Cornell considering 'enhanced' punishments for 'bias' incidents

Among the more shocking proposals is a "bias enhancement" provision that would impose stronger penalties for violations of the code of conduct that administrators determine were "motivated by bias."

Cornell University will spend the summer evaluating dozens of diversity initiatives proposed by a task force convened in response to student complaints about bias-related incidents.

Cornell University is considering “enhanced” punishments for misconduct that is “motivated by bias” along with dozens of other proposals for making the campus more “diverse” and “inclusive.”

As Campus Reform reported in October, Cornell created the Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate in response to student demands sparked by a flurry of racially-charged incidents, including one in which a student caused a stir by chanting “build a wall.” 

[RELATED: Latinos ask Cornell to punish frat for ‘build a wall’ chant]

The task force, which consists of three subcommittees, has now issued its final list of recommendations for improving campus climate, including dozens of specific steps the university can take to achieve its diversity objectives.

On June 8, university President Martha E. Pollack announced that she was “very appreciative of the care and thought that has gone into the report,” and assured students that “the recommendations it contains will lead to actions that have a meaningful impact on our goals of creating a more inclusive, welcoming, and just campus.”

Pollack explained that her leadership team would spend the summer reviewing the recommendations, pledging to “provide an update on [their] progress and overall implementation approach” in the fall. 

“I expect that some of the recommendations in the report, along with several of the diversity and inclusion initiatives underway since the fall semester, will already have been implemented by the start of the fall semester,” she added.

[RELATED: Cornell student gov refuses to outlaw political discrimination]

The subcommittee focusing on “campus experience” reported participating in “over 200 separate conversations with a broad cross section of community members,” as well as collecting data through an online survey which lead to a discovery of several “problems.” 

In its lengthy report, the subcommittee published an extensive list of recommendations, including the creation of “a university-wide diversity course requirement” that can provide students with a “minimum level of preparation for engaging effectively with a diverse world.”

The subcommittee also expressed concern that “diversity and inclusion are not sufficiently integrated with the core research and teaching mission of the university,” and made recommendations to formally integrate faculty holding “positions of influence” into diversity leadership positions and implement mandatory “dialogue-based” diversity workshops in freshmen orientation.  

[RELATED: Cornell embraces racial diversity, eschews ideological diversity]

Other immediate recommendations included greater sponsorship of “inclusive community events,” various adjustments to improve the school’s “bias reporting system,” “‘Contributions to Diversity and Inclusion’ statement in [job] application materials,” and much more.

Notably, the subcommittee also listed some long-term recommendations for the school, including grants to faculty who “belong to minoritized identity groups” and do “unrecognized work” to promote the community. Likewise, the report suggests that the administration also consider creating a “multicultural student center,” establishing incentives to promote  “minority-owned businesses,” and more. 

The report from the second subcommittee, which examined “regulation of speech and harassment,” recommended that the university “revise the campus Code of Conduct to make it applicable to student conduct only,” arguing that faculty and staff misconduct should be addressed through “personnel and other policies.”

In one of its most intriguing recommendations, the subcommittee suggested that the school apply a “bias enhancement” standard for misconduct that is “motivated by bias.”

“We believe the university should at least have the option of suspending or expelling from our community someone who violates the campus code when the violation was motivated by bias,” the report states, adding a sample provision that would apply the enhanced penalty in cases involving bias based on “age, race, ethnicity, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, gender identity, disability, predisposing genetic characteristics, familial status, or marital status.”

While the subcommittee acknowledged that students have expressed concerns about being punished for “expressing conservative points of view,” it dismissed such anxieties by saying its members are “satisfied” that the current code of conduct adequately addresses controversial political speech, and therefore opted to focus exclusively on “bolstering the university’s ability to respond to bias incidents.”

[RELATED: Cornell student gov demands ‘repercussions’ for ‘hate speech’]

The third report from the “Campus Response” subcommittee echoed calls to reform the school’s bias incident reporting system, and even suggested modifying course evaluations “to include an assessment of the instructor’s efforts to create an inclusive climate.”

Specifically, the subcommittee expressed concern that “students affected by bias incidents cited experiences with unsympathetic professors refusing to make allowances that account for the time commitment and emotional labor that detract from their coursework.” 

To remedy this, the report calls for establishing a “uniform policy for giving extensions on coursework when students have been adversely affected by campus wide bias incidents,” as well as developing mandatory trainings for professors and teaching assistants.

Urging Cornell to treat bias as “a public health issue,” the subcommittee goes on to recommend that the university establish a formal bias response protocol within the next six months, hire a Diversity and Inclusion Communications Director, and create “engaged-learning grants” to compensate students willing to serve as “bias response assistants or campus climate research assistants.”

Cornell did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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