A key facet of "doing the greatest good" and "freedom of expression" is acknowledging that there are two sides to every debate.

September 10, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Re: “The Greatest Good for Whom?”

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To the Editor:

On September 5, Malak Abuhashim ‘24 published an opinion piece that was poorly researched, false and misleading.  The column in turn was based upon a problematic publication of the Cornell Progressives entitled “Disorientation Guide”, a 60-page diatribe on the history and present conditions at Cornell.

First, Abuhashim claims, “In 1985, Cornell’s trustees refused to divest from companies in South Africa despite the apartheid.”  However, throughout the 1970s and 1980s various church and human rights groups sponsored shareholder resolutions about individual corporations’ relationships with South Africa, and Cornell voted its proxies to support those efforts.  Similarly, the Cornell community was supportive of having Gulf Oil leave Angola. Cornell also hired refugee faculty such as J. Congress Mbata who fled the South African educational establishment. Decades of pressure from Cornell and other groups led to the downfall of apartheid effective in 1994.

Abuhsahim criticizes Cornell Tech, the joint venture between Cornell and Technion, as being somehow involved in military research that is deployed by Israel against Palistinians.  However, Cornell Tech does not perform any classified military research. Research at Cornell Tech is subject to the same federal controls on the export of critical technology as any other entity.

Abuhsahim then claims, “Cornell has also welcomed notorious war criminals to speak on our campus.”  Assuming that this were true, that is still an important part of a university – to bring in the widest variety of speakers and to allow each member of the Cornell community to listen and then decide for oneself which ideas are worth adopting. Neither the Cornell Progressives, or anyone else, should attempt to censor who is speaking on campus.

Abuhsahim then goes on to criticize the Federal Work Study (FWS) program for having an “hourly wage [that] was not enough to meet their basic living needs.”  However, Cornell computes each student’s total financial aid package based upon a family’s income and assets.  The “self-help” component can be met with FWS, but that amount is calculated on the assumption that the student will work a limited number of hours and that most support will be from loans and scholarships.  Nobody expects a student to work full time on FWS to meet all expenses.  Most of FWS wages are paid by the federal government, so Cornell has a very little incentive to keep FWS wage rates low.

Abuhsahim claims that Cornell decided not to renew its Student Health Care Plus plan in June.  But the media reported that NYS Medicaid decided to terminate this plan, with Cornell making great efforts to make sure that affected students had a gentle transition to another plan.

Abuhsahim accuses Cornell of “evident tax evasion” and “greed” regarding Cornell’s payments to the City of Ithaca.  Because New York State has a long-standing policy to exempt charities from paying property taxes, Cornell along with government buildings, schools, and churches do not pay Ithaca such taxes.  However, in 1995, Cornell agreed to pay for fire protection in lieu of taxes.  The agreed amount is about $1.5 million annually.  Cornell also recently increased its voluntary payment to the Ithaca School District to $650,000 annually.  Cornell also provides chilled water to air condition Ithaca High School. Keeping these voluntary payments reasonable means lower tuition for Cornell students.

Finally, Abuhsahim claims, “Cornell further poisons the community by being the leading cause of gentrification in Ithaca”  Cornell recently addressed the tight Ithaca housing market by constructing 2,000 additional dorm beds in North Campus at a cost of over $230 million.

There are two sides to most controversies, and Cornellians should hear both sides before drawing their own conclusions.

Robert C. Platt ’73, J.D. ’76