An independent organization advocating for free expression, viewpoint diversity, and academic freedom at Cornell University

Read this Overview of the threat to academic freedom now facing Cornell.

The Cornell Free Speech Initiative : Action Items

Cornell building

The major impediments to freedom of expression and diversity of views now existing at Cornell University are made clear by a review of the Report from Faculty and Students. To address these impediments, CFSA has launched the "Cornell Free Speech Initiative" ("CFSI"). Under this initiative, CFSA will advance actions on its own and/or make recommendations to university leadership which aim to restore Freedom of Expression, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom at Cornell as follows:  

  1. Organize Cornell Alumni, Faculty, Students & Staff In Support Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus
  2. Cornell Adoption Of Strong Free Speech Principles
  3. Expand Viewpoint Diversity At Cornell
  4. Correct Cornell Speech Codes
  5. Protect “Due Process” At Cornell 
  6. Assist Cornell Donor Giving To Advance Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus
  7. Implement Cornell Student Orientation Programs That Uphold First Amendment Principles
  8. Establish “Open Dialogue” Student Discussion Groups
  9. Offer Diversity Programs Which Encourage (Not Alienate) Students & Faculty
  10. Defend Against Cancel Culture Attacks Occurring Within The Cornell Community
  11. Mentor Other University Groups Who Aim To Protect Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus 
  12. Actively Monitor Cornell’s Free Speech Climate                                                                                                                                                                                                41c

Further descriptions of the above CFSA actions and recommendations are set forth below :

  1. Organize Cornell Alumni, Faculty, Students & Staff In Support Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus. CFSA will work to organize Cornell alumni (as well as faculty, administrators, students, parents and other interested persons) to promote and protect reasoned and responsible Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom at Cornell. With the extreme monoculture and ideological orthodoxy which now exists on campus, the potential for Cornell to reform itself solely from within seems very unlikely. CFSA believes that an informed and activated Cornell alumni group can provide the best means to help the university move away from the current Group Think on campus and toward a re-institution of a healthy free speech and viewpoint diversity environment. An organized Cornell alumni network is crucial to advancing these goals (see CFSA Subscribe Now).
     
  2. Cornell Adoption Of Strong Free Speech Principles. Encourage Cornell to adopt the Chicago Statement on Freedom of Expression (the “Chicago Principles”) which was adopted by the University of Chicago in 2014 (see the Chicago Principles). Cornell must join the 80+ faculty bodies, colleges, and university systems that have adopted the Chicago Principles in defense of free speech on campus (see List of Adopting Universities). With a strong university-wide policy pledge to protect free expression, Cornell students will feel more secure to speak their minds and to participate in the free and open exchange of ideas which is critical to Cornell’s proper functioning as an institution of higher learning.
     
  3. Expand Viewpoint Diversity At Cornell. Like other universities, Cornell has established a very large “diversity bureaucracy” which has operated for decades to enhance gender, race, and cultural diversity on campus. However, this bureaucracy has failed monumentally in achieving its primary goal – which is to advance viewpoint diversity at Cornell. The hiring practices implemented by this “diversity bureaucracy” has crushed, rather than enhanced, diversity of thought and has created an ideological orthodoxy on campus (see this Cornell Ideological Orthodoxy Article). Indeed, the Cornell faculty and administration now constitute an unhealthy monoculture which represses, rather than expands, thought diversity on campus. Cornell needs to revamp its hiring practices for faculty and administrators in order to return viewpoint diversity to the campus and to the classroom.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ad
     
  4. Correct Cornell Speech Codes. In 2021, the non-partisan “Foundation for Individual Rights in Education” (FIRE) has cited Cornell University for having ambiguous speech code policies which can encourage administrative abuse, arbitrary application, and restriction of First Amendment freedoms (see this Cornell Speech Infringement Article ). To correct these policies, CFSA recommends that Cornell engage with FIRE’s policy reform staff, which consists of several full-time professionals with expertise in campus speech policies. Cornell administrators can work cooperatively with FIRE staff to reform restrictive policies existing at the university in ways that satisfy necessary campus objectives while upholding free speech principles and strengthening the university’s standing with respect First Amendment freedoms for all members of the Cornell Community.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  5. Protect “Due Process” At Cornell. Colleges and universities across the country are failing to afford their students due process and fundamental fairness in their disciplinary proceedings. FIRE’s annual “Spotlight on Due Process” report highlights how universities routinely deny key procedural safeguards such as the presumption of innocence, use of impartial fact-finders, participation of an adviser, and more (see Spotlight on Due Process). FIRE has identified certain impairments to “due process” now existing at Cornell. CFSA recommends that Cornell adopt FIRE’s “Model Code of Student Conduct” guidelines to enable Cornell to overcome its current “due process” policy deficiencies (see Model Code of Student Conduct). These guidelines include a complete set of student conduct procedures, provisions for responding to Title IX allegations that comply with the Department of Education’s most recent Title IX regulations, and core procedural safeguards.
     
  6. Assist Cornell Donor Giving To Advance Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus. Cornell alumni often make donations to the university General Fund – and, in so doing, may not be specific with respect to how these funds are to be utilized. Given current concerns about Ideological Orthodoxy and Group Think on campus, many alumni have an interest in advancing  Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom at Cornell. CFSA provides constructive suggestions to alumni on how their gifts can be made in a way that best reflects alumni values and giving priorities  -- especially as relates to protecting and strengthening First Amendment principles for all in the Cornell Community (inquire at CFSA Message Board).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          13b            
     
  7. Implement Cornell Freshman Orientation Programs That Uphold First Amendment Principles. Today, it is clear that Cornell University cannot presume that new students will arrive on campus with a full understanding of the importance of Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic freedom to the overall health of the Cornell Community or to the primary purpose of the university. Therefore, Cornell and other universities must instruct incoming students on these fundamentals. FIRE has partnered with “First Amendment Watch” at New York University to develop a “Freshman Orientation Program” to provide such instruction. This program consists of a series of modules which teach incoming students about the importance of these First Amendment principles.  For more information (see Freshman Orientation Program).  CFSA urges that university leadership engage with FIRE to implement this freshman free speech orientation program at Cornell.
     
  8. Establish “Open Dialogue” Student Discussion Groups. Cornell will benefit from establishing a FIRE “Let’s Talk” discussion club to encourage tolerance and open dialogue among students. The events of recent years clearly demonstrate how broken America’s national discourse has become. This is especially true on college campuses. Today, students routinely shout down those with whom they disagree, are fearful of sharing their views in class or with others, pursue punishment for peers holding views different from their own, and increasingly view free speech as a threat -- rather than as an opportunity for learning and dialogue. The best way to confront these communication breakdowns is to establish organized student outlets for civil discourse. CFSA recommends that Cornell partner with FIRE to create a student-run discussion program on campus which is open to all Cornell students. FIRE’s “Let’s Talk” program provides students with the tools to build a more intellectually open campus environment and to better understand the necessity of healthy and productive discussions as the best pathway to a more tolerant and inclusive Cornell Community (see Let’s Talk Program ).
     
  9. Offer Diversity Programs Which Encourage (Not Alienate) Students & Faculty. The US is seeing a rapidly growing interest in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programming in both K-12 education and at US universities and colleges. Such educational programming often focuses on readings and teachings which create antagonism and suspicion among students and faculty who have different gender, racial, and/or cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, much of this DEI programming is founded on a faulty understanding of diversity advancement -- which alienates and divides people across lines of difference that are amplified for political purposes in American society today.  Such alienation impedes, rather than advances, the most important purpose of diversity. “Inversity™ Solutions”  has developed a diversity program which emphasizes what students and faculty with different backgrounds have in common, rather than magnifying differences and suspicions between different groups -- which is often the end result of DEI programs now being implemented in both K-12 schools and in colleges and universities. Created by Karith Foster, the “Inversity Program” takes a positive and constructive approach for bringing university communities together to better address and more fully understand matters relating to background and cultural diversity (see Inversity Program). The Inversity Program helps students appreciate and embrace differences – rather than to resent or dismiss such differences. The Inversity Program’s college curriculum is designed to help students and faculty embrace diversity by fostering empathy, inclusion, communication, and interpersonal relationships. CFSA recommends that Cornell University make the Inversity Program available to Cornellians who wish to focus on the benefits and opportunities of diversity on campus – rather than on the divisions created by various student programming methods now being used.                                                                                                                                   a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  10. Defend Against Cancel Culture Attacks Occurring Within The Cornell Community. Cornell has seen various Cancel Culture attacks take place on campus in recent years. These attacks have involved intimidation, bullying, and threats against faculty and students who have peacefully expressed reasonable and rational viewpoints, either on campus or in the private (non-university related) communications. The Cornell University leadership and administration have been very tepid in their defense of those members of the Cornell Community who were attacked -- and often left these individuals to fend for themselves in isolation while doing little or nothing to punish or restrict those who were active in the bullying behavior against persons holding minority viewpoints within the Community Community. CFSA is now positioned to help victims of such bullying Cancel Culture aggressions against faculty, students, and/or staff at Cornell via affiliations with various aligned organizations and the Get Help resources available on this website. All Cornell faculty, students, or staff who are victimized by such bullying or Cancel Culture should seek help from CFSA using this Get Help resource.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  11. Mentor Other University Groups Who Aim To Protect Free Expression & Viewpoint Diversity On Campus.  CFSA is a Founding Member of the US national "Alumni Free Speech Alliance" (AFSA). In this role, CFSA mentors other university alumni and faculty groups who are experiencing anti-free speech and Cancel Culture conditions on the campuses of their universities. As the Cancel Culture phenomenon has overtaken universities across America, a growing number of universities are realizing the urgent need to counter the anti-free speech campus environment being spawned by the Ideological Orthodoxy and Monoculture now prevailing at many US institutions of higher education. In its AFSA membership role (see AFSA Website), CFSA provides support and assistance to new university groups working to counter the repression of free speech and viewpoint diversity now afflicting many American colleges and universities.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  12. Actively Monitor Cornell’s Free Speech Climate. The best way for Cornell to identify and begin to address the growing censorship, ideological orthodoxy, and/or repressive monoculture on campus is to have the university periodically survey its student body. Every institution of higher education should gather information about its campus environment to preserve and protect Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom. In 2021, FIRE has conducted such a survey of students at Cornell and numerous other US universities Unfortunately, in recent years, Cornell has consistently been ranked  below average among those US universities which FIRE has surveyed ( see 2021 College Free Speech Rankings). A regular Cornell-sponsored campus survey which is fully transparent, properly conducted, and includes a large segment of students will provide vital information which will enable Cornell leadership to make informed decisions regarding the advancement of the free speech climate on campus (see Sample Survey Questions ). If done annually, this survey could be used to more closely monitor progress towards a free and open campus climate. FIRE can help Cornell develop and administer such a survey.

CFSA urges that the above action plan be undertaken at Cornell in order to begin the process of returning the university to a place where Free Speech, Viewpoint Diversity, and Academic Freedom are once again advanced and embraced.   

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