Sun Photography Staff

Students have been active in demonstrations for several social issues, most recently being the Israel-Hamas War.

January 25, 2024

University Releases Interim Policies on Expression and Doxxing

Print More

As classes start at Cornell, students return to a campus marked by new policies toward expression and doxxing. In a message to the University community on Wednesday, Jan. 24, President Martha Pollack announced new interim policies with implications for protests, posters, speaker events and more.

These policy changes come after university presidents from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology testified before Congress for their handling of campus discourse. Pollack herself has come under the scrutiny of Jon Lindseth ’56, an ex-trustee and major donor, in advance of the Board of Trustees meetings on Jan. 26 and 27.

As stated in Pollack’s letter, work on these policies began in the spring of 2023 in anticipation of the Freedom of Expression Theme Year. The new guidelines also follow a semester of high tensions on campus following online threats, protests and discourse spurred by the Israel-Hamas war. 

The Interim Expressive Activity Policy imposes new restrictions on outdoor demonstrations with an emphasis on reducing the disruptiveness of demonstrations. The policy requires organizers to officially register outdoor events that involve more than 50 people at the Ithaca, Cornell Tech and Agritech campuses, or of more than 15 people at the Weill Cornell Medicine campus.

Public address systems such as megaphones, under the new stipulations, may be used without prior approval on Ho Plaza and in front of Day Hall between only 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. The use of such systems at any other time or location will be prohibited without prior written approval. 

Nadine Strossen, an American legal scholar and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, asserted that increased guidelines can improve campus free speech. Strossen, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, added that, while unhelpful if the guidelines themselves suppress speech, reduced discretion through more narrowly tailored guidelines is important in protecting speech. 

But Strossen expressed hesitation about the implications of increased requirements for event registration.

“You want the campus community to be able to express a reaction or view promptly after something of note has happened that they want to express a view about,” Strossen said in an interview with The Sun. “They shouldn’t have to wait an unduly long time in order to be able to do that.”

Strossen was also concerned about Section Three of the policy, which states that in rare cases, Cornell may use its sole discretion in prohibiting activities, though in a content-neutral manner. Strossen worried that such language could potentially widen administrative discretion to the detriment of free speech.

For student groups whose speech and demonstrations have faced intense scrutiny, the changes are seen as unwelcome constraints.

“We find the new interim policies on expression to be reprehensible extensions of the existing repression of Palestine solidarity movements throughout university campuses, especially at Cornell,” wrote Cornell’s Coalition for Mutual Liberation in a statement to The Sun. “These policies are an attempt to further intimidate student groups and limit students’ freedom of expression.”

Student groups also had mixed reactions to the new University policy on doxxing. Malak Abuhashim ’24, President of Cornell’s Students for Justice in Palestine, welcomed the updated doxxing policy. 

“We feel it important to acknowledge that Cornell’s lack of action in earlier situations has exposed numerous students and faculty to threats, harassment and silencing,” Abuhashim said. “While we have been in conversation with the University about its anti-doxxing policy, we find the current anti-doxxing policy to be incomplete and are continuing dialogue with the administration to make it comprehensive.”

CML — which had advocated for a doxxing policy — also noted what they viewed as the University’s failure to respond to recent cases of online harassment.

“The administration has yet to act on the rape and death online threats received by SJP members last fall, or on the group of Muslim women who were filmed while leaving Friday prayer in an act of stalking by another student,” CML wrote.

Talia Dror ’25, the Vice President of Finance for Cornellians for Israel, was more supportive of Wednesday’s changes.

“I’m really happy that the University is taking further action in the hopes of creating a climate on our campus that fosters respect and open dialogue and really connects back to what our university values,” Dror said. “It really is a wonderful way to start off the semester, ensuring that we can calm down tensions on campus to ensure the safety and well-being of all students.”

But Dror also noted that such policies require active enforcement and criticized instances where she perceived a lax attitude from the University toward conduct violations. 

“I think there were several times last semester where students and organizations have violated the University’s code of conduct. And my personal principle is — if a university holds a code of conduct and claims to abide by it, then if you violate the code of conduct, you get punished.”

Dror also pointed to pragmatic concerns about the threat of disruptive protest to a productive learning environment.

“At the end of the day, every single student at Noon on a Tuesday, sitting in Goldwin Smith Hall, shouldn’t be interrupted in the middle of their class because of an issue that maybe is very important and a lot of students care to express, but shouldn’t impede other students’ abilities to learn,” Dror said.

While freedom of expression has been promoted as central to Cornell’s identity throughout the ongoing theme year, Strossen made clear that, as a private university, Cornell is not constitutionally beholden to the First Amendment. Instead, Strossen explains, private universities which advertise themselves as bastions of free speech are contractually bound to respect the promises they make to students.

The University is now soliciting feedback from faculty, staff and students to comment on the interim policies. Responses will be presented at the University Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, as the University proceeds to refine and finalize the guidelines.

Strossen, who will be speaking in front of the Board of Trustees on Saturday, is optimistic about the new policies.

“I do believe that this is a really a good faith effort to clarify both the scope of free speech and the limits of free speech with the goal of protecting the free speech rights of everybody, no matter what your viewpoint is,” Strossen said. “And that’s not to say it’s perfect.”

Correction, Jan. 26, 1:23 a.m.: A previous version of this article misquoted one word from Nadine Strossen. The article has been corrected, and The Sun regrets this error.