Cornell president rejects proposed trigger warning mandate

Cornell University’s Student Assembly proposed a resolution that would require all university faculty to inform students of all 'triggering content' before it was shared in the classroom.

On April 3, Cornell University’s President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff released a statement denying the implementation of the resolution.

On Mar. 23, Cornell University’s Student Assembly proposed a resolution that would require all university faculty to inform students of all “triggering content” before it was shared in the classroom. 

According to the resolution, students would have the choice to “opt out” of exposure to traumatic content in class, “including but not limited to: sexual assault, domestic violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, racial hate crimes, transphobic violence, [and] homophobic harassment.” 

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Following the submission of the proposal, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) wrote a letter to Cornell officials on Mar. 29 imploring the university to reject the proposal, calling it an “overbroad and vague policy that countermands the university’s commitment to free speech and violates faculty academic freedom rights to determine how to approach potentially controversial material in the classroom.” 

On April 3, Cornell University’s President Martha Pollack and Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff released a statement denying the implementation of the resolution, citing the university-wide commitment to “establish[ing] the right of students, researchers, and scholars to select a course of study and research without censure or undue interference.”

President Pollack and Provost Kotlikoff further elaborated on the reasoning behind their decision, stating that “[the resolution] would have a chilling effect on faculty, who would naturally fear censure.”

They continued, “Learning to engage with difficult and challenging ideas is a core part of a university education: essential to our students’ intellectual growth, and to their future ability to lead and thrive in a diverse society.” 

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FIRE Director of Campus Rights Advocacy Alex Morey told Campus Reform that the Cornell Student Assembly’s initiative would have “undercut faculty’s ability to teach effectively,” and sees the university’s decision as a win.

“The President and Provost’s quick and clear rejection of this proposal was really heartening. We often see administrators equivocate in statements like these, but not Cornell. They articulated the importance of academic freedom, wide open debate, and sent the message that academic freedom and open debate is at the core of a Cornell education,” she said.

Morey continued, “If students are dealing with trauma, that’s legitimate. But censoring faculty is not the way to resolve it. What universities cannot do is sanitize the university environment and threaten professors who don’t bubble wrap their syllabus just in case a student might get upset.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly. 

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