Cornell Trustees Silent on Attempted Ouster of Conservative Law Prof

June 18, 2020

Cornell University's most prominent donors and trustees are staying silent in the face of a growing campaign to oust a conservative law professor.

Cornell trustees from Greenlight Capital founder David Einhorn to Goldman Sachs advisory director Abby Cohen and former Citigroup CEO Sanford Weill declined to comment on a pressure campaign pushing the university to dismiss conservative law professor William Jacobson.

Jacobson, meanwhile, is pressing the powers that be, including top university donors, to back him up after he ignited a firestorm by criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that the sorts of protests to which he is being subjected pose a threat to academic freedom and the core mission of the university.

"I don't know why someone who donates substantial sums to the university would not be interested in whether those funds are being used to foster a positive campus climate as opposed to a campus climate where free expression is not accepted," Jacobson told the Washington Free Beacon. "I don't know why they are not more interested in the values of preserving free expression by students and faculty on campus."

Weill did not respond to requests for comment and Einhorn declined to comment. Cohen declined to answer questions about the controversy before asking the Free Beacon to leave a message with her voicemail. She has not responded to subsequent requests for comment.

Black Lives Matter activists began protesting Jacobson on June 11 after he criticized the movement on his popular blog, "Legal Insurrection." Jacobson wrote that the protests that emerged in the wake of George Floyd's death in police custody are less about protecting African Americans than about efforts to "tear down our society to achieve their Marxist goals."

Cornell's Black Law Students Association (BLSA), the organization coordinating the campaign against Jacobson, called on the university to "critically examine the views of the individuals they intend to employ" and urged students to boycott the professor's classes in subsequent Facebook posts.

"[Jacobson's posts are] a clear attempt to 'red bait' black activists with McCarthyist rhetoric while refusing to acknowledge the tangible harm caused by structural racism and oppression," the post reads. The group also calls on students to boycott Jacobson's classes in the future. The Ivy League professor has made overtures to his critics, offering to debate BLSA executive board members about the issue. The group declined, citing Jacobson's "lack of expertise." Jacobson said student activists are attempting to replace academic debate with public pressure campaigns.

Jacobson said he is comfortable opining on current events, telling the Free Beacon, "I don't think you need a degree in order to give informed opinion on matters of public importance as long as you have sound facts and arguments to back you up."

The BLSA did not respond to requests for comment.

The Cornell chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing legal group, created a document to "amplify" the boycott of Jacobson's classes. The letter called Jacobson's posts "racist" and "inflammatory," and urged student groups to sign a Google document showing solidarity with the boycott.

"We have conferred with the leadership of BLSA, and would like to circulate the letter linked below to the student body, encouraging them to refrain from taking [Jacobson's] classes," the letter reads. "While Jacobson has the right to write as he likes, the student body has the right to choose whether they are comfortable being instructed on the law by a person with these views." The letter says the group intends to circulate the signed boycott letter to the student body on Thursday. The National Lawyers Guild did not respond to requests for comment.

In a new blog post, Jacobson argued that the goal of the National Lawyers Guild, BLM, and activists is not to promote a justified cause, but to silence students and other faculty members from dissenting.

"This is an attempt not just to scare students away from my course, but to scare students away from speaking their minds, and to create a faculty and student purity test," Jacobson wrote. "This isn't activism, it's anti-intellectualism."

Cornell University did not respond to a request for comment.