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JOHNS | When Cornell Ends

Like most Cornellians, I have not experienced summer in Ithaca. I have, however, experienced the next best thing: the festive and joyful seasons that mark the beginning and end of the school year, during which returning students and graduating seniors, respectively, celebrate the seam of time between their leaving or returning to campus. It is a period defined by its rituals, made up of only one to two weeks of totally disordered time, during which students enjoy the fleeting sunlight and the weeknights without assignments to follow. It is a well understood and near-universally practiced squandering of youth, and a unique and memorable time for any undergraduate. And then, suddenly, it vanishes.

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JOHNS | This Semester, Commit to Discourse

This semester, Cornellians are returning to a campus familiarly abuzz with activity. There are no shortage of extracurricular activities and other opportunities to explore here: Cornell claims to have over 1,000 active student organizations and 60 fraternity and sorority chapters among its countless ways to get involved just about everywhere on campus, and members of all of these groups are arriving back in Ithaca this spring with fresh resolve and enthusiastic plans for the semester ahead. It can be exciting to consider the vast breadth of possibilities available at Cornell, but between course shopping, mapping major requirements and juggling commitments to countless other organizations that students are already invested in, it can sometimes be difficult to consider other  opportunities. It’s a familiar story; many Cornellians are hugely overcommitted. But as Clubfest approaches this Sunday and Cornellians take stock of their obligations, they should consider an essential question: How do I grow as much as possible at Cornell?

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JOHNS | Cornell on Veterans Day

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?

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JOHNS | Correcting the Record on ‘Propaganda Versus Reality’

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.

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JOHNS | To Codify Its Values, Cornell Needs an Honor Code

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.

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JOHNS | Seventy Years of Evil

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.

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JOHNS | What Three Decades of Academic Narcissism Have Wrought

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.

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JOHNS | The Republic for Which It Stands

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.