I have written about CGSU before, when I was fighting against unionization, but they are back in the news. A few graduate students have recently published a column against Prof. David Collum in the Cornell Daily Sun, whom they accused of being a “rape apologist” because of some things he wrote on Twitter, which apparently offended their delicate sensibilities. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone use the expression “rape apologist” who wasn’t a complete moron and the authors of that column are certainly no exception to that rule. This slanderous piece of garbage illustrates the tendency among social justice warriors, which I plan to write about more at length when I have some time, to distort the ordinary meaning of words to make preposterous claims about people who say something that offend them. In other words, anyone who violates one of the many rules of linguistic propriety they constantly invent so as not to run out of reasons to be offended, which includes the vast majority of people on earth. What is really striking about that kind of people, beside their unfathomable stupidity, is how boring they are. It’s really amazing to see people in their twenties demand a sanitized environment like that, especially when you compare them to people of the same age a few decades ago. You’d think they’re a bunch of spinsters in a temperance league in 1895, not 25-year-olds at Cornell in 2017.
Since they clearly don’t know the meaning of the word “apologist”, I figured I would enlighten them, by quoting the definition of that word according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:
One who speaks or writes in defense of someone or something.
Of course, Prof. Collum is not a rape apologist in that sense or in any other interesting sense (I guess Gengis Khan probably was), but the authors of the column don’t really care. Indeed, what you wouldn’t know by reading this column is that they are supporters of CGSU, which Prof. Collum publicly opposed during the unionization campaign, another thing which they neglect to mention. Thus, after they lost the election, they just decided to slander him out of spite and figured quoting a few statements he made on social media would do the job. Prof. William Jacobson wrote a very good response to their nonsense in which he shows how, in order to smear him, they omitted crucial information about the context in which he made those statements. He is absolutely right that the Cornell Daily Sun should never have published this garbage and that they owe Prof. Collum a formal apology and a retraction of the original column. Unfortunately, if I were him, I wouldn’t hold my breath…
In the comments of Prof. Jacobson’s article, someone mentions a letter that Prof. Collum wrote to everyone in the department of chemistry in response to the controversy, which I figured I should quote here:
I try to write short emails, but this one is a bit of a blog. As you all know I played a potentially important role in what eventually became a failed attempt to unionize graduate students. It goes without saying that the organizers of this three-year, possibly multi-million dollar effort were not pleased. As some of you know, they recently published a letter to the Cornell Daily Sun that my behavior on unrelated social issues makes me unsuitable to be department chair. (They should have asked me; I could have given them many more reasons.) Although it was clearly a post-failure retribution, the accusations were, read independently of their motives, quite serious. Although I am reasonably impervious to what is called reputational risk—that ship sails daily—it was not a good day for me.
The outpouring of support from the chemistry community was heartfelt. I have openly spoken up in defense of others simply because it felt like the right thing to do, but I now fully understand how important that was. The plotline has now thickened: a Cornell law professor (William Jacobsen) has jumped into the fray and mounted a defense with a clarity to be expected from that elite institution.
The effort that Professor Jacobsen must have put in to clarify this situation in a futile effort to retrieve my reputation is unfathomable.
I would like to clarify only one underlying issue with some political commentary. I currently am in conflict with the emergent social justice movement. It began when a student was, in my opinion, falsely convicted of a serious crime. I had hard data showing the accuser has a history of using the legal system for retribution, but my data never made it to court. The victim in this story is sitting in prison as I type. I support the rights of individuals to act freely no matter how idiosyncratically they may seem when compared to the always-changing societal norms. Any other stance would be hypocritical. The social justice movement, however, is becoming toxic. Lives are being destroyed. I will continue to fight and will do so in plain sight without wearing a mask to hide my identity. As friends, family, and acquaintances have known for 62 years (as of today!) I cannot be silenced. Bad behavior hides behind closed doors and is enabled by cowards. To be more precise, the most egregious breaches that have occurred within universities across the nation stem from cowardly university administrators. Find the injustices that rankle you, and fight them.
On the most serious of note and at risk of sounding like a bloviating administrator, we as a department—and I believe I can speak for my colleagues—firmly believe that the Department should provide an environment that optimizes everybody’s sense of well being, happiness, and professional progress. I would like to believe that anybody can bring any problem to me without fear. I recognize, however, that I am a polarizing figure and an acquired taste (….brief pause for you to gather your composure.) Fortunately, I have a couple dozen colleagues who are collectively thoughtful, sensitive, and warm human beings. Go to them. We have a college dean and provost who are stupendous. Solve your problems. Life offers no emotionally safe spaces—statements to the contrary are a crock—but you can take actions to optimize the world around you. The adults on campus are poised and anxious to help.
I would like to finish by saying that it has been an extraordinary honor to be a member of this department. I sincerely believe it is the most benign and benevolent collection of chemistry faculty in the nation—an extraordinary group that students often do not fully appreciate until they go elsewhere.
Never forget some important aphorisms (duck-filled platitudes):
“Your only goal is to be happy; the rest is just a vehicle.”
“Don’t worry about the little things, and everything is little.”
With that all said, I’ve got to go because there are proposals to be finished and jokes to be Tweeted.
David B. Collum
Betty R. Miller Professor of Chemistry and Chair (for 76 more days)
Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
I think it’s a good thing to let him speak for himself, which is why I wanted to quote that letter. As the person who quoted him in the comments of the Cornell Daily Sun, since he sent that email to something like 200 people, I don’t think he would mind.
I personally don’t know Prof. Collum and have never met him. I have only exchanged a few emails with him since I also played a modest role in the campaign against unionization at Cornell. However, I used to date a PhD student in his group, so I heard a lot about him and I can say that everything I heard was positive. My girlfriend told me on many occasions that she felt supported by him and it’s clear that she was very fond of him. I also know that the atmosphere in his group was very good. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that the cretins who published that column against him don’t know anything about him, but they didn’t care since it’s clear that their only goal was to get back at him for his opposition to CGSU. Indeed, they had no problem make such grave accusations against him on the flimsiest of evidence, because even though I suspect they don’t even realize it, it didn’t matter to them whether Prof. Collum really made the environment less safe for women in his department. People who do something for reasons they would never admit to anyone else often don’t even admit it to themselves. If they were capable of shame, they would hide under the rock, but I’m afraid that shame is just as foreign to them as the meaning of the word “apologist”.