Graphic by Isabelle Jung

March 7, 2024

EDITORIAL | ‘1984, 40 Years Late’: Cornell’s Interim Policy Cripples Democracy

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College students are losing sight of why democracy matters. At Cornell, where censorship is becoming the norm, it’s no wonder why. When people get robbed of opportunities to participate peacefully in what the late civil rights leader John Lewis called “good trouble, necessary trouble,” that disillusionment quickly alchemizes into rage and disdain. 

That’s what makes the University’s Interim Expressive Activity Policy so backward, depraved and ultimately dangerous — it fans those flames of resentment. On Jan. 24, the administration unilaterally implemented a set of draconian guidelines to redefine what acceptable protest on campus looks like. 

“This is a flat contradiction,” Prof. Richard Bensel, government, told The Sun. “This is George Orwell coming to the Ithaca campus. It is 1984, 40 years late.” 

On-campus demonstrations in excess of 50 people can now only be held with the permission of University bureaucrats. Candlelight vigils have suddenly become a no-go without pre-approval. Loudspeakers are allowed just from noon to 1 p.m. and only in front of Day Hall and on Ho Plaza. The University’s version of “protest” is a sick joke. The policy says in sweeping terms that anything that distracts from “teaching, research, business or other activities” is banned. God forbid a demonstration becomes disruptive. 

An undisclosed number of peaceful protestors have already been referred to the Office of Student Conduct for disciplinary action — all this in the so-called year of free expression

The Sun believes this policy runs afoul of the spirit of the First Amendment. Reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on protest should be applied sparingly when public safety is truly at risk as opposed to anytime day-to-day routine is marginally impacted.

The world is grappling with a moment of political uncertainty. People feel like they are running out of options because the institutions they were raised to trust are failing them — Cornell is no exception. The Interim Expressive Activity Policy is a prime example of how far administrators will go to silence and demonize critical speech rather than address the ways in which the University itself is part of the problem. 

Gen Zers and millennials are more skeptical of democracy than any other age group. According to a survey by the Open Society Foundations, more than a third of young people say they would support “a strong leader who does away with legislatures and elections.” The irresponsibility of should-be role models like President Martha Pollack plays into that growing distrust and hopelessness. 

In issuing the Interim Expressive Activity Policy, Pollack went behind the backs of leaders in the Student Assembly and Faculty Senate, violating the University’s shared governance model. How can Pollack expect students to trust the democratic process when she refuses to? At best, Pollack has demonstrated a lack of faith in democracy. At worst, she has taken a page from Big Brother’s playbook. 

The Cornell Daily Sun’s Editorial Board is a collaborative team composed of the Editor in Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor. The Editorial Board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research and debate to represent The Sun’s long-standing values. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.

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