Interim Policy Changes January 2024

On January 24, 2024, the Office of the President released two interim policies related to expressive activity and doxxing. We are now inviting the Cornell community's assistance in refining these policies:

As the university continues to solicit feedback, we encourage all faculty, staff, and students to engage in the process of reviewing and commenting on these interim policies. They will be presented at the University Assembly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, from 4:45 to 6 p.m. in 401 Physical Sciences Building or by Zoom.

This page contains comments posted by members of the Cornell community pertaining to the Interim Expressive Activity and Anti-Doxxing Policies. Comments containing inappropriate language, including but not limited to offensive, profane, vulgar, threatening, harassing, or abusive language, are subject to removal.



** Commenting is closed.

Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy

Submitted by Anonymous Committee Member on Sun, 2024-03-03 14:45 (user name hidden)

While much of the discussion has rightly focused on the Interim Expressive Activity Policy, there are also issues with the Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy that warrant further discussion.

1) The Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy still appears to provide less support for victims of targeted online harassment than was recommended by the Faculty Senate nearly three years ago:

2) There appears to be widespread confusion over what counts as “harassment” under the Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy, as evident in assertions made at recent Faculty Senate and Town Hall meetings calling protestors “harassers”.

3) There appears to be several typos and misleading statements in the Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy and the linked “[anti-?]doxxing resource guide.”

First, assuming that post-docs should be protected under the Interim Anti-Doxxing Policy, it should be revised to read: “Accordingly, a Cornell student, faculty member, post-doctoral trainee, or staff member will violate this policy if they knowingly make Restricted Personal Information about a Cornell student, faculty member, [POST-DOCTORAL TRAINEE,] or staff member publicly available.”

Second, in the Anti-Doxxing Resource Guide, the section on “Cornell University Policy” incorporates language verbatim from the Interim Expressive Activity Policy but taken out of context and without citing that source: “Cornellians should remember that they speak for themselves only and are responsible for their own speech.” The key part was left out: “When engaging in expressive activity, Cornellians should remember…” The effect here is to blame and threaten victims of targeted online harassment, who are not necessarily at fault for the harassment they receive.

Ultimately, we need to know more about how these two policies will inevitably affect each other and individuals exercising their rights to academic freedom and freedom of expression.


Echoing others

Submitted by Jim DelRosso on Fri, 2024-03-01 13:15

Most of my criticisms of the interim expressive activity policy have been stated, and stated well, below. As such, I'll begin by saying that I agree strongly in terms of how problematic this policy is, both in what it restricts and how it will be enforced.

I do want to make two points, though. First, the claims made at multiple town halls that this policy is in a "listening" or "public comment" period are disingenuous; this is an interim policy, not a proposed one. The policy is in effect, as we have seen with how student protesters are already being treated and in how staff have been explicitly told to enforce it.

Second, I am frustrated at the insistence that students targeted under this policy will have their cases be handled under a system of "restorative justice". While I would not claim to be a true scholar of the concept, I know of no valid frameworks of restorative justice that involves calling the cops on protestors.

I know that the Title VI investigation and external forces are putting the University under tremendous pressure. I ask that the administration rethink this policy as a method of addressing that pressure.

Thank you.


Concerns about policy and town hall

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2024-03-01 10:43 (user name hidden)

I agree with the many commenters who have posted clear and detailed feedback about the ways in which the interim policy stifles freedom of expression. I also second the criticism of the staff town hall held last week, during which the information provided was vague, frustrating, and even scary, because staff were left with the impression that if any member of the Cornell community claims to have experienced harassment because of speech we expressed in our private lives, we cannot expect to be supported or protected by our employer.

I would also like to state the obvious, which is that this policy was announced in the wake of, and includes several provisions that appear to specifically target, protests held on Cornell's campus to draw attention to the deaths of 30,000 Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the displacement of a million more. The Cornell community, as with many university communities, has a long tradition of protesting crimes against humanity in the US and around the world. Why do such protests at the current moment, particularly in Cornell's theme year on freedom of expression, result in an unprecedented restriction of freedom of speech on our campus? I was particularly troubled, during the town hall, when a video was shown of a protest in Mann Library. The protest was framed as an obvious negative disruption, but no one at the town hall noted that the student leading the protest was reading aloud the names of Palestinian children who have been murdered. I do not support policies which define public acknowledgement of these horrible and unwarranted deaths a "disruption."


Concerns about staff town hall discussion

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Thu, 2024-02-29 15:02 (user name hidden)

I was dismayed by the repeated use of the word "clarity" at the staff town hall, while panelists engaged in vague and non-specific discussion of how staff may be affected by the new policy (and by political speech at work and outside of work more broadly).  I see that others have articulated concerns with the focus on "disruption," so I'll focus my feedback on my concern with the ideas of "content neutral" policy application and the concept of an employee potentially "feeling harassed" by messages or materials displayed by other employees.  It's alarming that panelists mentioned that what staff are allowed to say or display in the workplace is specific to their unique situation/workspace.  Panelists mentioned that the policy isn't engaged unless someone has a problem with another staff member's speech, and that it depends on what may make someone "feel harassed" (this was - case in point - extremely vague in its delivery).  It seems ridiculous that anyone could report feeling harassed by anything, and I'm especially concerned about representations of diversity and difference.  What if, for example, I were to display a pride flag or "safe space" sign in my office, and what if someone with homophobic or transphobic opinions felt harassed by that?  Is my LGBTQ+ identity not a protected minority status, and could a "content neutral" application of this policy not ask me to closet myself at work?  I would like to see clarification of how this policy and the comments about employees "feeling harassed" interacts with the bias and harassment policy.  I would like to see clarification of what "context neutral" means in relation to hate speech and/or protected minority status.


Response to Town Hall

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Thu, 2024-02-29 14:35 (user name hidden)

It is very clear that this policy exists for the benefit of outside observers. Congressional observers, donors, parents of students... in essence, it exists for people who do not actually participate in the on-campus conversations. Cornell should not cower from the development, education, and voices of its own students, faculty, and staff because the people who already have money, power, and voices are uncomfortable. That is not the university I want to be a part of. Cornell was not founded to be subservient to the political whims of its monied interests. Cornellians should be allowed to criticize Cornell in effective, nonviolent ways.

It is highly disingenuous to say that you just realized that candles were a safety hazard. The banning of candlelight vigils is one of the more obviously politically motivated moves in this document, but there are plenty more. 'Disruptive activity' is already not allowed on campus-- this policy just reiterates that the current protests are unwelcome and the university wants them to be disempowered.

Finally, the town hall was a bit of a joke, to be honest. Please don't read pre-written statements-- they show you aren't considering our concerns or engaging in dialogue with us, you are only going to stick to HR talking points.


Broader Consequences of Policy

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Wed, 2024-02-28 13:42 (user name hidden)

I attended the recent staff town hall regarding the expressive activity policy, and I want to start by saying that I do understand *why* Cornell feels this action was necessary. Like any institution, they have to remain neutral on most issues -- abiding by the opinions of stakeholders, donors, parents, etc. 

HOWEVER, I do want the university to imagine the larger consequences of these policies; as many commenters have already brought up, it will undoubtedly result in fewer students organizing at all in fear of experiencing disciplinary action. It might even cause the remaining students who DO still want to protest to be frustrated, and organize in more violent ways. It all just feels counter-intuitive. 

Reading through the interim expressive activity policy, the ultimate feeling that I get from it is that Cornell believes even peaceful protests are a nuisance and need to be contained to ensure there are zero disruptions to students' learning. And in response to that, I say: for the, at MOST, hours of audible or spatial disruption that might occur during a peaceful protest, is that really such a dramatic loss if we, as a result, experience progress within the institution (stale and unchanging as they often are)? The Cornell community has clearly reaped the benefits of protests in the past, as the majority of commenters have pointed out (not to mention one of the first values on their website being "Free and Open Inquiry and Expression"), so why restrict and suppress them now?

A disruption may be a little annoying for some, but if we don't allow that ripple of democratic liberty to occur how can we expect the young adults that attend this institution to be agents of positive social and political change when they go out into the world? How can the university adapt and connect to this new generation -- one that cares for the lives and freedoms of civilians both near and far? 

Last thing: if employees now have to call public safety officers on any kind of protest that occurs in forbidden indoor areas, are those officers being trained on how to actually de-escalate protests? Do they understand the forms of trauma that many organizers might have with police depending on their race or class status, and therefore know not to approach students/staff/faculty organizing with unneeded force? These are things I HOPE are being discussed behind closed doors before finalizing this policy. 


Distinctions needed between speech types

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Tue, 2024-02-27 10:51 (user name hidden)

In reading the new Interim Policy, the document outlining the changes/conformation to older documents, and several pages of these comments, it would be useful in the final policy to have distinctions between the following elements, at least in the physical domain (direct people and spaces):

  • We can clarify differences between speech designed to communicate/advocate a viewpoint in a closed setting (e.g. a hosted speaker in a lecture hall), with speech designed to disrupt/stop said speech (e.g. heckling/interrupting inside said room, speaking contrary speech outside the time for questions, etc.). If we are evangelizing free inquiry and speech in an era of extreme polarization, more speech is better, rather than efforts at cancelling speech. To me, the key features of an invited guest by a university organization, a closed indoor space, etc. can demarcate this former speech to be affirmed/protected vs. the latter. While the interim and old policies appear to support this principle, in practice it has not been followed - especially given the uniqueness of these situations. One only need to fluster or block the speaker for that fixed time to succeed in stopping speech. Clarity between these speech types would help develop expectations and consequences for our community. 
  • Protest speech, especially outdoors and in/around administrative buildings is a different ballgame as those elaborating in other posts, and can be subject to entirely different rules. Again, there can be certain expectations and consequences elaborated for these as different from the point above. Silencing protest is disastrous to our community, but so is physical violence especially when it affects bystanders and employed staff for which crowd management is not their role or training. There should be an expectation for university administrators to have plans and training to handle protests constructively, not necessarily the other way around. Repression is not a substitute. Further, there should be expectations for counter-protests, and how to manage those, rather than their prevention. I see daylight between these activities and those above. 
  • It should be clarified that if an administrative body is deliberating/voting on policy in an indoor meeting, protest outside is reasonable. It could be put into rules that a vote is not legal/binding unless held where/when such opportunity was present. 
  • The Provost and Interim Policy identified that organizers should 1) register these events with administrators, and 2) develop a plan to provide safety in collaboration with the university. While Cornell has had some success in bringing diverse viewpoint speakers to campus, it would be informative if they could review these previous registrations and present data on how well this policy has worked, and whether it has been equally effective for polarizing viewpoints. If such data doesn't exist, it could offer a survey for people to record examples to review. It could be that claimed that this registration only enhances the risk to the event by its disclosure, especially if management plans are also disclosed. If we measure policy effectiveness by the diverse speech actually taking place and safely, perhaps that can be a barometer of our support for it. 
  • Resourcing of management and protection for speech events could itself be chilling of speech if it is the responsibility of the club for paying for something based on the unpredictable actions of others. It could also be managed relative to the speech types above based on setting clear expectations and consequences for those attending and those wishing to disrupt. We shouldn't have to be a police state to welcome diverse speech, as that is also chilling of a vibrant diverse community. There can be registration, seating, etc. for those electing to attend a speech, which can also manage Cornell vs. outside attenders. Of course, this needs to be protected against Doxing, but such info doesn't need to be stored after the event completes. 

In re-reading the article about the 1969 protests, I appreciate both the significance of that event in Cornell and National history, and the disruption to learning that was incurred. Just like with Covid-19, Cornell survived, and potentially has thrived based on how we handled the events. In both cases, it's not just the days of the event, but long, steady progress. I also have read parallel accounts from diverse viewpoints of both events at Cornell. It seems in both events, considering the circumstance of who is most encumbered by the policy is a better lens for determining its effectiveness than how much administrative headache it would require.


Please clarify what is actually changing

Submitted by Drew Margolin on Mon, 2024-02-26 16:59

I listened to the Town Hall from last week.  I think it did a good job of conveying the spirit / intent of the new policy.  I understand that we need a policy to be compliant with applicable laws, that drafting a policy was not a response to recent political events, that it was long overdue given the change in the student code of conduct and that a new, centrally articulated and coherently explained policy will do a much better job of "encouraging" the right kind of behavior.  For example, making it very clear what kinds of events have to registered in what way will reduce the likelihood that protests are disruptive.  

That said, I feel that the presentation, as well as the accompanying documents, are not really addressing the underlying question: what, exactly, is different? I see that the administration has shared this comparison chart:.  But this chart is just showing two forms of legalese next to each other.  I doubt that most people who are not lawyers or law students can tell the difference in what these mean.  

I am requesting a simple set of scenarios be included with the chart, or otherwise articulated.  These would be of the form:

"Under the old policy, this was allowed.  Now, under the new policy, this is not allowed."

"Under the old policy, this was allowed.  Now, under the new policy, this is not allowed."

"Under the old policy, this was not allowed.  Now, under the new policy, this is allowed."

"Under the old policy, this was required.  Now, under the new policy, this is not required."

"Under the old policy, this was required.  Now, under the new policy, this is not required."

"Under the old policy, this was not required.  Now, under the new policy, this is required."

Naming such changes in concrete terms would go a long way toward providing some transparency.  I understand that there are many aspects of the policy -- the spirit, the goals, what it "encourages" or aims for -- that are not captured by these blunt comparisons.  But we don't need to approve a formal policy to have a spirit. We need a policy because we are planning to rule out some behaviors and rule in others.  We need to understand exactly what those are if we are to make a reasonable judgment about the policy's appropriateness and feasibility.


Oh also, I realize that any

Submitted by J. Nathan Matias on Mon, 2024-02-26 13:56

Oh also, I realize that any consequences for research and entrepreneurship might be side effects outside of the intent of the policy. I hope that by raising this issue, these important outcomes can be incorporated into institutional thinking about the possible unintended consequences of the policy as it stands.


Possible restrictions on tech research & entrepreneurship

Submitted by J. Nathan Matias on Mon, 2024-02-26 13:53

Hi everyone,

Thanks for the many thoughtful contributions to this important policy conversation. I would like to raise a question about the potential impact on technology research & entrepreneurship.

The policy currently says that "The use of university resources for expressive activities is restricted to Cornellians and to sponsored university guests." It also says that expressive activities include "the distribution of information and other means of communicating viewpoints and opinions." As someone who does research involving the creation and maintenance of social technologies and AI, I'm interested in clarification on whether the policy creates the risk of restrictions to research and entrepreneurship.

Many of us do publicly-engaged research that uses Cornell resources to facilitate the online communications of other people. For example, the Lab of Ornithology runs a platform that people use to make public statements about birds. Arxiv runs a platform that scientists all over the world use to conduct expressive activities. In recent memory, Cornell digital platforms have been a major pathway for citizens to express their opinions to federal agencies in public consultations on regulations. Many Cornell startups have used university resources to create social tech platforms that the public can use to interact with one another—and which are an important part of Cornell's IP licensing programs. My own lab does research on digital discourse, for example by facilitating the expressions of thousands of Wikipedians.

In all of those cases, it's impossible and undesirable for us to pre-approve every person who uses our digital infrastructure for communication, or to review in advance what they have to say. I have raised this issue with General Counsel's office. I'm mentioning it here as well, in case it can inform the faculty conversation.

--Dr. J. Nathan Matias
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication
Field Member, Information Science