Local News: February 21, 2024

Cornell’s academic theme for the 2023-24 school year is freedom of expression. The outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas happened shortly after the school year began. The University’s support of student and faculty freedom of expression has been tested by on- and off-campus protests and in some cases, social media posts.

One student is under arrest on federal charges for making specific, violent anti-semitic threats online against Jewish students and a cultural center on campus. Another, Maria Valdez, has been suspended for a social media post that included the statement, “Zionists must die.”

Zach Greenberg is an attorney with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. He says the two actions are not the same.

"Cornell’s a university that promises students robust free speech rights including the right to offend others. And Maria’s speech though it may be offensive does not fall into any category of unprotected speech allowing Cornell to punish her," he said. 

Recently, Cornell president Martha Pollack spoke at a public Rotary Club luncheon about the University’s position on the expression of offensive speech or ideas.

"As a university, we believe it’s our responsibility to ensure that our students are exposed to even ideas that challenge them, even to ideas they find offensive or wrong. Because being exposed to ideas that one disagrees with is a core part of a university education. It’s key to learning how to evaluate information and develop considered beliefs. It’s key to developing the ability to engage respectfully and productively in civil discourse. And it’s key to learning how to advocate for one’s own deeply held values," she said.

In January, the Administration published an “Interim Expressive Activity Policy”. The Student Assembly and Faculty Senate have criticized it saying it will limit freedom of expression overall, and have a chilling effect on students' free speech rights and academic freedom. Over the next few weeks, WRFI will be reporting about Cornell’s Year of Freedom of Expression and the interim policy. Tune in on Thursday at 6 PM to hear the first report.

Keep up to date on local news. Follow us wherever you get your podcasts.