In the wake of recent news reports about a controversial article published in a biweekly independent student newspaper at Cornell University, a campus official said today (May 9, 1997) that information given to the news media by student editors did not accurately reflect the university's response and was incorrect in other details.
Cornell has no plan to institute either a campus speech code or a mandatory racism sensitivity course for freshmen, as reported in a May 7 Associated Press article, said Henrik N. Dullea, vice president for university relations.
"Cornell believes strongly in the principles of free speech and will not institute policies that infringe on First Amendment rights," he said.
The controversy at Cornell began with the publication of an article in the April 17 issue of The Cornell Review, which bills itself as "the conservative voice at Cornell." Editors said the article was intended as a spoof on Ebonics. Students who were offended by the article, which targeted several courses offered by Cornell's Africana Studies and Research Center, held a demonstration on April 28, denouncing the editors for what the protesters considered a racist attack on minority culture.
Some news reports quoted students saying that protesters had burned 200 copies of The Cornell Review. "That also is not true, according to campus police officers on the scene," Dullea said. "While there was a forceful verbal exchange between the two groups of students, and a handful of copies of the Review were symbolically burned in a trash basket, there was no large-scale destruction of the publication, which continued to be available on the campus. We deplore the student editors' conscious embellishment of the facts, which only serves to escalate divisiveness on campus."
At this time, students have begun taking final exams and there is no protest activity on campus, Dullea said. He added that the campus Judicial Administrator is reviewing complaints that have been made related to the article and the ensuing protest.
Cornell President Hunter Rawlings on May 1 issued a statement that criticized students on both sides of the issue. Of The Cornell Review, he said: "Several articles . . . divisive in their intent, have hurt the spirits of many on campus. Race-baiting, stereotyping and intentionally degrading attacks on Cornell's African-American community have no place in our campus discourse. Though individuals have the right in this country to say or write such things, they thereby do themselves discredit, they harm others and they create a climate of hostility for all. Cornell University stands for reasoned thought, sustained discussion, constructive engagement and freedom with responsibility, not for abhorrent and abusive speech."
Rawlings added: "The response to such provocations should be neither the adoption of the very tactics of the provocateurs nor the infringement of the rights of other members of the campus community. Civil discourse requires thoughtfulness, and an academic community values enlightenment. Lawful protest respects these constraints and is protected by the university community. Demands for restrictions on free speech and for other repressive actions, however, only escalate intolerance and feed hostility . . . . they also have no place in our campus discourse."