LIEBERWITZ | Statement in Protest of the Cornell University Interim Expressive Activity Policy
Posted on February 6, 2024
On January 24, 2024, Cornell President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff announced a new Cornell University Interim Expressive Activity Policy. While extolling Cornell’s existing policies protecting academic freedom and freedom of speech and expression, the new Interim Policy severely restricts those very freedoms.
As the Executive Committee of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors we raise our voices to protest the Interim Policy’s restrictions that undermine academic freedom and freedom of speech and expression, which are fundamental to Cornell’s existence as an educational institution. Instead of protecting academic freedom and free speech, the Interim Policy reiterates restrictions that already exist, such as prohibitions on blocking entrances to buildings, while also creating new substantial restrictions that are not “reasonable time, place and manner” regulations. Among the new restrictions are silencing mechanisms that prohibit speech outright or create such burdens or limitations as to discourage any attempts to speak. The new Interim Policy also gives the University Administration broad discretion in applying restrictions and requirements, while imposing the threat of disciplinary action for violating its provisions. With this new Interim Policy, Cornell’s “Year of Freedom of Expression” may well become Cornell’s “year of restrictions on expression.”
We call on faculty, students, and staff to make your voices heard! Join us at the University Assembly meeting on Feb. 6 from 4:45 to 6 p.m. (700 Clark Hall or by Zoom) to speak out against the restrictions on freedom of expression, and demand full consideration of the Interim Policy by all Cornell shared governance bodies.
We list here and provide comments on some of the most severe, unjustified restrictions in the Cornell Interim Expressive Activity Policy:
Registration “is expected” for outdoor events of 50 people or more on the Ag Quad, the Arts Quad, Bailey Hall Plaza, the Biology Quad, Day Hall Plaza (East Avenue), the Engineering Quad, Ho Plaza and the Cornell Botanic Gardens Nevins Welcome Center.
Comment: This “expectation” appears to require registration of protests and demonstrations, which is tantamount to shutting them down — as most protests and demonstrations take place spontaneously or with a short planning time. Requiring registration also creates a surveillance mechanism by the University. The new Interim Policy should state clearly that there is no requirement to register such outdoor expressive activity. As the prior Cornell Campus Code of Conduct stated: “Outdoor picketing, marches, rallies, and other demonstrations generally pose no threat of long-lasting exclusive use of University grounds or property. No university permit is required for such outdoor activities. The presence of a counter-protest does not itself constitute a disruption to a University function or authorized event.”
No “sticks or poles” at outdoor demonstrations. No candles at outdoor demonstrations unless approved by health and safety personnel.
Comment: There is no call for prohibiting sticks and poles or candles. There is no evidence there have been fights using sticks and poles or setting of fires at campus protests. Rather, these are severe restrictions on some of the most traditional forms of expression at a demonstration, such as the use of picket signs to communicate the aim of a protest, or holding a candlelight vigil. Such restrictions on expression are not only unjustified, but they give the University Administration broad leeway for shutting down outdoor protests and bringing disciplinary actions against protestors for a supposedly “viewpoint neutral” reason.
All posters, signs, flyers and banners must be dated, and must include the name of the sponsoring Cornell organization or unit or individual.
Posters, signs and banners may not be displayed on trees or any outside structures.
Comment: These requirements for posters, signs, flyers and banners unjustifiably chill the exercise of free speech and create a mechanism for surveillance. As with other unreasonable restrictions, such requirements provide the University Administration broad leeway to limit expression and create grounds to bring disciplinary actions against protestors for failing to comply with supposedly “viewpoint neutral” regulations.
Registration “is expected” for indoor expressive activities such as demonstrations or tabling, which must also comply with any building rules or restrictions.
Comment: These requirements will effectively prohibit indoor protest activities, given the broad discretion of the University or College administrations to adopt restrictive rules, as well as the delay and surveillance that is part of a registration requirement.
We protest, as well, the Cornell Administration’s failure to consult with the elected shared governance bodies before publishing this policy publicly, including the Faculty Senate, the Student Assembly and the Employee Assembly. The Administration’s consultation with handpicked “stakeholders” is no substitute for consulting with the elected governance bodies as the new Interim Policy was being developed. It is disingenuous, at best, for the Cornell Administration to announce that the policy will be discussed at the University Assembly meeting on Feb. 6 — only one week after the Administration published its fully developed Interim Policy.
Again, join us at the University Assembly meeting on Feb. 6 at 4:45 pm (700 Clark Hall or by Zoom). Let’s work together to reverse this top-down unilateral action by the Cornell Administration.
Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors Executive Committee:
Risa Lieberwitz David Bateman Ian Greer Darlene Evans Suman Seth
Risa L. Lieberwitz is a Professor of Labor and Employment Law in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She researches academic freedom in the university, freedom of speech, due process and the “corporatization” of the university. She is the President of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She can be reached at [email protected].
David A. Bateman is an Associate Professor of Government in the College of Arts & Sciences. His research focuses on democratic institutions, legislatures and political rights, democracy, race and racism. He is the Vice President of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He can be reached at [email protected].
Ian Greer ’05 is the Director of the ILR-Ithaca Co-Lab. He is a Research Professor and is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He can be reached at [email protected].
Darlene Evans is a Senior Lecturer (retired) with the John S. Knight Institute. She is an Executive committee member of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. She can be reached at [email protected].
Suman Seth is the Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow and Marie Underhill Noll Professor of the History of Science in the College of Arts & Sciences. His research interests include the history of medicine, race and colonialism, quantum theory and gender and science. He is an Executive committee member of the Cornell University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. He can be reached at [email protected].
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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the University Assembly meeting’s location change from 401 Physical Sciences Building to 700 Clark Hall.