One hundred and fifty years after Ezra Cornell promised “any person … any study” to students of the University he founded, this ambitious motto still remains aspirational, — and unfulfilled — according to professors who came to share their reflections in a Monday panel. For Prof. Gerard Aching M.A. ’90, Ph.D. ’91, romance studies, Ezra’s words served as “a license for experimenting and exploring.” As a graduate student, he was encouraged to take his inquiries to areas beyond his own discipline and even into other departments, he recalled. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Aching said he also cherished the diverse group of people from “Iowa, France, South Carolina and Puerto Rico” that he studied with. Eduardo Peñalver ’94, dean of Cornell Law School, echoed Aching’s experience in expansive learning but also added how “Ezra took the ‘any person’ language very literally.”
Peñalver said Ezra once advocated for two students who were rejected by admissions officers because “they don’t know enough.” The founder, upon hearing about this decision, asked the admissions director, “if they don’t know enough, why don’t you teach them?”
He thought college education should be affordable enough that a student could pay their way through it by working on a local farm or on the grounds. Ezra even promoted an “Earn while you Earn” program, which featured an on-campus shoe factory that allowed students to work while studying, Peñalver said, citing A History of Cornell by Morris Bishop.
The #MeToo movement has dominated news cycle after news cycle since last October, as men, and some women, from all walks of life have been accused of sexual misconduct. This has most famously been through allegations against figures such as Harvey Weinstein, almost-Senator Judge Roy Moore, actual-Senator Al Franken, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and now, Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. They are accused of a wide range of acts that have forced us to consider not just how we deal with the abuse of power dynamics with sex, but what that abuse should be constituted as. This more complicated, more nuanced question forces us to deal with a topic that is present not just in gender issues, but in all of society’s most contentious and most controversial topics: discomfort. Discomfort is not as often in the headlines.
It’s July 17, 2014, and as Eric Garner is killed by the police, his final words are, “I can’t breathe.”
It’s April 12, 2018, and a barista calls the cops on two black men waiting patiently for a friend in a Starbucks. It’s August 4, 2025, and the Chicago Police Department, now relying heavily on facial recognition artificial intelligence software, wrongly identifies and arrests Barack Obama. While that last example may be a hypothetical, we’ve already seen the damaging ramifications of biased A.I. technology. Courts in Broward County, Florida, currently use risk assessment A.I. to predict whether the defendant of a petty crime is likely to commit more serious crimes in the future. This software wrongly labels black defendants almost twice as often as it does white defendants.
On Jan. 25, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights opened its sixth Title IX investigation into alleged mishandling of sexual assault investigations by Cornell, making it the university with the most active Title IX investigations. Under Title IX, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” At Cornell, that promise has come into question. The accounts of all parties involved in the recent Doe v. Roe case were unfairly evaluated under Policy 6.4, the University’s problematic policy for handling cases of sexual harassment. Cornell came under fire for instances of evident discrimination in this case.
By SAM KITTERMAN
Prof. Stephen J. Ceci and Prof. Wendy M. Williams, human development, have responded to a paper in the most recent edition of Brain and Behavioral Sciences that suggests the ideological makeup of social psychologists has gone too far left. The paper — written by a team of five liberal-identified social psychologists including José L. Duarte, Arizona State University, psychology — reports that the proportion of self-described liberals to conservatives in psychology is currently around 12 to 1, up from the 4 to 1 ratio preceding the 1990s. The authors posit three manners in which this polarity may mar social psychology: the dispersion of faulty and demeaning views towards conservative individuals, the refusal to study topics that may run in the face of liberal ideologies of social progress and the implanting of ideology into theory. Ceci says he has encountered these roadblocks firsthand. “For quite some time there has been a censorious mood in the social science community,” Ceci said.