Image 01 Image 03

Member of the Cornell Free Speech Alliance Calls Out School Leadership

Member of the Cornell Free Speech Alliance Calls Out School Leadership

“Cornell has proven particularly adept at signaling support for free expression without making any of the difficult decisions to defend it.”

Steve Baginski is a Cornell grad and a member of the Cornell Free Speech Alliance. He is calling out leadership at the school in a new piece at the New York Post:

Don’t buy Cornell’s PR baloney that it wants to ‘elevate’ free speech

A coalition of 13 university presidents, including Martha Pollack of Cornell, just launched a joint initiative to “elevate free speech” on campuses.

If you’re skeptical, so am I.

A closer look reveals a heavy helping of the usual buzzwords.

We’re told about the importance of “diverse communities” in “countering threats to democracy.”

The objective: “ensuring students are civically well-informed, productively engaged, and committed to democracy.”

All of which is great; none of which constitutes a bold stand for free speech.

It’s really just part of the empty PR campaign meant to deflect growing criticism of universities’ handling of academic-freedom concerns.

Cornell has proven particularly adept at signaling support for free expression without making any of the difficult decisions to defend it.

It named this academic year the “year of free speech,” only to promptly stock the steering committee with scholars who have a background in DEI, a dogma that runs directly counter to free speech by requiring faculty to pledge fealty to a political ideology.

We at the Cornell Free Speech Alliance have been calling on President Pollack to institute meaningful policy changes for two years.

While she has ignored us and refused our requests for meetings, we’re pleased that she has at least paid lip service to free speech with increasing frequency since our organization launched.

Nonetheless, the situation on campus remains dire.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.


This can be confusing to some LI readers. The Cornell Free Speech Alliance is conflating two different controversies:
1) The campus climate encourages self-censorship and people do not free to invite right-of-center speakers onto campus.
2) The diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts are administered in a way that does not respect academic freedom or individual beliefs.

Cornell President Pollack carefully address these controversies at her new student convocation and in her welcoming messages to the campus and alumni. She sees the tensions between free expression and DEI, but they must be worked out by discuss and debate.

Steve Baginski, having read all of this, as well as President Pollack’s statements made as a part of a 13-university project funded by the Knight Foundation. He doesn’t like it, and thinks that campus-wide discussion and debate is the wrong approach.

The 20 recommendations (which were not unanimously adopted by the group of “major free speech leaders” brought in to compile them) call for adopting various policy statements. Yet, Baginski would dismiss this as “milquetoast statements posted online.” Instead, he wants DEI staff fired, and a new office established to enforce curbing DEI.

After the death of George Floyd, there was much debate on the Cornell campus and thousands of Cornellians signed online petitions calling for an anti-racism center and mandatory anti-racism classes for all students. Baginski wants to reverse this, but how much support does he have? He did not set up an online petition and has denounced the call for further discussion and debate. Instead of wide-spread engagement, or a detailed rationale for each of the 20 recommendations, he asked for a meeting between the CFSA and the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees to bypass campus discussions.

Once his August 25 deadline passed without a response from Cornell, he immediately writes to the New York Post. For whatever reason, DEI appears to have significant support on campus, and it will take significant work to change the minds of a critical mass of Cornell faculty and students. It will be interesting to watch his efforts.

    SuddenlyHappyToBeHere in reply to lawgrad. | August 29, 2023 at 11:42 am


    That’s the point whizzing over “lawgrad’s” head.

    Free speech does not take a debate and discussion. It is binary. No “online petition” changes that. No “support” by Cornell faculty, administration, or students is required. It takes leadership and Baginski’s point is you can’t referendum it away. and a firm view of constitutes free speech.

    Stated another way, Cornell lacks honest leadership. It does not have it.

      How does one measure “honest leadership?” President Pollack has been very vocal in calling for the protection of free expression. There was a wide-spread community process that adopted a mission statement and core values which included free expression. Then there was a faculty-initiated Policy Statement on Academic Freedom and Free Expression that is very similar to the Chicago Principles except that it says that harassment is not protected.

      I would welcome a well-researched analysis regarding how much of CFSA’s 20 recommendations have been implemented. For example, although Cornell has not formally adopted the Kalven Report, President Pollack says she is cutting down on the number of her official statements in order to avoid chilling free speech and debate.

      Baginski’s point is that if Cornell does not do whatever he demands as soon as he demands it, I will dismiss what is being done as “milquetoast statements posted online.”

      I agree that free expression must be protected and that there should be an alumni group that advocates for free speech. That group should step forward in cases where free speech is not being adequately protected. Although there are many good ideas among the 20 policy recommendations, so much of the 100=page report is about DEI rather than free expression, that many readers will dismiss it as an anti-DEI diatribe.

      Cornell’s core values support both free expression and a sense of belonging. President Pollack has repeatedly said that both can coexist. That is the topic that should be debated and discussed.