Jon A. Lindseth and his family have donated a fortune to Cornell University over the decades, and Jon was a longtime Trustee, now Trustee Emeritus.
Jon has seen enough of the destruction caused to Cornell from the hyper-aggressive DEI agenda, and is calling for the President and Provost to resign and major changes to be made by the Board of Trustees.
The Wall Street Journal reports, and asks, Is Cornell Next?
Wealthy alumni activists enraged at the leadership of their Ivy League alma maters have helped push out the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University.
Now, a new group of donors are pulling out the same playbook at Cornell University.
Jon Lindseth, a Cornell alumnus, donor and former trustee, asked the school’s board to dismiss university President Martha Pollack and provost Michael Kotlikoff for allegedly stifling open debate and rational argument. Alumni who support the call for the pair’s ouster also are upset about diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at the school as well as what they see as growing antisemitism on campus.
“Cornell is no longer concerned with discovering and disseminating knowledge, but rather with adhering to DEI groupthink policies and racialization,” Lindseth wrote in a five-page letter to Cornell’s board chair.
Trustees for the university in upstate New York are scheduled to meet Friday. In Lindseth’s letter, he calls for the school to eliminate DEI staffing and programming and adopt principles of free inquiry and open debate.
Fox News also covered the story:
In an open letter to Chairman Kraig Kayser and the Board of Trustees, Cornell emeritus trustee and presidential counselor Jon A. Lindseth urged the University to abandon its “misguided commitment” to DEI, claiming its embrace of such initiatives has yielded “disgrace” rather than “excellence.”
“I am proud to count myself one of several generations of Lindseths who are Cornell alumni and invested donors, but I am alarmed by the diminished quality of education offered lately by my alma mater because of its disastrous involvement with DEI policies that have infiltrated every part of the university,” he wrote.
“I have spent years hearing the stories of Cornell and its leadership, participating as a student, and sponsoring and funding some of the University’s exemplary past work including the Library (which I continue to fund). I can no longer make general contributions until the university reformulates its approach to education by replacing DEI groupthink with the original noble intent of Cornell,” he added.
Lindseth, who has been one of the school’s largest donors for several decades, contrasted President Martha E. Pollak’s “shameful” response to antisemitism and Hamas terrorism with her “strong response” in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. He suggested the discrepancy shows the school is no longer concerned with “discovering and disseminating knowledge” but rather “adhering to DEI groupthink.”
“Today, the instruction Cornell offers is in DEI groupthink applied to every field of study. The result is a moral decay, some call it ‘rot,’ that falls in line with prevailing ideology and dishonors basic principles of justice and free speech,” Lindseth added.
Jon is a Legal Insurrection reader, and echoes the points I have made here about the pernicious and damaging impact caused by the balkanization of the campus.
Will the Cornell Board of Trustees take up the call to action? Doubtful. WSJ reports the Chair of the Board is backing Pollack.
Kraig H. Kayser, chair of the Cornell Board of Trustees said Wednesday he supports leadership.
“For nearly seven years, I have strongly supported President Pollack, and that support remains strong today,” he wrote. “The board is working effectively with the administration to respond to various challenges facing higher education and opportunities to advance the university’s mission.”
There’s going to have to be a lot more pressure before the Board of Trustees will admit that the entire DEI industrial complex is smothering the campus, and that not only Pollak but also the Trustees are to blame. They are going to dig in, barring some major break, similar to when the Harvard, U. Penn, and MIT presidents testified in Congress.
Here is the Open Letter in full:
Chairman Kraig Kayser and Cornell Board of Trustees
Ithaca, New York 14853
Dear Chairman Kayser and Cornell Board of Trustees:
It is with a heavy heart that I outline this request to you today. As a proud Cornell alumnus, donor, Member of the Board of Trustees (Emeritus), and Counselor to the President, it is my opinion that Cornell must abandon its misguided commitment to DEI because it has yielded not excellence but disgrace.
I am proud to count myself one of several generations of Lindseths who are Cornell alumni and invested donors, but I am alarmed by the diminished quality of education offered lately by my alma mater because of its disastrous involvement with DEI policies that have infiltrated every part of the university.
President Pollack’s shameful recent response to clear acts of terrorism and antisemitism compared with her swift and strong response to the George Floyd tragedy demonstrates that Cornell is no longer concerned with discovering and disseminating knowledge, but rather with adhering to DEI groupthink policies and racialization. Ezra Cornell famously stated in 1865, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” Today the instruction Cornell offers is in DEI groupthink applied to every field of study. The result is a moral decay, some call it “rot,” that falls in line with prevailing ideology and dishonors basic principles of justice and free speech. Under President Pollack’s leadership the university continues to put more value on DEI’s broad application rather than merit. This was not how Cornell became one of the country’s leading institutions and a proud member of the Ivy League.
President Pollack’s failure to act with conviction and moral clarity was a watershed moment as I watched the harmful effects of DEI programming play out on a whole generation of Cornellians. As with any leading educational institution, the President is ultimately responsible for the culture of the university. Under President Pollack’s leadership, antisemitism and general intolerance have increased on campus. Her lack of leadership in the days following the October 7th massacre is only one of the many examples of poor leadership and failed policies at Cornell. A new campus “bias reporting system” fosters a hostile Orwellian environment among neighbors, classmates, and colleagues reporting on one another. The elimination of grades and SATs has created a system in which equal outcomes rather than proven merit has become the objective. This is disastrous for a research university that is built upon academic achievement and aims to educate and train some of our country’s leading scientists, architects, and engineers. Undoubtedly these DEI policies are pushed by the university’s new “Center For Racial Justice and Equitable Outcomes.” Pollack claims the Center is necessary to counter the promulgation of slavery, pervasive oppression, and systemic racism which she believes permeates Cornell today. This is both untrue and a further veering from Cornell’s proper mission.
Alumni of Cornell have organized to offer support and feedback over the past year, providing policy recommendations and whistleblower accounts of problematic behavior on campus by students, faculty and administrators alike. The intent has been to see Cornell’s excellence restored by a determined rolling back of DEI and the toxic academic environment it creates. The lack of acknowledgement, responsibility, or accountability from the administration in addressing the major threats now confronting the University has left me, as one of her appointed counselors, with the disappointing task of calling for President Martha Pollack’s resignation. Provost Michael Kotlikoff should also resign for his close involvement in the denigration of Cornell’s academic legacy under DEI. I’m sure everyone is familiar with “The Peter Principle.” It being people rise in an organization until they reach their level of incompetence. We have now reached this at Cornell.
I have requested that these calls for resignation be added to the agenda for our emergency board meeting on January 26, 2024. I am awaiting a response from the Chairman on this request.
The failure to address a request for Board engagement in this long overdue discussion about the future direction of Cornell is another symptom of the moral rot that has infiltrated all of the Ivy Universities, Cornell included. The Cornell Free Speech Alliance has informed alumni (including myself) that whistleblower accounts from faculty and students describe unacceptable policies and conditions now prevailing on campus. Reports have been made of Cornell’s hiring faculty based on race rather than academic merit (even in the pure sciences) to fulfill their DEI targets for tenure track positions in specific departments. This violates U.S. law. Instances are reported of qualified candidates for faculty positions being rejected for their DEI statements alone, thereby screening out faculty candidates based on their personal, religious, and/or political views which are unrelated to their academic discipline and instructional duties. Cornell Law alumni see such practices as violations of New York State employment law. I am told that faculty members have been singled out and disciplined for expressing minority opinions on national events and policy matters. Repeated failures to support faculty members choosing to exercise free expression and academic freedom is unconscionable for a university of Cornell’s stature. Cornell leaders have also failed to defend the rights of non-conforming speakers invited to campus and instead have fed a cancel culture on campus where bullying, intolerance, and petulant behavior rule rather than academic rigor and honest debate.
While Harvard, Penn, and MIT were the focus of public testimony in the recent U.S. Congressional hearings, Cornell University is also now under intense national scrutiny. As the subject of three different U.S. Congressional and Federal investigations, Cornell could lose its university accreditation, tax exempt status, and governmental funding. It is my belief that President Pollack would face the same public outcry and demands for resignation as Harvard and Penn had she been on the stand before Congress in early December.
President Pollack is responsible for adding a grave insult to injury. Not only has she given the DEI social engineering experiment equal priority with open inquiry, free expression, and academic freedom, Cornell removed the treasured and historical bust of Abraham Lincoln along with a copy of the Gettysburg Address from the Cornell University Library. Apparently a student found this most highly revered U.S. President to be offensive and requested its removal, which the University obliged. (I am told it has now been returned.) So even Lincoln could be canceled under the present administration. This is an absolute disgrace.
President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff have allowed their headlong support for DEI policies to take root at the expense of the four essential pillars of Cornell University: 1) Open Inquiry; 2) Academic Freedom; 3) Viewpoint Diversity; and 4) Free Expression. This is an inexcusable violation of their fundamental duty to Cornell. Therefore, they should resign their positions effective immediately.
We all see the increasing frustration of Cornell alumni as DEI continues to wreak havoc under President Pollack’s leadership. With my writing of this letter, an increasing number of Cornell alumni are refusing to continue donating to their alma mater. Unfortunately, President Pollack and her administration have refused to engage with concerned alumni and their sound policy recommendations to correct Cornell’s course. With all this as background, I now recommend that the Board of Trustees take the following actions :
ITEM 1: Replace the President and the Provost.
ITEM 2: Eliminate DEI staffing and programming. Revert to Open Inquiry, Academic Freedom, Free Expression, and Viewpoint Diversity on campus.
ITEM 3: Adopt and Implement “CFSA Open Inquiry Policy Recommendations To Cornell University” especially the Kalven Report (Political Neutrality) and Chicago Principles (Free Expression).
ITEM 4: Conform to the SCOTUS decision on elimination of Affirmative Action in Admissions and the Schils Report (See CFSA Recommendations) to return Cornell to “merit based” rather than “politically based” or “identity based” hiring and admission preferences.
ITEM 5: Publish a Cornell Policy Statement (similar to that just proposed at Penn) and a new Presidential and Provost Declaration, which Cornell’s new leadership will sign before taking office, that reinstates Open Inquiry, Academic Freedom, Free Expression, and Viewpoint Diversity at Cornell – while turning away from the current “political activism” priority that now dominates the University.
ITEM 6: Terminate Cornell’s use of its current web-based “Bias Reporting System”.
ITEM 7: Cancel opening of the proposed “Cornell Center for Racial Justice”. There is no racial justice with DEI.
I have spent years hearing the stories of Cornell and its leadership, participating as a student, and sponsoring and funding some of the University’s exemplary past work including the Library (which I continue to fund). I can no longer make general contributions until the university reformulates its approach to education by replacing DEI groupthink with the original noble intent of Cornell. Cornell’s embrace of DEI, as embodied in its new Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Outcomes, has or will help spawn an oppressive monoculture, inappropriate political activism, and an environment of fear and intimidation on campus while denigrating the merit based foundations of our university. Faculty, staff, and students are afraid to express their views for fear of punishment and ostracization from the Administration, faculty, and peers.
The damage we have seen inflicted upon Cornell’s reputation and academic standing by the current Administration grieves me and necessitates a truly comprehensive shift in leadership and priorities to put Cornell back on the path towards academic excellence. As my fellow alumni have witnessed, accountability is needed to bring a renewed focus on academic achievement. With the help of the new Ivy Excellence Initiative (a university reform movement recently established by the Common Sense Society), wide dissemination of this letter is enabling me to share my recommendations and opinions with my fellow Cornellians and the broader world. Many trustees, alumni, and donors have been on the sidelines for too long, frustrated by what they have seen happen at Cornell but unsure of how to get involved. I ask all Cornellians to join me in calling for new leadership and a roll back of the DEI dogma and monoculture now dominating Cornell.
President Pollack may signal a shift away from DEI, but the damage is done and she deserves to be relieved of her duties as were the Presidents of Harvard and Penn. During her tenure, President Pollack has strongly prioritized Cornell’s ill-fated DEI policy thrust. DEI should never have been allowed to corrupt an institution that earned its prestige for exemplary academics based on merit. Cornell desperately needs a cultural shift back to these bedrock principles. Due to the current policies of Cornell’s administration, Cornell is now one of the only four U.S. universities (Cornell, Harvard, Penn, and MIT) being investigated by two Committees of the U.S. Congress and by the U.S. Department Of Education for discrimination, intolerance, and antisemitism on their campuses. No alumnus, student, or faculty member should accept Cornell‘s being in this shameful position. We need new leadership to correct these intolerable circumstances and to redeem Cornell’s legacy and honor as soon as possible.
Cornell deserves better. Every Ivy League university deserves better. This much-needed reform can be implemented at Cornell—and be an example to the Ivy League and to other leading U.S. universities. Let us get on with what Cornell must now do.
Jon A. Lindseth
Member Cornell Board of Trustees (Emeritus),
Counselor to the President,
Cornell Alumnus and Donor.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.