Cornell Forms ‘Task Force’ to Regulate Speech on Campus

“Are we sanctioning discrimination, harassment, and related misconduct appropriately?”

In its efforts “to be a diverse and inclusive university,” Cornell has announced the formation of the “Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate” to help seek out ways to ensure a “sense of safety and inclusiveness” is felt around campus. The first order of business for the Ivy League task force is determining how to regulate speech in order to “prohibit discrimination and harassment.”

The task force was formed in response to several incidents on campus in which racial slurs were used. The College Fix reports one student yelled “build a wall” near the center for Latino students. (He has since apologized for his “bad joke.”) In another, a white and black student fought and a racial slur was uttered. And then, a student reportedly wrote the n-word during an in-class exercise and caused "trauma."

President Martha Pollack gave the reason behind the formation:

Recent incidents have posed deep challenges to our community’s sense of safety and inclusiveness. In response, I have called for the formation of a Presidential Task Force charged with making specific recommendations about how Cornell can implement meaningful institutional change that leads to a campus climate that is more diverse and inclusive, and that expresses greater respect and understanding.  The Task Force is also charged with recommending approaches that enable us to respond effectively to incidents of bigotry and intolerance.

Pollack said she met with “a broad spectrum of students, faculty, and staff” to determine what steps the task force could take to achieve the stated goals.

“These conversations have highlighted the need for us to openly address issues of bigotry and racism, and to examine with focused intent, whether Cornell has in place the right systems of support, standards of conduct for our community, and resources and training to build the kind of inclusive and respectful university we want to be,” she said.

However, the charge the university president set forth for her task force suggests regulating free speech on campus to avoid offending certain people:

Regulation of Speech and Harassment
1. Has the university appropriately promulgated principles and regulations that address free speech on campus as well as prohibit discrimination and harassment?
2. Are the Campus Code of Conduct or other policies the right vehicle(s) for establishing such regulations and principles?
3. Are we sanctioning discrimination, harassment, and related misconduct appropriately? Are enforcement mechanisms fair and clear?
4. What legal mechanisms are available to the university to prevent, address and counter situations in which protected expression on campus is harmful to those vulnerable to its effects?

Initial reports are expected by May 1, 2018, and must include immediate changes, recommendations that can happen within six months to a year, and finally, “aspirational recomemndations.”

“We acknowledge that the issues to be addressed by the Task Force are long-standing, complex, and profound in their scope,” Pollack stated. “While we must take the time to fully engage the community in transparent efforts to effect institutional change, we must also move quickly and powerfully to ensure a more equitable, safe and inclusive environment for all.”

“We must redouble our efforts to create the kind of environment we seek,” Pollack declared.

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