“We must heed the call to be radical and progressive.”
When Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett uttered these words in her inauguration speech last Friday, Cornell students and faculty rejoiced and Cornell’s PR machine, including all of its social media accounts and the Cornell Daily Sun, had a field day. But just hours later Garrett spoke to a very different tune at “Democracy & Inequality” panel held in Bailey Hall, an event that closed out the Ithaca campus phase of the inauguration ceremonies.
Serving as the moderator for the panel discussion, which featured five Cornell professors, Garret inserted herself into a discussion regarding the Citizens United Supreme Court Case, and said the following: “I think one of the things we have to do is change the way we think about corruption in the legal sense, which is the governmental interest that allows us to regulate speech. Speech can be regulated. Speech has to be regulated in the narrowest possible way to serve a compelling state interest.”
A recorded version of the event is viewable here; the remarks quoted above occur starting at the 1:02:40 mark.
Unfortunately, none of the supposedly esteemed professors on stage—most of whom would probably self-identify as “radical and progressive”—interjected and challenged Garrett’s censorious sympathies.
Garret did caveat her policy prescription with the phrase “narrowest possible way”, but does such a qualification really mask the underlying meaning of her words? That it is right to stamp out or censor speech with which you disagree? Even if corruption is at stake, those who believe in the truly radical idea of free speech would reject the calls of statists who advocate for the “compelling state interest” over individual liberty.
Forget for a a minute about the context of Citizens United , and think merely about free speech. Whether you are conservative or liberal, traditional or progressive, rational or radical, do you want your speech regulated by the state when its interest is the opposite of yours? Enter the context of these words being uttered by a university president and Cornell’s history of fighting for student free speech, and now reconsider your reflexive adoration of our new president. Regulation of free speech, whether for a “compelling” state or administrative interest or otherwise, is censorship plain and simple.
This is not to say everyone should come to a definite conclusion about Garrett’s politics or intentions, but only to say that one should consider everything someone says, especially that which is said spur of the moment without filter over what is read in a prepared speech.
The quote above should also be viewed in context of the entire panel discussion, which was mostly indistinguishable from what one would expect from a Democratic National Committee talking points drafting session.
As the conversation sauntered between typical anti-capitalist rants and extended periods of Republican/conservative/Christian/Bush/Reagan/Nixon bashing, there was not a single instance when any of Cornell’s most esteemed scholars or its newest president suggested anything to alleviate economic inequality that didn’t consist of (1) taxing the rich and (2) increasing government spending. Naturally, the entire 80-minute conversation focused mainly on economic inequality rather than the more important issue of economic growth; to opine on the latter would require real-world experience, a business mindset, and creativity, whereas talking about the former requires little more than an ability to prattle on endlessly and an affinity for complaining over taking action.
All the while, all six on stage are handsomely paid academic and social elites earning well, well above what many in the audience and the parents of those in the audience earn. President Garrett, for example, can be expected to earn around what previous Cornell president David Skorton earned during his final year in office, a figure close to $800,000. Yet, rather than being (a) humble or (b) inspiring, those on stage had the gall to lecture others about spending less, submitting to increased taxation, and stamping out the desire to achieve professional success and wealth. Some on stage even bragged of their own wealth, in spite of all this.
Rather than quoting every fallacious and arrogant remark uttered on that stage, here’s a highlight from each professor:
Law professor Gerald Torres, was arrogant enough to complain of poor public school performance—and propose the novel remedy of increased spending—and later admit he sent his children to private school. Economics professor Robert Frank, suggested a collective impoverishment via heightened taxation would be of no consequence because one only measures wealth and status relative to others. Labor relations and history professor Nick Salvatore spent most of his speaking opportunities to advocate for socialism. Suzanne Mettler, government, spoke of gridlock in Washington, but only to blame Republicans who no longer want to kick the can down the road on major government spending overhauls. Only economics professor Eswar Prasad kept a level head, and even began his first remarks by saying world-wide inequality measured across countries has decreased significantly, but his remarks were few and far between.
And so it goes, the wheel continues to spin, with the radicals and progressives of this (once?) great institution defending to no end the state, the establishment, and ideological orthodoxy.