Assessing the pluses and minuses of NYC Tech—and the Technion agreement
Assessing the pluses and minuses of NYC Tech—and the Technion agreement
“Getting Technical” (May/June 2012) was a fine account of the University’s planned tech campus. While it’s not hard to understand why Cornell found New York City’s offer irresistible, the action is certainly no vote of confidence in Ithaca. One wonders about the beneficial impact on the lagging Central New York economy had the University chosen to make its investment in its traditional hometown rather than in an already job-rich city.
That Cornell would cite Ithaca’s remote location as an impediment to attracting “the best and the brightest” students and faculty rings a bit hollow, besides being no compliment to current and past Cornellians. And wouldn’t investment by Cornell in Ithaca have created those needed jobs for spouses by spinning off benefits to the local economy?
Ed. Note: The writer, formerly a Cooperative Extension associate with the College of Human Ecology, is the author of The Third Lifetime Place: A New Economic Opportunity for College Towns.
Beth Saulnier’s story of the partnership between Cornell and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is not complete without examination of a background thread hidden from public view. This secret thread is the story of how the Board of Trustees was blindsided by the Skorton Administration, having first approved the NYC Tech venture in principle in late 2010, long before the Technion relationship was disclosed in October 2011. By then, the Board had no choice but to endorse the administration’s proposal. This was done without any debate over the kinds of Israeli defense-related research that would inevitably be conducted at this new campus, most particularly how information and sensor technology would be used to surveil Palestinians trapped in the Occupied Territories or how weapon-effects modeling would be used to enhance Israel’s offensive strike systems.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, University Counsel James Mingle responds: I can confirm that at the same October 2011 meeting at which the Board approved the University’s submission of its proposal in response to the City of New York’s Request for Proposals, the Board also approved the proposed alliance between Cornell University and the Technion, which would be a critical component of the CornellNYC Tech campus.
I read with interest your article about the NYC Tech campus, but I was dismayed to see that some alumni, who supposedly learned critical thinking skills at Cornell, are so easily duped by misinformation and half-truths promulgated about Israel. These people don’t seem to object to our University’s association with an institute in Saudia Arabia—a country with unbelievable repression of women and one that is hardly a true friend of the United States.
When recent natural disasters struck Haiti, Japan, and Turkey, Israel was one of the first nations to send medical and humanitarian relief. Israel is a world leader in alternative energy technology and in providing assistance to African agricultural societies. To object to an association with an institution from Israel—the only Middle Eastern democracy—is ludicrous. I am pleased that President Skorton has not backed down in the face of these complaints about the Technion.
The letter from Professor Abby Lippman ’60 (“A Dissenting Voice,” Correspondence, May/June 2012) is not one but many voices. Not only do they demonize Israel, they attack academic freedom. In this case, the attack is uncertain at its core; Lippman writes: “[Technion] practices seem to violate basic academic principles and human rights.” But close ties to the military do not violate academic principles. In fact, research institutions have a long history of supporting their militaries. The Association of American Universities clearly backs such support, and AAU counts both McGill and Cornell as long-standing members.
The academy must remain a place for (and even encourage) open thought, constructive dialogue, and cooperative research. This includes participation by scholars of all backgrounds at Israeli universities. Anything less patently violates basic academic principles.
With respect to the objections voiced by Professor Lippman, my opinion is that the protest is not so much an effort to keep Cornell “Technion-free” as it is just another attempt to delegitimize Israel as a nation. The real issue being raised is not whether Cornell somehow contributes to the oppression of Palestinians by partnering with the Technion, but whether Israel, its people, and its institutions have the right to participate in global activities.
Lippman and I probably agree on the need for Israel to end the occupation; for both sides to end discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation; and for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace. However, boycotting Israel and Israeli activities will not end the occupation or bring peace to the region. All it will do is help silence the Israeli voices for peace and social justice that emanate from its campuses, including the Technion, and strengthen a right-wing coalition whose overarching goal is just to stay in power.
Where Lippman and I appear to part company is on the question of Israel’s right to defend her people. Israel is a small nation of about 7 million surrounded by countries with hundreds of millions of people who would prefer that Israel simply not exist. Lippman’s unnamed sources conveniently leave out of their narrative the Palestinian practice of firing missiles and staging armed raids that have no purpose other than to kill, maim, or terrorize civilians. These so-called “acts of resistance” are violations of international law according to Human Rights Watch and the Goldstone Commission. So the question that ought to be asked of Professor Lippman and the other protestors is: how many Israelis have to be killed, maimed, or terrorized before they are allowed to defend themselves?
Professor Lippman shows her true politically biased colors by criticizing Cornell for collaborating with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology on the new NYC Tech campus for some perceived injustices that the Technion has allegedly committed against Palestinian Arabs as Israel defends itself against terror. These are serious charges for which she provides no direct proof—because there is none.
Cornell has a tradition of being an open-minded, diverse, nondiscriminatory institution that stands for academic freedom and the pursuit of greater good. Perhaps at McGill and Concordia universities, where Lippman has appointments, that is not the case. These boycotts have never been successful and actually have the unintended consequence of punishing those they think they are aiding; in this case, the very Palestinians Arabs who work at, study in, and directly benefit from the interconnected Israeli economy. Let’s review some basic facts that were ignored by the writer: Israel is a vibrant pluralistic democracy under siege. It has the absolute right to defend itself against Hamas, the hostile government in Gaza, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel and all Jews. Israel also has the right to defend itself against the hatred and incitement from Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, which control the Arab-populated areas of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and refuse to recognize Israel’s very right to exist. Israel is in favor of a negotiated two-state solution, but has been rebuffed repeatedly by the Arabs for many years. Palestinian Arabs in Israel enjoy more rights than in any Arab or Muslim country, including access to education, health care, voting, government, and civil and gay rights.
I could possibly respect Lippman and her institutions’ positions if they were consistent. She fails to state if they are boycotting China, one of the world’s worst human rights offenders. How about Saudi Arabia or Iran? Are they protesting the complete lack of women’s, minority, and gay rights in these countries? How about European or U.S. companies engaged in the defense industries? Surely, they must be engaged in some activities that these boycotters believe are “oppressing” others, even as they are defending their own freedoms. But if they want to boycott, then they must go all the way and not cherry-pick: boycott all products and services that Israel and its high-tech institutions and companies have produced and shared with entire world—Palestinian Arabs included. So go ahead and stop using the computer, cell phone, and countless health-care technologies and medications.
We should applaud Cornell for its grand vision of connecting with one of the world’s most innovative technological institutions to live up to Ezra Cornell’s dictates: be genuinely useful for the betterment of humanity. Politics of the kind advocated by Professor Lippman are not and never will be part of this vision.
I was distressed by the letters from Abby Lippman ’60 and Diana Christopulos ’70 in the May/June 2012 issue. Lippman essentially demands that Cornell boycott Israeli organizations that help Israel defend itself. And Christopulos claims that the American all-volunteer Army attracts people who are fond of war and killing. The first is opinion; the second, I think, is not something that should be published.
Lippman seems unaware that at least a few Palestinians are terrorists who launch rockets into Israeli schoolyards and hospitals. Perhaps no one on either side is without blame, but Israel is entitled to defend itself. And how does Christopulos know what she claims? Has she been on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan?
I disagree with the characterization by Diana Christopulos that the volunteers in the Armed Forces are those who “enjoy killing” and “prefer war.” This is insulting and demeaning to the 1.5 million men and women in the service. People who enjoy killing other people are psychopaths and serial killers, not members of our military. In the Danfung Dennis ’04, BS Ag ’05, movie Hell and Back Again [see “Home Front,” March/April 2012], the one scene where Sgt. Harris describes his reasons for joining the Marine Corps I took as bravado and exaggeration. He goes on to say that he believed in the mission and felt he was doing his part to keep America safe. That sounds patriotic to me. None of the Marines in the film ever exhibit any sign of enjoying killing. I saw fear, exhaustion, frustration, anger, sadness, and confusion—no joy. We should all be thankful that when our country’s civilian leadership asks for volunteers to go to war, dedicated men and women continue to sign up. My experience as a member of our military is that the reasons for joining the service are many, but I believe the American people can be confident that enjoying killing is not one of them.
And a Word About Food
Thank you for the interview of Dominic Alcocer ’00 (“Against the Grain,” Currents, March/April 2012). As the mother of a six-year-old with celiac disease, and on behalf of all who must eat gluten-free in order to live healthy lives, I’m glad that articles such as this bring much-needed awareness to those who do not know about the auto-immune disease and the vital importance of a gluten-free diet. And I’m pleased that food companies like General Mills have recognized the need for gluten-free food products. While eating wheat/barley/rye-free may be trendy for many, it is a way of life for us!