President Martha Pollack clarified Cornell’s policy around genocide in a Dec. 9 statement, following backlash over remarks about antisemitism made by several university presidents at a congressional hearing.
“Genocide is abhorrent, and Cornell condemns calls for the genocide of any people,” Pollack wrote. “An explicit call for genocide, to kill all members of a group of people, would be a violation of our policies.”
Pollack’s statement was published the same day University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned from her position after stating that calls for the genocide of Jewish people is “context dependent” in terms of violation of the university’s code of conduct at the hearing. Harvard University’s president Claudine Gay has been similarly under fire for declining to give a “yes” or “no” answer to a question from Rep. Elise M. Stefanik (R-N.Y.) on whether calls for a genocide of Jews would violate Harvard policies.
Pollack’s statement also came the same day Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to colleges and universities across the state that said calls for genocide made on college campuses would violate New York State Human Rights Law and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
While Pollack was not asked to give testimony before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Dec. 5, Cornell has experienced increased turmoil since the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict. The University was one of the first to make national headlines after Prof. Russell Rickford stated he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ attack on Israel at an off-campus rally and antisemitic threats were posted on a Cornell forum by a student, which included calls for students to kill Jews on campus and a mass shooting at the kosher dining hall.
Pollack has also been criticized for her numerous statements since the war’s onset. In her initial statement on Oct. 10, Pollack compared the conflict in the Middle East to natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires and floods. Just six hours later, Pollack released a second statement after apparent backlash.
“I have heard from a number of you who expressed dismay that I failed to say that the atrocities committed by Hamas this past weekend were acts of terrorism, which I condemn in the strongest possible terms,” Pollack wrote in the second statement.
The statements also received criticism from Palestinian activists who were disappointed by the lack of mention of Palestine in either of Pollack’s statements. In an Oct. 16 statement, Pollack mentioned Palestine for the first time.
“I am a grandmother and I weep for the Israeli babies who were murdered or kidnapped; I weep for the Palestinian babies now in harm’s way,” she wrote.
Cornell is currently under investigation by the Department of Education for either antisemitic or anti-Muslim harassment on campus.