LIEBERWITZ | Cornell University Has an Obligation to Protect Academic Freedom in Extramural Speech

Re: “To President Pollack: We Must Not be Punished for Our Words in A Time of War” (Editorial, Oct. 22)

Cornell faces a test of its resolve to protect faculty academic freedom in the current moment of heightened tension and emotions concerning the Israel-Hamas War. At this point, the Cornell administration has fallen short of its obligations. On Oct. 17, President Pollack and Board of Trustees Chair Kraig Kayser issued a joint statement condemning Professor Russell Rickford’s extramural speech at an Oct. 15 rally for Palestinian rights. The Pollack/Kayser joint statement made implicit threats against Professor Rickford’s employment by stating that the University is currently “reviewing [the incident] consistent with [Cornell] procedures.”

Professor Rickford’s extramural speech at the Oct. 15 rally falls squarely within the protections of academic freedom to comment on political matters. That his speech offended or shocked does not lessen its protection, as academic freedom is most needed for speech that others find offensive. Professor Rickford has issued an apology concerning his choice of language in one part of his speech. With or without this apology, Professor Rickford’s speech is protected by academic freedom.