Cornell students demand Chemistry Prof. David Collum be fired for tweeting that Buffalo incident was not police brutality

David Collum is a distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Cornell University, and former Chair of the department. He self-identifies as libertarian, making him one of a small percentage of openly non-liberal professors on a large campus dominated by far-left social justice dogma.

Collum also is a sought-after speaker on finance, and the Snowflake Generation, which seems prophetic in light of what’s going on in his life now.

An online effort has been organized by Cornell students, including a graduate student organizing group which has targeted Collum for years, demanding Collum be fired because of tweets he sent on June 4, 2020, regarding a George Floyd protest in Buffalo, NY. Police pushed a man who then stumbled backwards and fell damaging his head and causing bleeding. The video (below) dominated the news.

Collum’s tweet expressed that he didn’t see it as police brutality because of the way the man approached police. Responding to someone who called police conduct “appalling,” Collum expressed the view (1) “That guy needed to give that cop space. Wasn’t brutality: the guy was feeble. The cracked skull (which I agree was the likely event) was self inflicted,” and (2) “Can you imagine how fried these cops are at this point? The guy got a nudge. The old guy had something in his hand. Looked like maybe a taser. If were a cop, my nerves would be raw. I am tired of these riots.”

This is not the popular view, though, as discussed below, it is not clear that the police violated the law or policy. Regardless, intense criticism of Collum for the tweets, and debate over his view, would be fair and consistent with an intellectually open campus. But that’s not what happened in response, instead the worst of cancel culture is unfolding.

An online effort materialized within hours, demanding Collum’s immediate firing. The campaign against Collum has been highly organized. It involved a petition, complaint letter templates and auto-complaint portals to flood the Cornell administration, contact information for Collum’s superiors and colleagues, suggestions that bias complaints be filed against Collum, and recommendations that Collum be contacted himself and told to resign. The graduate student organization which targeted Collum in 2017 has been involved.

The Cornell Daily Sun, the student-run newspaper, stoked the targeting of Collum by running an article (comment section here) about the tweets that republished discredited accusations against Collum that first surfaced in 2017, and by issuing an Editorial (comment section here) demanding his firing. In that Editorial, those 2017 discredited accusations were repeated and adopted by the Sun Editorial Board as their own.

The Sun also dragged me into the controversy even though I had nothing to do with Collum’s Buffalo tweets, by alerting the student body that I had addressed the old accusations against Collum in a 2017 letter to the editor of the Sun. The Sun then noted that “Jacobson, too, has his own history of running starkly against campus opinion, holding a generally dismissive view towards Black Lives Matter.” Got it? There’s another heretic on campus.

The Student Assembly also has issued a Demand that Collum be fired.

It’s a total pile-on seeking to enforce rigid uniformity of opinion, even opinion expressed away from campus. The Cornell motto of “any student … any study” has been a theme of the attacks on Collum, arguing that Collum’s tweeted words make students feel unsafe and the campus non-inclusive.

The Cornell administration tried to mollify this mob. In a statement issued by senior Cornell administrators, including the President and Police Chief, the school upheld Collum’s right “to express his views in his private life,” but the administration also condemed Collums tweets as “not just deeply insensitive, but deeply offensive,” and contrary to the Cornell “vision of a university, and by extension, a world for ‘any person’.”

The political culture at Cornell is toxic, and it’s only going to get worse. Cornell should amend its motto to “Any student or faculty member who agrees with popular campus opinion … any study.”

Background – Grad Student Union Organizer Hostility

I wrote about Collum in 2017, when he earned the hatred of graduate students organizing to form a union (which ultimately failed) because Collum opposed the union, which he felt would harm graduate studies. A group of union-organizing graduate students then launched a campaign against Collum via a letter to the editor in the Cornell Sun. The Sun irresponsibly ran the letter.

I wrote about the incident here, Smear campaign against Cornell prof who opposed grad student unionization:

[Collum] 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….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.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….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.

I methodically went through the key accusations, all of which were based on Collum’s Twitter history, and demonstrated that the key accusations — such as he was a ‘rape apologist’ who suggested people bring ‘roofies’ on a trip to Las Vegas — were either flat out false or misleadingly taken out of context:

The letter also claimed that Prof. Collum “told a friend to “bring roofies” (a date rape drug) on a trip to Las Vegas.” The tweet in question, however, was taken out of its sequence and context. The twitter users were making movie references, including to Fargo and Coen Brothers movies. Prof. Collum’s tweet appears to reference the movie The Hangover, in which a group of men partying in Las Vegas can’t remember what happened because they were given roofies. I confirmed with Prof. Collum that that was what he was referencing. Prof. Collum’s tweet thus was not suggesting anyone actually bring roofies to Las Vegas, he was referencing a movie theme. This is the exact opposite of what was claimed in the letter.Had any one of the letter writers or The Sun contacted Prof. Collum, he could have provided that context, which should have been obvious from the sequence anyway.Another tweet used in the letter was one that said, “Moral of the story: sue your accuser.” From that tweet alone, the letter argues that Prof. Collum “has told men accused of sexual assault to sue their victims (‘accuser’).”But the link in the tweet showed that Prof. Collum was quoting the article he was linking in the tweet, and that it was about a very specific incident at Amherst in which the male claimed to be a victim of a sexual assault by a female but asserted he was not treated fairly by university administrators. Why didn’t the letter inform readers that the tweet was a quote from another story, and provide the context, which would negate the suggestion in the letter that Prof. Collum was telling men generally to sue their accusers?

These three-year-old discredited accusations now are being spread again as a basis to fire Collum, including not only by the graduate student organization, but by The Cornell Sun student newspaper.

The Buffalo Police Incident

Fast forward to last Thursday

A 75-year-old man was pushed by police in Buffalo, he stumbled back several steps, then fell directly backward slamming the back of his head on the pavement. Politicians, the media, and activists immediately proclaimed this an act of police brutality, and the two officers were suspended and criminally charged.

That’s the easy narrative. The more difficult narrative, as has played out in so many other cases, is that seemingly simple and obvious conclusions from short video clips may not tell the whole story.

Here, the video itself may not support the criminal convictions, argues George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley:

The criminal charges and the call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo for them to be fired has triggered a mass resignation of the Buffalo Emergency Response Team. While Cuomo viewed the evidence as so clear to justify immediate termination, the two officers have a strong criminal defense under the statute….

In the background, you can hear someone say “push him back” as the police seek to clear the area. It is standard for police to shove back individuals as a line moves forward. The question is whether this shove constitutes not just excessive force (subject to disciplinary action) but an actual crime of assault.  An eyewitness who was highly critical of the police action is also quoted as saying that he thought the fall after the shove was “an accident.”  He is likely to be called to any trial and that statement would be admissible in any examination.

On Sunday morning Rep. Karen Bass told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the incident showed police not stopping and not rendering aid. It is true that the officers involving in the shoving did not stop. However, this video shows the officers taking another person into custody and (around the 22 second marker) other officers rendering aid. The point is only that much more needs to be known in the case….It is hard to see from this video a clear intent to cause serious physical injury in this videotape.  Gugino takes a number of steps backward as he tried to stay on his feet but then takes the hard fall.In the news conference, District Attorney John Flynn said the officers “crossed a line.”  As someone who have both represented and sued law enforcement, that assertion is likely to be severely tested in court.Cuomo insisted that the video was clear and warrants immediate termination: “Why? Why was that necessary? Where was the threat? It’s just fundamentally offensive and frightening. How did we get to this place?”While this will hardly be popular in today’s environment, it is not clear from a criminal law perspective.  Pushing and shoving back protesters is a standard police practice, which is why officers are irate that any protest control tactics will involve a risk of protesters or officers falling.Frankly, absent additional evidence, I would be surprised if Flynn could make this case stick before a jury given this videotape.

The Buffalo Mayor, according to The Daily Mail, described the man as having refused to leave despite three requests:

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has said the 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by two cops on Thursday was an ‘agitator’ who tried to work up the crowd and had been asked to leave the area ‘numerous’ times.

Brown addressed the incident in a press conference on Friday after 57 officers on the Emergency Response Team resigned from their positions in support of their two colleagues who were suspended without pay after video showed them pushing protester Martin Gugino and causing him to fall and hit his head.

Gugino, a longtime peace activist from Amherst, had been at a protest at Niagara Square near Buffalo City Hall when he approached a line of officers in riot gear after the city’s 8pm curfew went into effect.

‘What we were informed of is that that individual was an agitator. He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence,’ Brown said.

There has been vandalism, there have been fires set, there have been stores broken into and looted. According to what was reported to me, that individual was a key major instigator of people engaging in those activities.’

The video also raises other questions that I expect will be raised in the criminal trial, including why the man reached for the officers belt or pocket (it’s hard to tell, but he was reaching with his phone), which was what caused the officer to push him away.

It may be that this is a case of excessive use of force, and I understand that people could jump to that conclusion from the short video in this political environment. That quick take may or may not be supported when all the evidence comes in and the law is applied. More important, to pretend that contrary views are so out of line as to be a fireable offense strikes me as closed-minded, contrary to what Cornell says it aspires to be.

The Tweets

Collum’s tweets at issue took place late in the night, June 4, 2020. [Note: The account is now “private” but since I, along with 53,000 other people, previously “followed” him, I have access to the tweets]

Within minutes people were tweeting at Cornell complaining.

Things spiraled from there, when someone reached out to Kumail Nanjiani, who has 3 million Twitter followers:

Kumail apprently sent out this tweet, which no longer appears on Twitter (image via Cornell Sun):

Things then spread to students organizing on Facebook.

The Change.Org Petition

It’s not clear precisely when the petition was started, but it was no later than Friday, June 5, and possibly as early at Thursday, June 4, the day of Collum’s tweets. As of this writing there are over 3500 signers, and it repeats many of the accusations from the discredited student-union organizer letter to the Sun.

Terminate Cornell Professor David B. Collum (emphasis in original):

After an elderly man cracked his skull on the pavement after Buffalo Police in riot gear pushed him, Collum made these comments:

David B. Collum has relentlessly made racist, sexist, and bigoted comments throughout his entire career and has grossly mistreated graduate and undergraduate students.He has been protected by the Cornell Chemistry Department and Cornell University itself. Cornell’s protection of him is shameful and offensive.He is a perpetrator of institutionalized racism and a supporter of police brutality against peaceful protestors. It has also come to light that he jokes about rape.The students of Cornell DEMAND his termination. 

I encourage you to read the comments at the link to see how many are accusing Collum of being racist (something prevalent on Facebook as well). The approach seems to be that the police are racist, so anyone who supports the police is racist.

Complaint Letter Templates, Auto-Complaints, and Grad Student Union Organizers

As part of the effort, students organized a template of a complaint letter to be sent to the Cornell administration.

To President Martha Pollack and Vice President Ryan Lombardi,As you’re aware, there has been a large and appropriate response to the murder of Black Americans by police officers taking place over the last several days. As we mourn and seek justice for the murders of Mr. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, our society is being traumatized by the systemic, institutional racism that pervades the structures that govern and rule our citizenry.Yesterday, many people were deeply disturbed to see a video from protests in Buffalo, New York, in which an older man approached police and was violently shoved, then falling backward and hitting his head, leaving him bleeding and unconscious. The video was hard to watch, it was an indefensible use of force that’s characteristic to the overarching issue of police brutality, which a most salient weapon of hatred and racism, which this institution continuously vows its commitment against.Dave Collum, one of your faculty members and one of our professors, publicly commented on the events in that video in a most despicable manner. Saying, in two separate tweets:“That guy needed to give that cop space. Wasn’t brutality: the guy was feeble. The cracked skull (which I agree was the likely event) was self inflicted [sic].”“Can you imagine how fried these cops are at this point? The guy got a nudge. The old guy had something in his hand. Looked like maybe a taser. If [sic] were a cop, my nerves would be raw. I am tired of these riots.”David Collum is a professor of Organic Chemistry, he teaches pre-med students and influences future doctors. That position of power and impact is in no way fit for someone who so clearly expresses complete apathy about brutality and an aversion to the cause of nation-wide protests in general. It is shameful behavior, to say the least, and the university should be ashamed to have any attachment to it.This is far from the first time David Collum has gone public with such casually contemptible comments, as it is also far from the first time that students of this university have drawn attention to it. As detailed in this Letter to the Editor published in the Cornell Daily Sun, he commonly vocalizes opinions that are misogynistic, transphobic, insensitive of rape and violence against women, and overall dangerous, especially of a university professor.I, as a concerned student at the university, am disappointed. I am appalled by David Collum and I am disappointed to attend an institution that is tolerant of such bigotry and apathy. I am disappointed because many of you have failed to take on the role of a faculty member in its entirety. As faculty members, our students expect you to be leaders, mentors, and role models. Yet, you have limited yourself to only an academic influence. Black students need and deserve more from the institution that benefits so greatly from having their dynamic community at Cornell University.As faculty that represent programs with a commitment to social justice, you have a responsibility to Black students to openly and loudly affirm that they are safe in academic settings from racism and discrimination. That you vehemently oppose and condemn the actions of the police officers in Minneapolis who murdered George Floyd in cold blood, along with the hundreds who went before him. As well as the recent atrocious actions of the Philadelphia Police Department on June 1, 2020, against protesters.Black lives have been traumatized repeatedly and yet are expected to show up in meetings, research, and academic spaces as though things are ‘business as usual’ while the Black community is quite literally fighting for its life. Although you are familiar with the Black community here in primarily academic settings, many of our Black students are protesting in the streets, constantly providing resources and support to others, and grieving. Black students in our department are risking their lives, safety, and careers daily to bravely stand against White supremacy in the midst of a global pandemic.How are you supporting your Black students? What resources have you offered to them? Have you contacted every single one of them, asking what they need from faculty, how you can support them? How are you working with your non-Black colleagues and students to remind them that inherent bias runs deep and that you are each responsible for unlearning racism? How are you addressing systemic racism? Cornell University constantly pledges support to its marginalized communities, but claiming solidarity is meaningless while employing a professor who openly condones sexual assault and police brutality. Black students are constantly let down by this institution. Ignoring it is not an option and you have done a deep disservice to yourselves by turning a blind eye and pretending that these events aren’t impacting all of us, particularly Black students and their families. I urge you to address it. Your students will not stand for this disregard of faculty misconduct, and in turn, disregard for our lives.Sincerely,[Insert Name]

There also was a webpage set up to auto-send complaints by email:

The Cornell Graduate Students United prepared this template to respond to the Adminitration’s statement (emphasis added):

Dear Martha Pollack, Michael Kotlikoff, Mary Opperman, Ryan Lombardi, and David Honan,On June 4th, Buffalo police brutalized an elderly man in an upheaval of police abuse that has spanned this country. Cornell chemistry Professor David Collum publicly defended that violence. In your statement the next day, you claimed that “Professor Collum has a right to express his views in his private life.” This so-called “right”—to express your views and remain a professor at an elite institution—is not borne from the Constitution, nor any federal or state law: the University extends it, and can just as easily take it away. We, the undersigned, urge you to consider the consequences of extending this right to David Collum.You wrote that “Cornell is founded on a vision of a university, and by extension, a world for “any person”.” Do you believe that “any person” would feel safe working for or taking a class from Professor Collum? Few should, given his publicized history making light of rape, attacking transgender and gender nonconforming people, and now engaging with racist police apologetics. So long as he remains a professor of chemistry, students enrolling in chemistry classes and graduate programs must look over their shoulders.When some people enroll in classes or apply to graduate school, they get to focus on the academic merits of their decision: who does the best research, or will teach what you need to learn? So long as people like David Collum remain on Cornell’s faculty, that ability remains a privilege. Should women, black and brown people, transgender and gender nonconforming people, and other marginalized communities have to research both the science and the personal views of prospective faculty mentors? Every day that you leave David Collum in his position, you say that they should.Restricting Cornell’s safe options for mentorship is a tool of discrimination. Every faculty member whose bigoted words and actions preclude their safe mentorship of marginalized people is a portion of the department that has implicitly said they aren’t welcome. It is a percentage of academic positions that they simply cannot take. By tolerating Collum, you are decreasing the marginalized population of Cornell’s Chemistry department. His presence does and will continue to lead people to self-select away.If this is the Cornell you want—a Cornell for “any person,” so long as they are brave enough to submit to the power of someone who publicly despises them—then this is what you have. Martha, in your June 3rd statement you wrote,”Words are important. Words matter. But our words – of sympathy, of support, of shared pain – are not enough. While the challenges are enormous, and we cannot fix them on our own, that does not absolve us from taking whatever steps we can to fight against systemic racism and structural inequality.”Your mere words of condemnation do nothing but tell potential students: we have this man on faculty, and we will keep him here to harm you.Sincerely,[Your name here!]

Kevin Hines, one of the leaders of the 2017 effort against Collum, posted on Facebook in response to a Sun post, the “roofie” tweet that I proved was taken out of context, leading people who were not aware of the background to think Collum actually advocated bringing date-rape drugs to Las Vegas:

As you can see, this was a highly organized effort to flood the administration with complaints, and the graduate student organization who had gone after Collum was in the middle of it.

There also were students who shared contact information for administrators and urged direct contact with Collum’s superiors and associates. There also was a suggestion that complaints be filed about Collum under Cornell’s bias disciplinary procedures (I don’t think they apply here, but that’s for another time).

On top of that, there are threats to make Collum so uncomfortable on campus he quits and to go after his NIH funding:

The Student Assembly Demand for Firing

The Cornell Student Assembly has demanded Collum be fired, in addition to other demands like intensified diversity and inclusion training.

The Cornell Daily Sun Editorial

The Cornell Daily Sun stoked the targeting of Collum by running an article (comment section here) about the tweets that republished the accusations against Collum that first surfaced in 2017, without expressly noting that the allegations were at least contested:

In April 2017, when the University was known for having more active Title IX investigations than any other university in the nation, a group of chemistry graduate students denounced comments made by Collum regarding sexual assault. This group of students exposed Collum for encouraging his friends to “bring some roofies” (a date rape drug) on a trip to Las Vegas. Collum also encouraged rapists and men accused of sexual assault to sue their accusers. The list of bigoted comments from Collum goes on and on, and his behavior is in violation of Cornell’s professor conduct policies.

[Note, the link in the Sun article goes to rules relating to students, not faculty.]

The Sun has doubled down, with an editorial that calls on Collum to be fired, while repeating the 2017 accusations against Collum.

Fire Prof. David Collum ’77, ChemistryEditor’s Note: This editorial references anti-black violence and police brutality. It also discusses sexual assault.On Wednesday, Cornell University published on their official Twitter account a quote by Toni Morrison, M.A. ’55 accompanied by the following caption: “As affirmed in our core values, Cornell strives to be a welcoming, caring and equitable community. We actively stand against racism and hatred, and we are committed to addressing these evils through our teaching, research and public engagement activities.”A few days later, Prof. David Collum ’77, chemistry, tweeted his support to an audience of over 53,000 followers for police officers who shoved a 75-year-old man in Buffalo, cracking his skull. Collum’s tweet argued that the incident “wasn’t brutality.” “The cracked skull … was self-inflicted,” Collum wrote.However, by the Buffalo Police Department’s standards, Collum is factually wrong. According to BPD’s use of force policy, police officers are only permitted to use force when there is “no other viable option.” In addition, the BPD’s use of force policy also requires that all officers who injure a person using force ensure medical treatment for that person. As the video above shows, the officers who chose to use force during this incident stepped over the man that they severely injured — as he lay unconscious, blood pooling around his head. Their actions showed a blatant disregard for human life.Collum’s support for such a morally reprehensible police action is abhorrent. His remarks directly go against Cornell’s core values and impede the University’s ability to create a “caring and equitable” community. But what makes Collum’s tweets even more troublesome is that this is not the first time he has found himself on the wrong side of a civil rights issue.In April 2017, when the University was known for having more active Title IX investigations than any other university in the nation, a group of chemistry graduate students denounced comments made by Collum regarding sexual assault. This group of students exposed Collum for encouraging his friends to “bring some roofies” (a date rape drug) on a trip to Las Vegas. Collum also encouraged rapists and men accused of sexual assault to sue their accusers. The list of bigoted comments from Collum goes on and on, and his behavior is in violation of Cornell’s professor conduct policies.This is not an issue of politics and partisanship, nor is this an issue regarding a professor’s right to freedom of speech. The Sun welcomes critical thinking, critique, debate and reform. But this is an issue of student safety and community. As long as Collum walks the Hill — grading students, conducting research, interacting with colleagues, influencing policies — Cornell is doing a disservice to its students. President Martha E. Pollack, fire Collum. And do it now. A simple statement calling Collum’s comments “deeply offensive” does not make amends for the harm that has been done by his words for years.Of course, firing Collum will not solve the problem of systemic injustice within Cornell faculty. Examine the chemistry department: There are zero Black faculty members listed on their website, and 26 of 30 chemistry professors are men.Collum’s tweets are simply a link in the chain of systemic injustice that plagues our institution. We don’t expect Cornell to solve this problem overnight, but they need to — at least — acknowledge it. And removing someone with a public, proven track record of alarming opinions is certainly a start.The above editorial reflects the opinions of The Cornell Daily Sun. Editorials are penned collaboratively between the Editor-in-Chief, Associate Editor and Opinion Editor, in consultation with additional Sun editors and staffers. The Sun’s editorials are independent of its news coverage, other columnists and advertisers.

[Because the Sun no longer has a comment section, the comments are at its corresponding Facebook post.]

This is a truly shocking Editorial. It repeats the 2017 accusations that Collum suggested bringing date rape drugs to Las Vegas and encouraged males accused of sexual assault to sue their victims, even though I demonstrated in my 2017 Letter to the Editor of the Sun that these were not true. By doing so in its own voice in the Editorial, the Sun has adopted those accusations as its own.

The Sun Editorial has serious consequences, as the unfettered accusations about date rape drugs and suing victims have spread based on the Editorial.

Something is going very wrong at The Cornell Sun. At a time when the campus more than ever needs legitimate neutral reporting, the Sun appears to have made a decision to become a participant in campus cancel culture both in its news reporting and editorial outlook.

The Administration’s Statement

After the controversy broke, the Cornell administration was quick to issue a public statement about Collum’s tweets. I’m not aware of any other recent statement from the senior administration about a professor’s speech (trust me, professors have said some pretty outrageous things that many people would consider offensive).

Statement on Prof. David Collum’s Tweets

We watched the video of the events in Buffalo yesterday where police officers shoved an elderly man to the ground and walked past while he lay bleeding on the sidewalk. The behavior we saw was deplorable. We are heartened that the authorities took immediate actions and that the two police officers involved have been suspended.

We agree with Governor Cuomo that the incident was “wholly unjustified and utterly disgraceful.” We also saw the tweets by Cornell professor David Collum justifying the actions of the police. While Professor Collum has a right to express his views in his private life, we also have a right and an obligation to call out positions that are at direct odds with Cornell’s ethos.Especially at a moment at which this nation is grappling with the vital need to implement reforms that end police brutality, we find Professor Collum’s comments to be not just deeply insensitive, but deeply offensive. The right of assembly and the ability of citizens to peacefully protest are fundamental to our society. Cornell is founded on a vision of a university, and by extension, a world for “any person” and the hatred and violence in this country stands in the way of that vision, particularly as it so disproportionately affects Black people and other people of color.Cornell Chief of Police Dave Honan recently stated that the actions of the officers in Buffalo demonstrate that there are still those in law enforcement who are morally and ethically unfit for this profession. We support those in our community calling for change. We can and will do better.As noted in President Pollack’s message June 3, the Cornell University Police Department is reviewing its policies and training in the areas of use of force and de-escalation techniques, and we are convening a group of regional law enforcement agencies from the local area to also discuss community engagement policies, to try and ensure that we never have this type of episode here.Martha E. PollackPresidentMichael KotlikoffProvostMary OppermanVice President and Chief Human Resources OfficerRyan LombardiVice President for Student and Campus LifeDavid HonanChief, Cornell University Police Department

It’s good that the administration upheld Collum’s right to express his views, but there was a chilling part of that. I sent these requests for comment to the administration, but the only response was to refer me to the statement itself:

1. Does Cornell intend on taking any disciplinary action of any nature against Prof. Collum, including but not limited to termination? If so, what?2. Does Cornell believe that Prof. Collum violated any Cornell policies with regard to his tweets?3. Have bias or other complaints been filed with Cornell about Prof. Collum since this controversy erupted, and if so, how many?4. In her statement, President Pollack stated, among other things, that Prof. Collum “has a right to express his views in his private life ….” Is President Pollack suggesting that had the statements in the tweets been made on campus or in connection with Cornell activity, that Prof. Collum would not have a right to express those views?

That last question is critical. It sends a chilling message to say that some speech is permitted only “in his private life,” when every day at Cornell (when it is in session) there are all sorts of outrageous things said on campus by a variety of people. President Pollack, who has expressed strong support for free speech on campus, needs to clarify what she meant by “in his private life.”

While the administration has the right to criticize professor speech, it doesn’t normally do so. When such criticism takes place, particularly as to off campus speech that does not involve a call to violence or other illegal conduct, it sets a tone. And here, the administration did so precipitously without the sort of measured analysis of the evidence and law quoted above in Professor Turley’s analysis of the Buffalo case.

This creates the impression of the Cornell administration rushing to placate the online mob, which only will encourage further such attacks on non-liberal professors and others who hold minority views.

Conclusion — The Cultural Revolution Is Here

Two years ago I wrote about The new Cultural Revolution on Campuses:

The events of the past year on campuses have been beyond disturbing.We are witnessing nothing less than a cultural purge of dissenting views on a wide range of topics in the name of social justice. No disagreement is tolerated, not even the slightest deviation. That purge has been going on for many years, but seems to have intensified and is turning on speakers, professors and fellow students….We’ve noted how even Cornell University, not known as a hotbed of radicalism compared to other universities, has become hostile to conservative speakers, as I wrote in For conservatives at Cornell University, high price for free speech….The tactics on campus have not reached the violence of the Cultural Revolution, but the attacks on speakers, professors and students deemed ideologically unacceptable, and the destruction of politically incorrect history, are eerily similar….Any professor or student who speaks against the crowd — be it about Halloween costumes or grad student unionization — is at risk. People get the message. They shut up.

This is a time when strong institutional leadership is needed, because the cancel culture is about to get much worse on campus.

Tags: American Federation of Teachers, Breonna Taylor, Cancel Culture, College Insurrection, Cornell, George Floyd