated into the ongoing occupation of Palestine. This institute boasts of research on unmanned bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian homes, drone technology to bombard civilians and other advanced military supplies used to kill my family.  

The ties to Elbit Systems should also be considered since their technology has been used on the apartheid wall to monitor and strip Palestinians of freedom of movement. The guide argues that since Cornell Tech is entrenched in the Israeli military-industrial complex, unknowing students are exposed to research and technology that will be used to occupy, oppress and dispossess Palestinians. To make matters worse, our ties with Lockheed Martin are an embarrassment, with human rights groups explaining that “[their] F-16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters and Hellfire missiles often failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants.”  

Cornell has also welcomed notorious war criminals to speak on our campus. Our own professors have been involved in building “small autonomous UAVs for commercial and defense applications.” In the early 2000s, these were used to bomb civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In light of our connections to atrocities happening overseas, I must ask: How can we commit to doing the greatest good while maintaining these connections? Or is this greatest good reserved for the Global North?

Highlighting more local issues, students on financial aid are expected to contribute to their tuition through student contributions in the form of Federal Work Study. When a poll was taken for these student workers, over half of them responded that their hourly wage was not enough to meet their basic living needs. Despite countless protests and pleas from student workers, Cornell refused to make the changes that were desperately needed. The negative effects of the administration’s refusal to help the students became very evident when the Basic Needs Coalition took a survey of students’ primary needs on campus. The results were overwhelmingly bad: “1/3 of respondents indicated difficulty accessing food, more than 50 percent expressed difficulty finding or affording housing and 46 percent of students reported difficulty accessing healthcare.”

Just this summer, Cornell gave students a 20-day notice when they decided to not renew Student Healthcare Plus+, a plan where students on NYS Medicaid could be enrolled in free comprehensive healthcare with no premiums or copays. With this option being removed, those students now have to choose to either pay a $3,700+ fee (not included in financial aid), enroll in Cornell’s healthcare or stick with their Medicaid plan. These Medicaid plans are not accepted at Cornell Health, further burdening students. If Cornell really is striving to do the “greatest good,” why make it harder for the students who are already struggling? 

Upon reading the Disorientation Guide’s chapter on Cornell’s Parasitic Relationship With Ithaca, it becomes clear that this “greatest good” doesn’t apply to the town we reside in. Due to some shady deal, Cornell is skipping out on millions of tax dollars to be paid to the city and school district. As the guide states, Cornell only pays about $1.5 million to the city in comparison to the estimated $40 million owed in property taxes, along with $15 million they would owe to Tompkins County and $45 million to Ithaca City School District.  Thanks to Cornell not paying the right amount of taxes, Ithaca doesn’t have the budget needed to provide for the community. 

Aside from the evident tax evasion, Cornell’s greed pushed them to deny an 8 percent increase in funding for TCAT despite Cornellelians making up 75 percent of the riders. Research shows that investment in public transportation leads to significant economic growth, creates jobs, improves the standard of living and helps community members escape poverty. Yet, none of that seems to be any of the administration’s concerns. 

Cornell further poisons the community by being the leading cause of gentrification in Ithaca, causing local families to move out to neighboring villages and towns due to the skyrocketing rent. This, of course, is not something felt by the wealthy majority of students who can afford to pay $1400+ for a one-bedroom apartment in Collegetown, or the professors making six figures. By neglecting to adequately invest in the community, Cornell’s values are shown to have little to no concern for Ithaca’s residents. 

Contrary to Ezra Cornell’s slogan, our University’s concerns appear to completely disregard anyone who doesn’t fit the profile of a well-off white student. It seems that Cornell is more interested in financially investing in apartheid and furthering research in war crimes than in investing in their community or first-generation and low-income students. 

Malak Abuhashim is a fourth-year student in the College of  Engineering and a member of Cornell Progressives. Her fortnightly column Amplifying Silence focuses on amplifying marginalized voices and shedding light on overlooked issues to catalyze constructive dialogue. She can be reached at [email protected].

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