Since I announced my plans to retire—and President Skorton wrote his gracious tribute to me in the last issue—I have received many letters, e-mails, and calls from CAM readers. It’s impossible to thank each of you individually, but I want you to know how much I appreciate it. I feel fortunate to have been able to work at Cornell and to be in a position where I was in contact with so many engaging (and occasionally irritated) alumni. It’s been a fantastic experience, and I will miss it. I will also miss the extraordinary staff that I have worked with at CAM—a lot of talent in one small office. And a final tip of my Cornell cap goes to my classmates in the Class of ’71 for the kind words in the class column and the congratulatory ad in this issue.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who has made my job so enjoyable for the past fourteen years. It’s been great.
Thumbs Down for ‘Pin-Up’
This is to express my outrage at a fact that was revealed in the March/April 2014 issue of CAM, in a story in the Class Notes entitled “High Spirits,” about Rifino Valentine ’93. The story stated that Mr. Valentine owns and operates the Valentine Distilling Company in the Detroit metropolitan area. It further stated that “Valentine’s spirits bear vintage-style labels; the company’s logo features a classic pin-up girl in fishnets and garters.” (You can see the logo at valentinedistilling. com.) Apparently, CAM saw nothing wrong with this and in fact referred to the adult woman in the logo as a “girl,” a word whose primary meaning refers to a female child.
I am a cofounder of the National Organization for Women and was the first woman attorney in the Office of the General Counsel at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I have given talks about the women’s rights movement at the College of Arts & Sciences, the ILR School, and the Law School. You can, therefore, imagine how disturbing I found Mr. Valentine’s logo and your blithe acceptance of it.
I sent an e-mail to Mr. Valentine suggesting that he remove the logo from his liquor bottles since it is sexually exploitative, it denigrates women, and a scantily clad woman has no relation to the selling of liquor. Mr. Valentine responded with the less-than-persuasive argument that his mother did not find the logo sexist and that pin-ups were in vogue in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. I responded that what was acceptable in the U.S. then may not be acceptable today. We have had a revolution in the rights and status of women since those days, about which both Mr. Valentine and CAM seem to be unaware.
Social (Media) Anxiety
Cornell researchers and the University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) Human Research Protection Program have recently been questioned and criticized for their role in a study, conducted by Facebook, that manipulated users’ social media feeds. The article, “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion Through Social Networks,” was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; it studied data collected by Facebook, under the company’s terms of service, as it artificially manipulated user feeds. Because Facebook collected the data, Cornell’s IRB decided that it did not need to review the research design or approve its use of human subjects.
At issue is whether accepting a clause in Facebook’s terms of service constitutes “informed consent” of research subjects. Indeed, PNAS has since released a statement noting that the standard set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, known as the “Common Rule,” gives subjects informed consent and the ability to opt out of the research. As a private company, however, Facebook is not bound to the Common Rule. Effectively, partnering with industry is a way to work around regulations that government and academic peer review have put in place to protect subjects and the validity of results.
All members of the Cornell community should be attentive to the ethical concerns that attend academic and industry partnerships. This seems especially important as the University increasingly seeks to break down barriers between industry and the academy in favored initiatives like the Cornell Tech campus in New York. By surrendering academic standards of ethics and oversight to private industry, we have shown a troubling preference for expedience over rigor.
Correspondence, page 6: The letter from Lewis Perdue ’72 was assembled from a series of messages sent by Mr. Perdue. Along the way, some errors occurred. His paternal great-grandfather, Andrew Armstrong Kincannon, was the chancellor at the University of Mississippi, and it was his maternal grandfather who owned two cotton plantations in the Delta.