The toxic campus culture in which a professor to the cheers of students was “exhilarated” by the Hamas attack on Israel cannot be cured by the current administration, which has contributed to the failure through a DEI balkanization of the campus. The entire campus DEI program and agenda needs to be revisited, reworked, or removed.
Cornell University is feeling the ramifications of comments made by a history professor regarding feeling “exhilarated” at the news of the Hamas attack on Israel.
Those comments were made off campus to a cheering crowd that must have included some students. At the time of the comments it was well-documented that the gruesome Hamas attack killed hundreds of innocent civilians and, beyond mass murder, also included rape, torture, and kidnapping of children, the elderly, and disabled.
The Cornell Board of Trustees is meeting this weekend, and no doubt the controversy will be a topic of discussion. But those comments by that professor are merely an outward manifestation of a much deeper problem on campus that the Board must address.
The campus has become balkanized by an aggressive focus on racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and other identities through an “anti-racist” and “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” agenda imposed on the campus by the senior administration. The “anti-racism” initiative was launched in the summer of 2020, and has included or is moving towards mandatory training, education, and programming that forces everyone to view their lives and relationships through their identities.
Almost everything now is viewed through an identity lens, pitting groups against each other, pitting colleagues against one another, and pitting students against their peers. There is substantial evidence that such DEI programming makes race and other relations worse, not better. We are seeing that play out in real time in the Cornell community.
This has led to an unhealthy environment at Cornell in which multiple surveys show that high percentages of students are afraid to express their viewpoints. DEI as practiced at Cornell is damaging to freedom of expression, and makes the current year of free expression theme on campus inconsequential, if not nearly satirical.
This DEI-infused world, at Cornell and many other campuses, also leads to the inaccurate demonization of Israel as a white oppressor colonialist entity unworthy of existence. Since a substantial majority of Jews view Israel as central to their own identity, this marginalizes and leads to the targeting of Jewish students. As a former DEI director at another university recently wrote, DEI drives campus antisemitism. For many Jewish students, the “inclusion” agenda has become exclusion. It is in such a campus culture at Cornell and elsewhere that feeling “exhilarated” at the bloodthirsty Hamas attack thrives.
This toxic campus culture cannot be cured by the current administration, which has contributed to the failure. The entire campus DEI program and agenda needs to be revisited, reworked, or removed.
I call upon the Cornell Board of Trustees at its meeting this weekend to: (1) pause all new administrative DEI initiatives for the remainder of this academic year, until the Board can consider permanent changes, (2) adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism, and (3) form a special independent commission to investigate antisemitism on campus and the negative effects of DEI, comprised of dissenting voices among faculty, students, staff, and alumni, to make recommendations to the Board for corrective action. This cannot be an exercise in public relations or a cosmetic repackaging of the current policies.
Cornell can be better, but it will take urgent and serious Board action to turn this ship around.
William A. Jacobson
Clinical Professor of Law
Cornell Law School.
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