March 18, 2024

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR | President Pollack, Are You Afraid of Talking to Student Journalists?

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Editor’s Note: On Monday, March 18, multiple copies of this letter were hand-delivered to a representative of the Office of the President in Day Hall with the request that the letter be given to the president and other high-level administrators. 

President’s representative receives letter about unavailability of president.

Dear President Pollack, 

It is deeply saddening and disturbing how, in recent years, you have made minimal effort to maintain open lines of communication with The Cornell Daily Sun and the press at large. Speaking to The Sun just once a year — sometimes less — is unprecedented, wholly unacceptable and not worthy of any Ivy League institution. Consistently cowering behind Media and University Relations bureaucrats, letting your spokespeople answer legitimate questions that you should be answering, goes against what the role of a university leader is all about: being accountable and transparent to the community you serve. Throughout your presidency, you’ve done just the opposite, making yourself inaccessible to students like me. 

It’s one thing to use Media and University Relations as a support system yet quite another to make it a barrier to dialogue. To have so many middlemen, so many hurdles one must jump through not only to get you to respond but any response across your administration, makes it nearly impossible for the community you represent to be informed and to communicate with its officials. This abysmal practice  — this shirking of the press — is applied at every level within your administration, where even the most mundane commentary from rank-and-file employees must go through the censorious pinball-machine antics of Media and University Relations. Due to your absurd practices against speaking to the press, top administrators, you among them, are at all times three to four meddling middlemen away from the student journalists themselves. 

Being on routine talking terms with student journalists is crucial, especially if you want your policy positions to be clearly understood by the campus community. Your boilerplate email statements, if they are in fact written by you, simply aren’t enough.

It used to be that Cornell presidents would have Sun editors and reporters’ phone numbers and keep in regular contact, cordially and professionally. There was a time in Sun history when the president would even call the editor in chief multiple times a month. Your predecessor, President David Skorton, even wrote a column in The Sun, which we would gladly welcome from you. Again, you have chosen to make time for The Sun only once a year or even less than that. A once-a-year interview is just not what honesty looks like. 

It’s so notoriously difficult to schedule an interview with you that many student journalists give up on the notion of hearing from you. 

Why has your administration reversed the long-standing University tradition of speaking openly with student journalists? Why today is it harder than ever before to contact high-level administrators, you among them?

Your lack of engagement with the press, whether you like it or not, is a value statement. There can be no free speech at Cornell without a free press. There can be no First Amendment without first having press freedom. Stop turning your back on the press. Particularly in Cornell’s year of free expression, your administration’s silence and lack of meaningful dialogue speaks volumes about where the University really stands.  

It’s your job to make time for The Sun, a 143-year-old community institution. We want to hear from you. We will not and cannot accept any more stonewalling and secrecy from our leaders, you most of all, President Pollack. Do better.

Every best wish,

Gabriel Levin ’26

[email protected] | 949.584.5968