Cornell University takes a major step towards compulsory racial activism for faculty, students, and staff
Proposed initiatives include an “educational requirement on racism, bias and equity for all Cornell students,” a new Anti-Racism Center, “an institution-wide, themed semester … focus[ed] on issues of racism,” and mandatory faculty participation in “programming” regarding “race, racism and colonialism in the United States.”
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I have repeatedly pointed out, in response to the cancel culture targeting me over my criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, that things have changed on campuses in ways most people don’t fully appreciate.
The new activism surrounding race is completely at odds with the traditional goals of the civil rights movement — that all people be treated with dignity and afforded the protections of our laws without regard to race.
This objective is most notably stated in what may be the most famous line in the most famous speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
There now is an obsessive focus on race. Almost everything is viewed through a racial lens.
Not only has the focus on skin color changed, there is a requirement of activism. Not being racist is not enough. One must be “antiracist,” a term famously used in the book “How to Be An Antiracist,” suggested summer reading by Cornell University’s President Martha Pollack:
As a campus community, we have a collective responsibility to engage in difficult but critical conversations – to listen genuinely to, and learn from, one another. To help bring focus to these conversations, I invite all of you to participate in a Community Book Read of “How to Be an Antiracist,” by National Book Award winner Ibram X. Kendi. We will soon provide all students, faculty, and staff with information about how to access an electronic copy of the book, along with a schedule of virtual discussions which will take place over the summer. I hope you will choose to read the book and to join in the conversation.
I’ve just started reading How to Be an Antiracist. Although I haven’t finished the book, from the intro chapters it is clear that compulsory activism is required and race-neutral criteria are rejected. Inaction is considered racist. This review by Coleman Hughes summarizes the thesis:
If the book has a core thesis, it is that this war admits of no neutral parties and no ceasefires. For Kendi, “there is no such thing as a not-racist idea,” only “racist ideas and antiracist ideas.” His Manichaean outlook extends to policy. “Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity,” Kendi proclaims, defining the former as racist policies and the latter as antiracist ones.
We see this approach playing out in the now common Black Lives Matter slogan, “Silence is Violence,” as I previously described in my interview on the Mark Levin show:
The students who are organizing against me have on their Facebook page, that Silence is Violence. Think about that. What happens? I studied about the Soviet Union. I actually studied in the Soviet Union. And what would happen is you could not be left out of politics. You had to attend the meeting at your factory, where they would praise the leadership and failing to show up was considered a counterrevolutionary act. And that’s where we’re going. It used to be, if you were on campus as a student, you could stick to your studies, stay out of politics, keep your mouth shut. They would leave you alone. You will not be left alone anymore. You must participate in the revolution going on. And I hope all your listeners understand that this time it is different and people need to speak up.
Both of these trends — the obsessive focus on race and the requirement of activism — have come together in an announcement by Cornell President Pollack, in an all-campus email this afternoon. The email announced a deepening of race-focused education on campus and proposed mandatory participation by faculty and students.
Here are excerpts from Additional actions to create a more just and equitable Cornell (emphasis added):
A little more than a month ago, I announced a set of actions to enhance our existing programs to promote racial justice. While it was important to take immediate steps in the wake of the racialized violence in our nation, we realize that there is much more to do….
I want to publicly acknowledge the advocacy and efforts of so many of our students who continue to champion a more just future for Cornell and for our society. Specifically, #DoBetterCornell has exerted great effort and mobilized broad interest in many important initiatives. [WAJ adds — see this link for #DoBetterCornell demands] Some of the appeals by that movement will be reflected in my announcement today, and a more detailed response will be sent directly to the organizers….
At the core of our institution lies our primary mission to provide the exceptional education, cutting-edge research and public engagement to shape our world for generations to come, and we must embed anti-racism across these activities. Our world-class faculty play the critical role in defining and advancing our academic mission. Several of the initiatives proposed by our students are the responsibility of our faculty, and, as such, I have asked the Faculty Senate to take the following up as soon as possible:
- The creation and implementation of a for-credit, educational requirement on racism, bias and equity for all Cornell students.
- A systematic review of the curriculum in each of our colleges and schools to ensure that courses reflect, represent and include the contributions of all people. Several colleges/schools and departments already have this work underway.
- Amplification of Cornell’s existing scholarship on anti-racism, through the creation of an Anti-Racism Center that further strengthens our research and education on systems and structures that perpetuate racism and inequality, and on policies and interventions that break that cycle. Cornell already has outstanding academic units and faculty that address these critical issues, including: the Africana Studies and Research Center; the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program (AIISP); Latina/o Studies, Asian American Studies, as well as programs within American, Jewish, Near Eastern, and Feminist Gender and Sexuality studies, and centers such as the Center for the Study of Inequality, the Cornell Center for Health Equity, the Program in Ethics and Public Life and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability, as well as others that are not listed but contribute valuable scholarship. Our vision is to ensure that we are a national leader in this critical area.
- Development of a new set of programs focusing on the history of race, racism and colonialism in the United States, designed to ensure understanding of how inherited social and historical forces have shaped our society today, and how they affect interactions inside and outside of our classrooms, laboratories and studios. All faculty would be expected to participate in this programming and follow-on discussions in their departments. The programs would complement our existing anti-bias programs for faculty, such as those from the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, the Cornell Interactive Theatre Ensemble, Intergroup Dialogue Programs for Faculty, and the Faculty Institute for Diversity.
In collaboration with the Faculty Senate, we will also:
Launch an institution-wide, themed semester, during which our campus community will focus on issues of racism in the U.S. through relevant readings and discussions. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we will consider the best semester to launch this initiative.
As the President’s statement makes clear, many of these requirements must first be considered by the Faculty Senate before being implemented. I don’t know how much resistence there will be, if any. There is no middle ground in this paradiam — you are either an antiracism activist on their terms, or you are a racist. Speaking out against this juggernaut will take courage and willingness to be a target of cancel culture.
After detailing additional initiatives, including with regard to the Cornell campus police, the President’s statement concludes:
The commitment to real change is the responsibility of all of us, particularly those of us in majority communities. It is our responsibility to read, reflect, learn, listen and then change the system that has disadvantaged our Black, Indigenous and other colleagues, students and friends of color for centuries. This will be a continuous journey, and I implore every member of the Cornell community to look deep within yourself and take active, regular and courageous steps to help create new systems and structures that move us toward a more just and equitable Cornell – and that will become part of our contribution to a different, more just and more equitable world.
While the specifics of these requirements, particularly those placed on faculty, require more steps before implementation, it is clear that Cornell has taken a major step towards compulsory racial activism for faculty and students.
UPDATE 7-17-2020 — STAFF
I just realized that there is a chilling message to staff in this announcement. “Performance Dialogues” are the university’s staff performance reviews. Now, commitment to the agenda in the presidential announcement is part of that process (emphasis added):
Finally, we recognize that staff are the lifeblood of Cornell, enabling us to deliver on our educational, research and engagement mission. The support that our staff provides is what makes learning possible. We must therefore enhance the commitment that we make to recruiting and retaining an exceptional staff that reflects the diversity of our students. Specific steps we will take are as follows:
- Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman will create new professional development programs with a focus on staff of color, including leadership development, mentorship, and pipeline and succession programs, to help diverse staff advance into key institutional leadership roles;
- We will make work on diversity, equity and inclusion part of the performance dialogue process at Cornell;
- All staff will be required to complete a series, being developed in partnership with eCornell, focused on equity and cultural competency that will become available beginning this September; ….
Staff are the most vulnerable at Cornell, because the upstate NY Southern Tier does not provide many job opportunities. Now staff who may not be on board with this agenda will either have to play along, or risk their jobs or career advancement.
I have updated the title of this post to reflect the mandates as to staff.
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