Jon Lindseth ’56, emeritus member of the Cornell Board of Trustees and donor to the University, published an open letter on Wednesday, Jan. 23 to Board of Trustees Chair Kraig Kayser MBA ’84 and the entire Board of Trustees. The letter called for President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff’s resignation, citing the University’s failure to appropriately address antisemitism on campus amid a “misguided commitment” to diversity, equity and inclusion which has “yielded not excellence but disgrace.”
According to Lindseth, antisemitism is growing on campus as Cornell becomes increasingly focused on adhering to DEI policies.
“President Pollack’s failure to act with conviction and moral clarity was a watershed moment as I watched the harmful effects of DEI programming play out on a whole generation of Cornellians,” Lindseth wrote in the letter. “Under President Pollack’s leadership, antisemitism and general intolerance have increased on campus.”
At a pro-Palestine rally occurring off-campus on Oct. 15, Prof. Rickford, history, who is now on a voluntary leave of absence, called Hamas’s invasion into Israel “exciting” and “exhilarating.” Rickford’s comments sparked a debate as to whether his speech violated University policy.
Pollack and Kayser condemned Rickford’s comments in a statement but said that the University “doesn’t need [to] and shouldn’t ban deeply offensive or hateful speech” at the Faculty Senate’s meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
On Oct. 28 and Oct. 29, Patrick Dai ’24 posted antisemitic threats online against Jewish students and the Cornell Center for Jewish Living. Pollack called Dai’s messages “horrendous” in a statement on Oct. 29.
“We will not tolerate antisemitism at Cornell,” Pollack wrote. “During my time as president, I have repeatedly denounced bigotry and hatred, both on and off our campus.”
Lindseth said that Cornell’s educational quality has diminished since Cornell has embraced DEI initiatives, including its web-based bias reporting system, which was established in 2000, and the recent development of the University’s Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Futures. He said that the University’s DEI focus is suppressing free speech as “the University continues to put more value on DEI’s broad application rather than merit.”
“There is no racial justice with DEI,” Lindseth said.
In response to the letter, Kayser reaffirmed his support for Pollack in a statement to The Sun.
“For nearly seven years, I have strongly supported President Pollack, and that support remains strong today,” Kayser wrote. “The board is working effectively with the administration to respond to various challenges facing higher education and opportunities to advance the university’s mission.”
Lindseth said he called the trustee meeting. But Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, contended that the board meeting was previously scheduled in a statement to The Sun.
“Cornell’s trustees are gathering in New York [City] this week as part of a regularly scheduled series of meetings to discuss University affairs,” Malina wrote. “Board meetings are scheduled many years in advance.”
The Board of Trustees is set to meet on Friday, Jan. 26, in New York City. Lindseth will discuss his concerns regarding President Pollack, advocating for Pollack’s and Provost Kotlikoff’s resignation, along with six other demands.
Nadine Strossen, an American legal scholar and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, will also be speaking at the Board of Trustees meeting on invitation from President Pollack. In an interview with The Sun she explained that guidelines have to be created for free speech to ensure that they safeguard freedom of expression.
“I think that future generations are going to look back on the recent past and compare it to the McCarthy era as a period when campuses which should be the bastion of robust and civil discourse and viewpoint diversity, unfortunately, have not been living up to that mission,” Strossen said. “The pendulum I think has been pushed back now.”
Iskander Khan ’26 contributed reporting.