Oct. 11, 2017

Since its founding, Cornell has aspired to be a diverse and inclusive university. Our founding principles continue to inspire and guide us, and when the experience of the community fails to reflect these goals, we must redouble our efforts to create the kind of environment we seek.

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.

Over the past few weeks, my senior leadership team and I met with a broad spectrum of students, faculty, and staff to explore their ideas about the specific issues and concerns that the Task Force should address. 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.

Towards that end, I am charging the Task Force to address the following issues through the establishment of three subcommittees:

  • Campus Experience
    1. What, and how well, are we currently doing to promote an inclusive campus experience for our diverse community, both inside and outside the classroom?
    2. How can we improve the effectiveness of the resources and systems currently in place?
    3. What new resources and changes should be considered as we strive to achieve real inclusion in our campus experience?
    4. Provide a recommendation for an ongoing mechanism that will address diversity and inclusion issues.
  • 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?
  • Campus Response
    1. How should the university respond to any future incidents that infringe upon our core principles, whether they are local or broader in scope?
    2. Do we have the right mechanisms of support, communication, and response in place or could these improve?
    3. What can individuals and campus groups do to counter unacceptable actions and act as positive forces that counter harmful incidents?
    4. Provide a recommendation on how to measure long-term success.

It is important that the Task Force produce actionable recommendations within a limited timeframe. We do not expect a perfect set of ideas; the goal is to move us forward as a community, recognizing that our campus is a reflection of our society, and that we cannot entirely eliminate attitudes and expressions of intolerance and bias, but that we can and must redouble our efforts to respond to them in a way that reaffirms Cornell’s founding principles.

Each subcommittee should engage expeditiously in broad outreach to the Cornell community to ensure that stakeholders have an opportunity to have their voices heard. Recent letters from student groups, resolutions from shared governance bodies, and notes from a staff group convened by the Employee Assembly will be shared with the Task Force so that it can carefully assess and make recommendations about their ideas.

We expect an intermediate report near the time of spring break, and final reports of findings and recommendations by May 1, 2018. While each subcommittee will necessarily work independently to meet this timeline, intermediate reports will be shared with the whole committee to ensure there is meaningful congruence between the different elements of their work.

Recommendations from the Task Force should develop along three timelines:

  1. recommendations that can be accomplished immediately;
  2. recommendations that could be accomplished within six to 12 months; and
  3. aspirational recommendations.

We acknowledge that the issues to be addressed by the Task Force are long-standing, complex, and profound in their scope. 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.