Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

January 29, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell Should Remain Committed to Overcoming Prejudice

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Re:  Jon A. Lindseth’s “Open Letter” to the Cornell Board of Trustees

To Mr. Lindseth:

You have devoted your great talents, time and wherewithal to Cornell. I genuinely thank you for this; nonetheless, I must take issue with your “open letter” to Cornell’s board of trustees.

You are from the class of 1956; I am from the class of 1976. The Cornell campus was much different from your time to my time there. When I enrolled in 1972, the racial strife that had occurred at Cornell in 1969 was still fresh. Cornell’s president, James A. Perkins, resigned his position in 1969 in the face of alumni backlash over his handling of that crisis. (As sidenotes, in 1963, Mr. Perkins established the Committee On Special Education Projects (COSEP), the first of its kind at a major American university designed to increase the enrollment of African American students at Cornell and provide them with supportive services. In 1995, the Cornell board of trustees — led by a trustee who had been a leader in the 1969 seizing of Willard Straight Hall — established the James A. Perkins Prize for Interracial Understanding and Harmony).

After Mr. Perkins’s resignation, his successor, President Dale M. Corson, in further response to the 1969 strife, in 1972 established Ujamaa, an African-American residential college that still exists today. And, yes, during my time at Cornell from 1972 through 1976, racially- based “differences” persisted in both Black and White campus communities. White students felt that Ujamaa, reserved only for Black students, was “reverse” segregation that did not foster goals of racial inclusion; Black students championed Ujamaa as a recognition of Black culture.

Step by step, however, and because of Cornell’s commitment to eradicating prejudice, Cornell exemplifies recognition of racial, religious and cultural differences and achieving enlightenment and growth in the ever-evolving human condition. Today, when I visit Cornell, I do not see the racial or religious division that existed during my time as a student in the 1970s. Instead, I see brilliant young men and women who collaborate, without any care about different skin, culture and beliefs, to mold the future of our world, their world and the world of generations to follow.

Unfortunately, for all of the enormous strides we have taken, the utterly irrational scourges of racism and religion-based hate persist and recently have bubbled back to the top of socio-political discourse. I must disagree with your criticisms of Cornell’s DEI policies, which are all the more important to sustain, as well as your condemnations of President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff. Both are great leaders, steering Cornell through these tumultuous times in an effort to sustain Cornell’s long-held commitment to academic thought, freedom and equality for all, and the very constitutional foundation of our country. (In this regard, remember that Cornell is the only Ivy League institution that accepted women from the day of its creation in 1865. Incredibly, the other seven schools did not begin accepting women until the 1960s, with Columbia holding out until 1983.

Mr. Lindseth, I hope that you will reconsider your remarks, given the great history of Cornell as a pioneer in eschewing prejudice and promoting growth of mankind.

Charles L. Schlumberger ’76