In the rotunda of Anabel Taylor Hall, in solemn light, stands Cornell University’s most famous war memorial. It honors over 500 Cornellians who died in World War II and scores more who died in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf and other conflicts — “so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom,” as its gilded Abraham Lincoln quote reads. Two names were added to the memorial recently: Maj. Richard Gannon ’95 and Capt. George Wood ’93, who died in the war in Iraq. What do we owe these Cornellians, who have seen the battlefields of the past and present?
Yesterday, Jacob Brown grad, a columnist at The Sun, published a polemical piece bearing the puzzling title “Terrorism: Propaganda Versus Reality.” It took direct aim at a column of mine from some eight months ago, “Reining In Iran’s Brutal Regime,” an attempt to review the nation’s horrific human rights violations and offer policies to challenge its immoral leadership as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In his column, Brown holds the extraordinary premise that the United States is the real leading state sponsor of terrorism — a declaration so extreme, almost no one but the Iranian Foreign Ministry itself has found the audacity to make it. Anti-Americanism, unfortunately, often traffics in this kind of rhetoric, feebly attempting to flip the script on foreign policy experts by intentionally conflating difficult policy choices or historical policy mistakes with the sinister efforts by Tehran and others to commit deliberate acts of extreme violence against civilians. Criticizing bad choices can be important — but Brown was wrong to make the indefensible claim that the U.S. lacks “any sense of moral high ground” over the brutal Iranian regime. Brown begins by discussing the Yemeni Civil War, an ongoing proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that is having undeniably catastrophic effects on civilians and regional security.
In her annual address to Cornell staff last Thursday, President Martha Pollack spoke about the many challenges confronting this institution, from the ongoing endeavor to expand University mental health services to the administration’s efforts to mitigate the inconvenience caused by the construction of the North Campus Residential Expansion. Although many undergraduates may have found the speech routine, Pollack highlighted an underreported development: this year’s ratification of a core values statement, a brief set of ideals intended to define the University’s 21st century mission. The statement correctly underlines the importance of “free and open inquiry and expression” as a means toward “purposeful discovery,” a laudable theme that this column repeatedly has argued is indispensable to the integrity of any university. In Thursday’s address, however, President Pollack noted that it is now time to go a step further — to use the statement to ensure that “as a community of faculty, of staff and of students, that we live the core values” the University has outlined. This is an important step, and she is right to call on Cornellians to realize and represent the institution’s stated values in the campus community.
Clarification appended. Mere hours ago, a teenager in the Tsuen Wan District in Hong Kong was shot with live ammunition. The bullet missed his heart by three centimeters but nonetheless pierced his lung — an injury that can sometimes end with the patient drowning in his own blood. Thankfully, this one did not. According to reports, he is in stable condition, but at the time of this writing, he joins 50 others injured while demonstrating against the government in Hong Kong on the 70th anniversary of the ascent to power of China’s Communist Party.
Writing on his time as a professor at Cornell University in the 1960s, Allan Bloom noted that students at this university had discerned that “freedom of thought” simply wasn’t “a good and useful thing, that they suspected that all this was ideology protecting the injustices of our ‘system.’” An invitation: Eavesdrop on any political conversation in the Temple of Zeus to see just how universal that mentality has become today. In his groundbreaking and hugely influential 1987 work The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom attempts to dissect and identify precisely what he saw as pervasive problems in American academia. Although often appreciated as a historical work, we now live in its wake: The students Bloom wrote about have since entered academia themselves, educating an entire generation under that same ethos. Their students have then in turn educated their children — our classmates — under a twice-removed skepticism that lurches ever closer toward total rejection of the rigor and “freedom of thought” that inspired Bloom’s academic cohort in the 20th century. To its credit, Cornell University still maintains some modicum of commitment to these ideals.
Examine the view from Libe Slope at any time of day and you will see the Stars and Stripes waving from Baker Flagpole, flying rain or shine in any season. It is lit brightly at night thanks to a unanimous March 2017 resolution of the Residential Student Congress, which states that the flag must be illuminated 24 hours a day in accordance with the United States Flag Code. It was a good determination, and not the University’s first decision on the issue — in 1991, Cornell chose to suspend its ban against displaying flags of any kind in dorm windows to allow students to show support more vocally for U.S. troops serving in the First Gulf War. Cornell should be proud of its record in honoring our flag, especially given that it stands in stark contrast to anti-flag rhetoric and acts at other universities. In April 2018, for instance, student government leaders at Michigan State University chose to cancel the installation of new American flags on campus over vague and ill-conceived concerns from student leadership, despite a poll indicating over 70 percent of students felt that the flag was “important” or “very important” to them.
Just how global is the focus of Cornell’s globalist activist community? At first glance, it is globalist without reservation: From climate crusaders demanding the University divest from fossil fuels to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, campus progressive activists this semester repeatedly have called for Cornell to make dramatic changes to further their political vision. Cornellians certainly have the right to petition the University, and it is understandable why they would begin their activism here. President Martha Pollack, for her part, properly noted in her response to the BDS movement that “the principal purpose of our endowment is to provide income for advancing our mission-related objectives.” The endowment, she said, “must not be viewed as a means of exercising political or social power.” That is sensible logic. Of course, this will not deter activists from their quest to politicize the University endowment.
President Trump last week signed an executive order that links federal research and education grants for colleges and universities to their unwavering commitment to “[promoting] free inquiry.” Translation: The long-standing progressive censorship game at colleges and universities is now over. Universities and colleges will immediately cease shutting down, impeding or permitting the disruption of conservative speakers, or now risk losing billions of federal research dollars that are generously given away each year to these institutions of higher learning. It is unfortunate that such an order has become a confrontational stance on America’s campuses, but academia has sadly reached that point. Young America’s Foundation, for instance, favorably settled a lawsuit over this precise issue with the University of California, Berkeley last December. UC Berkeley, facing a constitutional challenge to its speaking protocols, agreed to abolish its “high-profile speaker policy” and speaking fee schedule while implementing a policy that ensures that heckling protesters will no longer be permitted to shut down speakers on campus.
Christians at Cornell and across the world this month observe the season of Lent — a religious tradition that calls upon adherents to re-embrace their faith through commemoration of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the Judean Desert following His baptism. Lent is a solemn season, and an important time for Christians to examine their own religiosity and the state of the church more broadly. This Lent, at least at a glance, the church appears troubled and on the defensive. The unfortunate truth is that Christian churches, like most religious institutions in the United States, have been a diminishing feature of public life for some time. The Pew Research Center notes that 20 percent of Americans are “religiously unaffiliated,” a number that has increased by five percent over the last five years.
Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In this feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “Forty years after the Iranian Revolution, what posture should the U.S. take on the Islamic Republic?” Read the counterpart column here. An unidentified man was publicly hanged in the Iranian city of Kazeroon last month, one of thousands of Iranians executed on charges of homosexuality in the country since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran’s despotic legal system and practice of secret executions make it easy to underestimate the magnitude of Iran’s human rights abuses, which also have targeted political opponents and religious minorities. Yet, while numbers are hard to come by, human rights experts are nearly unanimous in placing Iran among the world’s worst human rights violators.