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JOHNS | Cornell’s Activist Myopia

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.

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JOHNS | Making Free Speech Rhetoric Free Speech Reality

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.

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JOHNS | One Nation Under God

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.

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JOHNS | Reining In Iran’s Brutal Regime

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.

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JOHNS | Blame Big Government and Democrats’ Radicalism for High Political Stakes

Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a new dueling columns feature. In our very first feature, Michael Johns ’20 and Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21 debate, “How have the stakes of American politics risen so high?” Read the counterpart column here. In his State of the Union address last week, President Trump extended an invitation to members of Congress to set aside their differences and begin to work collaboratively — not on their respective Republican or Democratic agendas, but on “the agenda of the American people.”

“Many of us,” he argued, “campaigned on the same core promises: to defend American jobs and demand fair trade for American workers; to rebuild and revitalize our Nation’s infrastructure; to reduce the price of healthcare and prescription drugs; to create an immigration system that is safe, lawful, modern and secure; and to pursue a foreign policy that puts America’s interests first.”

It is an important message, and yet one that sadly is poised to be ignored. Congress, for at least a decade now, has been entrenched in bitter, dysfunctional partisanship where success or failure is measured solely by political victory. In pursuit of this end, the well-being of the nation has too often become little more than a tertiary concern.

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JOHNS | Lessons from Yad Vashem

Up the slope of Mount Herzl, in western Jerusalem, lies a 44-acre complex that is one of the world’s most moving testaments to the real life costs and consequences of totalitarianism. Yad Vashem, which I visited earlier this month as part of a small Cornell student delegation, is often described oversimplistically as Israel’s “Holocaust memorial.” Yad Vashem memorializes the millions of innocent lives lost to the Holocaust, but also those — Jews and non-Jews — who bravely resisted it. One does not leave Yad Vashem without a deep recognition of what happens when the power of the absolute state is wedded to an ideology that denies the God-given, individual rights of man. This past Sunday, the world appropriately commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of the most solemn international memorial days marking the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration and death camp operated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Each International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we hear the phrase “Never Again.” Yet, sadly and frighteningly, we appear to be in the process of forgetting anyway.

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JOHNS | Stand United for Academic Freedom

In 1940, the American Association of University Professors released a declaration on higher education in the United States that has since served as the foundational definition and defense of academic freedom. The declaration, titled “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure,” correctly acknowledged the rights of faculty to pursue lines of intellectual inquiry without interference, groupthink or other pressures. Nearly eight decades later, universities in the U.S. and throughout the world must confront the unpleasant and yet undeniable fact that this vision is at risk, both on campuses and in foreign academic partnerships. This semester, Cornell University had an unprecedented opportunity to face these risks, at least as they apply to its foreign engagements. The Cornell Political Union, a nonpartisan student-run debating society which I am a member of, hosted two speakers on the increasingly totalitarian pressures being asserted by the Chinese Communist Party at American universities.

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JOHNS | Don’t Abandon Cornellianism

Above the roaring waterfalls and placid slopes of Ithaca, Cornell University stands as a testament to American intellectual prowess, an Ivy League institution with over a century and a half of storied history and contributions to this country and the world at large. It represents the eternal mission of human learning, and the value of America at her best: it has produced great scientists, writers, and statesmen, contributed to advancements across every field of study, and endured as a pinnacle of international academia. But this university was not made great by its professors, or its patents, or its published works; Cornell’s success blossomed from its College of Arts and Sciences, appropriately the first school founded at Cornell. The rest of the campus was built — both literally and culturally — outward from that educational and moral center. This is the bedrock of a Cornell education, as significant and as firm as the concrete poured under our libraries and our dormitories.

Polling location at Alice Cook House on November 6th, 2018. (Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

JOHNS | In House Victory, Democrats Now Owe Us Policy Details and Consensus-Building

As Democrats celebrate taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in a decade, they soon will confront a lesser understood political reality: Campaigning is much easier than governing. Having wrongly convinced some Americans that implementing a single payer healthcare system that has worked nowhere in the world and rolling back tax cuts that have sparked an economic renaissance will benefit them, they are now on the hook to work within a divided federal government to forge consensus and deliver results — or face almost certain political decimation by President Trump in 2020. There was no “blue wave” last evening. There was, instead, a message to the Trump administration that there remain many Americans still hurting in this nation even though every economic metric is pointing upward, including gross domestic product, employment, job creation and finally positive news in the third quarter this year that wages are inching upwards. The damage done to America’s poor and middle class by Obama administration policies cannot be underestimated.

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JOHNS | Promises Kept

This Tuesday, voters across the country will cast ballots for candidates running for a broad number of federal, state and local offices in the United States government, including 435 U.S. House and 35 U.S. Senate seats. This is an important opportunity for Americans to take stock and to evaluate, based on the merits, where the country stands since the last election. At a university like Cornell, most already have their minds made up. The faculty have contributed overwhelmingly to liberal Democrats, and 2018 has proven no different.  The student body, if Sun polls and surveys are any indication, largely subscribe to the same ideology.