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Smear campaign against Cornell prof who opposed grad student unionization

Smear campaign against Cornell prof who opposed grad student unionization

But my research, featured in the Cornell Sun, ripped the distortions to shreds.

David B. Collum is a world-renowned Chemistry Professor at Cornell University, where I teach at the law school. He has been at Cornell since 1980, and is Department Chair through the end of this academic year.

I don’t know Dave well, but we have met before.

He is something of a Renaissance man, able to converse not only in his specialty, but also in the fields of economics and politics. He’s an iconoclast, and self-identifies in his Twitter bio as “Libertarian. Fan of Austrian business cycle.”

He writes monumental 100-plus page annual reviews of the year in business and politics that garner a strong following:

David Collum is a professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell University. A quick review of his Cornell faculty page tells you that this is a man who can deal with complexity.

Collum, as it turns out, writes one of the best annual reviews going.  He has been publishing annual reviews at Peak Prosperity for several years now along with an occasional sizzling commentary.

As best I can tell this started with Collum managing his own money. Observing the price behavior of assets in his personal portfolio, he realized that the financial markets were manipulated and funny money was growing.

Cullum writes to connect the dots between what he observes in his life and the bubbles being blown by central banks and politicians. His observations are both terrifying and hysterical (as Mel Brooks once said, “we laugh so as not to cry.”)  His insights, however, are far superior to financial commentary emerging from the financial industry.

For the past year or so there has been a divisive and ugly unionization drive by some graduate students, backed by the political power of the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers. Democratic politicians in the state came out in support of grad student unionization.

I didn’t follow the unionization fight very closely, because the law school doesn’t have the kind of salaried, long-term grad student teaching assistants that exist in the departments that have Ph.D programs.

But I did see that Dave got in the middle of it all, after he circulated an email among faculty pointing out that grad student unionization would devastate the graduate programs. One of those faculty must have released the email to the student union organizers, one of whom went public with it to the Cornell Daily Sun:

Prof. David Collum ’77, chair of the chemistry department, is under fire from Cornell Graduate Students United after sending an email filled with anti-union rhetoric. The email was allegedly sent only to faculty members, however recipients were blind-copied.

With the election just days away, CGSU members said they were “appalled” to see a faculty member “blatantly expressing anti-union views,” said Vera Khovanskaya, grad, a CGSU member.

Not only was the email shocking for its anti-union sentiments, but CGSU members felt that Collum seemed to encourage violation of the contract negotiated between CGSU and the University, according to Michaela Brangan grad, administrative liaison for CGSU. The ramifications of this email are to be determined.

Of course, by going public with a non-public email bashing the union, the union organizers spread Dave’s message to to the graduate students who would be voting, something he had not done himself.

In an interview with the conservative Cornell Review Dave elaborated on why he opposed the grad student union. It’s worth a read.

As of this writing, the unionization effort has been narrowly rejected, though there are enough disputed ballots in theory to close the gap if those disputed ballots are almost 100% for unionization. An arbitrator will announce the final results soon.

For his efforts, Dave became the focus of union ire, singled out by the national union and pro-union students.

Dave recently discussed how he was singled out during the course of a mostly economic speech, in which he also touched upon how dangerous it is for someone like him to speak out on issues not only of unionization, but also various campus politically-correct shibboleths. Little did he know at the time that he was just days away from an attempt to take him down.

(As an aside, note how he counts three conservative professors on campus, including “a guy in the law school.”)

And sure enough, they came for Dave Collum in a horrendous hit piece in the form of a letter to the editor of the Cornell Sun written by seven grad students, at least several of whom were involved in the union organizing. When I saw the letter in the Sun I was floored. I’m not going to repeat the vicious accusations against him, for reasons that will become apparent below.

The pretext for spreading the allegations in the letter was the demand that Dave should be removed as Department Chair, something that’s going to happen anyway in a little over two months.

I know what it’s like to be targeted. As I’ve mentioned in passing here from time to time, within a couple of weeks of my starting Legal Insurrection I was targeted by liberals who demanded I be fired, who called me all sorts of names, who threatened to mount boycotts of the law school over me, and one time, a threat sufficient that the university assigned a detective to shadow me at graduation.

So I understood, perhaps more than others, what Dave must have been going through. It’s Alinsky Rules in action, freeze and isolate the target and cut him off from support. And the way you do that on the modern campus is to accuse someone of one of the “isms” or “phobias.” And worst, to claim the person is a rape apologist or misogynist.

All of those charges were lodged against Dave in the Sun based mostly on selected tweets he had made and it just hung out there from the Thursday April 20 publication through the weekend.

The comment section exploded, with many Chemistry grad students denying that Dave is any of those things, and other anonymous students slinging more mud. One person, purporting to be one of the letter writers, repeated the charges in the comment section.

But those defending Dave in the comment section assumed that the tweets were what they appeared to be, and argued that’s not the Dave they know. But I suspected that the tweets, and one quote attributed to him, were not what they appeared to be.

So I researched not only the accusations, but also the interactions on social media.

I submitted a counter-letter to the Sun, detailing the results of my research, Letter to the Editor: Prof. David Collum, Chemistry, is owed an apology and a retraction.

You should read the whole thing. Here is an excerpt:

On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students: Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman.

The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum, chemistry in the most serious ways, accusing him of being a rape apologist, misogynistic and unfit for the position of department chair. Several of the letter writers were graduate student union supporters active in the union vote drive. Prof. Collum has been widely criticized by union supporters for opposing the union drive. The letter appears to be payback.

In publishing that letter, The Sun gave a platform to a smear campaign against Prof. Collum in a manner that did not allow Prof. Collum to respond or provide for a verification of the context of the supposed evidence. I have researched several of the key tweets and quotes attributed to Prof. Collum in the letter, and it is clear that the way in which they are presented in the letter is misleading at best, and, in some cases, presents a false portrayal.

After going through the evidence with screenshots to show the sequence, I concluded:

What is critical is that they key evidence used to smear Prof. Collum as a rape apologist is misleading, taken out of context, and creates a false narrative as to what Prof. Collum was writing.

I wrote to each of the original letter writers raising each of the points raised above and asking for a response. As of this writing, I have received no response.

These accusations in the letter to the Sun forever will appear in search engines when Prof. Collum’s name is searched. To paraphrase Raymond J. Donovan after his acquittal on fraud charges, to what department does Professor David B. Collum go to get his reputation back?

The Sun and the letter writers owe Prof. Collum an apology and retraction.

My letter has reverberated throughout campus. From what I hear, the Chemistry department faculty and students celebrated that the smear against their department chair and colleague had been refuted.

It also has been picked up by Instapundit, Twitchy, and The Federalist, where Ashe Schow provides good background:

Dave has openly expressed his appreciation to me directly and on Twitter:

and in the comment section at Instapundit:

Others have tweeted support as well:

Of all the things I’ve done at Legal Insurrection, coming to the aid of those under attack is one of the things I value most. I’ve been there. I know how even a small amount of support can make a big difference.


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I read the letter from links at other sources before this post went up so I have been waiting for this to come.

Great job, professor, and why people follow your blog. And what a great story of fighting back on behalf of someone who seems like a great professor and well liked by those who matter most – his students.

Against the darkness of lies, we need people who light the torch of truth.

From the left coast: Thank you, Prof.

great unknown | April 27, 2017 at 9:23 pm

Why is this quoting texts out of context not malicious libel? Which would make both the authors and the publication subject to civil suit.

It would be difficult to mount a defense that it was accidental as opposed to deliberate. In any case, it would show a reckless disregard for the truth, which is sufficient to convict.

This would be grounds from liability despite the fact that Professor Collum is arguably a public figure.

    A couple of days ago, Sean Hannity put the media on notice that he has put on retainer a group of top-notch lawyers to challenge all of the libel and slander that is routinely directed his way. He has made it crystal clear that he will go after them relentlessly. All of them. This isn’t free speech. There MUST be consequences. Hannity promises to deliver consequences.

    It might be time for other targeted conservatives to take a look at what Hannity is doing. It might even be an opportunity for a new branch of law practice.

Very satisfyingly done.

There needs to be apologies, a retraction and 7 grad students looking for other employment. Not to mention they should face the very real possibility of expulsion.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to Gremlin1974. | April 27, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    Bet those 7 grad students won’t find any jobs they can keep for $30,000 plus the tuition cost of attending Cornell.

      Yeah, any $30k job might be tough to find is a possible employer googles their names in researching a hiring decision, especially since Prof put each of them in the first sentence. Here, let me add in an extra listing for any search engines.

      On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students:

      Kevin Hines,
      Robert Escriva,
      Ethan Susca,
      Mel White,
      Rose Agger,
      Kolbeinn Karlsson and
      Jane Glaubman.

      The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum

good enough morgan | April 27, 2017 at 9:49 pm

Great takedown. The Lord’s work.

Life’s too short to google those grad students, but if the pattern of which disciplines are fond of unionizing grad students, they will be fine. They are various studies, or sociology, or English or history.

This kind of vindictive, inherently dishonest infantilism seems to be exclusive to academia. In the private sector, broadly speaking, there are generally a host of negative consequences that ensue as a result of smearing colleagues with false accusations.

Welcome to the “Red Guard”, circa 21st Century. Repackaged, maybe rebranded but doctrinally the same with same methods.

    William A. Jacobson in reply to alaskabob. | April 29, 2017 at 11:16 am

    It’s no coincidence that students were among the most ferocious leaders of Mao’s cultural revolution, and the students’ first victims were professors with politically incorrect views. They were targeted for humiliation and abuse and driven from campus.

Great job, Prof. You have to defend anyone who gets organic chemistry, Austrian economics, and who resists union thugs.

kenoshamarge | April 28, 2017 at 7:33 am

I cannot fully express my respect for your courage and integrity. Bravo professor!

Far too many in academia, while repulsed by the kind of thuggish tactics used by those 7 grad students,remain safely, quiet. Even though they must know that an unguarded word could make them the next target.

It will take at least a generation, in my opinion, to retrieve our institutions of “higher” learning from the fools and thugs that infest them. How a backbone will be inserted in the cowardly administrators is a puzzle.

Again, kudos to one man who fights on. It is a small light in a very dark place.

Nice Job Prof!

This is the result of young adults being taught that the world revolves around them. The Lunatic Liberal have taken over our colleges/universities and brain wash our kids.

Since when are grad students unionized? Total insanity, and even more so for an institution to allow it. As a former adjunct professor at a couple of colleges, the quality of students has significantly declined since political correctness has taken over, and actual learning has taken a rear seat. It will take a very long time to ‘fix’ this, IF it can be fixed.

I wonder…is the dear professor a member of the Teachers’ Union? Does he imagine that his union has done nothing to improve his position, financial security, and working conditions? Or did he negotiate all of his benefits and conditions alone against the administration? Or is he a economic and social free-rider?

NorthernNewYorker | April 28, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Was my academic advisor my Freshman year. Glad to see he’s still causing a ruckus. And holding his own!

MaggotAtBroadAndWall | April 28, 2017 at 2:40 pm

I’m sure you are getting nastygrams (or worse) for being on the right side of decency. Speaking out for what is right should not take courage in America, but here we are.

Much respect to you and to Professor Collum.

Bravo and Thank You Professor Jacobsen !

Patterico…a Constitutional Conservative fer real…is giving you the love…!!!

    William A. Jacobson in reply to Ragspierre. | April 29, 2017 at 11:19 am

    He also has been a target, though not on campus. Until you go through it, you can’t understand. To this day I don’t pick up my office phone unless I know who is calling.

Eventually the corrupt are targeted by their own tactics.