Isabelle Jung / Sun Graphics Editor

March 27, 2024

RICKFORD | Responding to Pollack and Kotlikoff

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Re: “Pollack and Kotlikoff: CML’s Disruptive Protests Go Too Far” (opinion, March 27) 

In claiming that pro-peace demonstrators have gone too far, President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff present the Interim Policy on Expressive Activity as an attempt to protect the rights of students to study in peace, rather than what it actually is: the most restrictive clampdown on protest ever imposed by a Cornell administration. 

Cornell’s own policies say that genocide is cause for divestment, yet President Pollack refuses to call for a trustee vote or even discuss the matter. The activists have simply demanded that the institution fulfill its own stated values. They call for the substance of principle rather than the cynical minutia of procedure.

Cornell’s newfound anxiety about “expressive action” coincides with a crackdown on dissent by universities across the nation in a terrified response to threats from wealthy donors, the Israel lobby, the press and Congressional investigators, whose chief tactic is to repeatedly and falsely equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism. Cornell is at this moment being interrogated by the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the power to rescind its tax-exempt status, demanding that the administration explain how it is punishing antisemitism. The McCarthyite assault from the establishment and the right extends to diversity, equity and inclusion, which one Congressperson has described as “a cancer that resides in the hearts of American academic institutions.”

It’s time to stop pretending that the “Interim Policy” is about anything other than criminalizing solidarity with Palestine. We are not having this debate because student activists disrupted study. We are having this debate because the ruling class has initiated a wave of repression. What is the end game of allowing outside forces — hostile to the best principles of critical thinking and enlightened learning — to dictate the mission of the University? Ultimately, kowtowing to elite special interests is a suicide mission for modern higher education.

This week the official tally of the deaths in Gaza – a clear undercount – approaches 32,000, which almost equals the entire population of Ithaca (32,870). People of conscience continue to speak out, to witness, to grieve and to build a nonviolent movement for peace and justice. Campus elites — like their peers in the U.S. political and financial establishment —are mobilizing all their sociopolitical/legal firepower against a handful of deeply principled students and staff. The latter are armed only with human compassion, love, solidarity and courage. History will vindicate those intrepid souls — operating outside the echo chambers of American plutocracy —who stood up and said “enough.”

 — Prof. Russell Rickford, history

Prof. Dan Hirschman, sociology

Prof. Emeritus Paul Sawyer, Literatures in English

Prof. Tracy McNulty, French, comparative literature