For this story we need to adapt an old saying: “Hell hath no fury like a graduate student scorned.”
In late March, graduate students at Cornell University attempted to unionize. Several public universities have allowed this to happen, but private universities such as Cornell have been more wary. Just a few days before students were set to vote on unionization, professor David Collum, who chairs Cornell’s chemistry department, sent an email to several hundred faculty members warning of the “risk” of student unionization.
“Although we must be circumspect in communications with students, I can be brutally blunt with you: I believe it will be a disaster in the long run if unionization occurs — an existential risk to Cornell’s graduate program,” Collum wrote.
Collum told the Cornell Daily Sun he did not intend to distribute “propaganda,” but union-supporting students clearly took it as such. Some even accused Collum of violating a Code of Conduct contract between the union and the Ivy League university, but a university dean said the school investigated the claim and found no violation.
He Doesn’t Like Our Proposal. Let’s Dox Him
More voted against the union than for it, but many votes were contested. In what appears to be retaliation for Collum’s email and opposition to the union, several graduate students looked through the professor’s tweets to find ammunition to harm his reputation. They found tweets they were able to spin into claiming Collum is “sexist” and “transphobic,” then wrote to the school paper claiming these tweets prove Collum creates a “hostile work environment,” without providing evidence that anything the professor has tweeted has led to mistreatment in his department.
Instead, the students wrote that graduate students may “feel” as though they cannot send Collum complaints about sexual harassment.
Four days after the students published their letter in the Daily Sun, another professor, William Jacobson, who works in the law department and blogs at the conservative website Legal Insurrection, defended Collum, saying the graduate students took the chemistry professor’s tweets out of context to negatively paint him as sexist.
The students claimed Collum supported Mike Cernovich, a controversial figure who has been accused of being a “rape apologist.” Collum had tweeted a public message at Cernovich in response to a “60 Minutes” appearance, asking the social media personality to write about “fake news.” The graduate students claim this shows Collum supported Cernovich and everything he tweets and does, pointing out a tweet from the former in 2012 that claims “Date rape does not exist.”
When this was pointed out to Collum, he responded with: “Good point,” then deleted his original tweet to Cernovich. The graduate students left this all out, of course, in making their accusations. The argument itself was dumb from the beginning. People don’t usually go through a person’s entire Twitter history to make sure the person they’re responding to online has never said something objectionable. Collum may well have heard of Cernovich that night on “60 Minutes,” so to paint him as some sort of supporter of everything Cernovich has ever done is cheap.
If This Is All the Evidence You Guys Got…
Collum also put out a 135-page document called the “2015 Year in Review.” The students quoted a single line they found objectionable. Collum had written: “In an effort to stem a perceived epidemic of sexual violence against women, the Department of Education sent strong messages to universities…” The students claimed this sentence means Collum was “pushing the myth that rape on college campuses is a ‘perceived’ threat.”
They ignored that Collum wrote in the same section: “Women have been the object of abuse since abuse was first invented. It is obvious to all that this is wrong an [sic] should be opposed by all rational means.”
Despite their high average test scores, these Cornell students don’t seem capable of discerning facts from a narrative. It’s not a myth that sexual assault on college campuses is a “perceived” threat, because the evidence doesn’t back up the wild claims often made about “the campus rape epidemic.”
“Studies” that claim 20 percent of college women are victims can only arrive at that number by broadening the definition of sexual assault far beyond the legal definition and relying heavily on biased responses. But I guess we can’t count on students at a prestigious university like Cornell to understand something like that.
There’s also no indication that Collum doesn’t whole-heartedly accept those flawed studies.
Jacobson also identifies other examples of where the graduate students intentionally ignored context to smear Collum. In an email from Collum posted in the comment section of Jacobson’s letter to the editor, the chemistry professor issued his only response on the subject (he did not respond to my request for more information).
While Collum did say he is at odds with today’s social justice movement, he insisted that his department “provide[s] an environment that optimizes everybody’s sense of well being, happiness, and professional progress.” He also said that if students find him too polarizing, they can go to “a couple dozen” other members of the department.
“Life offers no emotionally safe spaces—statements to the contrary are a crock—but you can take actions to optimize the world around you,” Collum wrote. “The adults on campus are poised and anxious to help.”
Naturally, Collum’s email response angered social justice warriors, who were incensed that he said their movement is “becoming toxic.” A lack of self-reflection seems to be endemic among the campus crazy crowd. This is just the latest example of a professor’s reputation being dragged through the mud because he doesn’t toe the line of social justice extremism.