Earlier this month, a distinguished professor of organic chemistry at Cornell University sent two tweets relating to the current riots that have spread across the country following the police-involved death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
The professor, David Collum, responded to a video of police officers in Buffalo, New York, shoving an older gentleman who then stumbles backwards and falls, hitting his head on the sidewalk, resulting in visible bleeding. While many saw the incident as police brutality, Collum pointed out that the “guy needed to give that cop space,” saying it “Wasn’t brutality: the guy was feeble. The cracked skull (which I agree was the likely event) was self inflicted.” Collum also tweeted: “Can you imagine how fried these cops are at this point? The guy got a nudge. The old guy had something in his hand. Looked like maybe a taser. If [I] were a cop, my nerves would be raw. I am tired of these riots.”
Collum’s tweets weren’t that explosive, yet students at Cornell (who tried to get this same professor fired three years ago, which I’ll discuss below) want him fired for expressing his opinion outside of the classroom.
William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection (who is also a Cornell professor of law) reported that Cornell students have started an online effort to demand Collum’s firing. “The campaign against Collum has been highly organized. It involved a Change.org petition, complaint letter templates and auto-complaint portals to flood the Cornell administration, contact information for Collum’s superiors and colleagues, suggestions that bias complaints be filed against Collum, and recommendations that Collum be contacted himself and told to resign. The graduate student organization which targeted Collum in 2017 has been involved,” Jacobson reported.
The Cornell Daily Sun, the school’s student-run newspaper, published an article about the tweets that included the discredited allegations against Collum from three years ago, which I reported on for The Federalist.
Back in 2017, Collum opposed an attempt by Cornell’s graduate students to unionize. At the time, he sent an email to several hundred faculty members about the “risk” of such unionization.
“Although we must be circumspect in communications with students, I can be brutally blunt with you: I believe it will be a disaster in the long run if unionization occurs — an existential risk to Cornell’s graduate program,” Collum wrote.
Collum at the time told the Daily Sun that it was not his intention to distribute “propaganda,” but that’s how the union-supporting students saw it. Collum was even investigated after he was accused of violating the school’s Code of Conduct contract between the union and the school, but no violation was found.
When the unionization vote failed, students looked through Collum’s tweets in an apparent effort to find a reason to get him fired. They discovered tweets they used to claim Collum was a “sexist” and “transphobic” and wrote to the Daily Sun claiming Collum created a “hostile work environment,” without evidence. The students simply claimed that because of Collum’s tweets, they didn’t “feel” like they could come to him with sexual misconduct complaints.
One of the tweets allegedly damning to Collum was that he tweeted to Mike Cernovich, who has made controversial statements about campus sexual assault in the past. Collum simply asked Cernovich to write about “fake news” after Cernovich responded to a “60 Minutes” appearance. To the Cornell students looking to get Collum fired, this simple ask meant Collum must agree with everything Cernovich has ever said or tweeted. Collum was made aware of Cernovich’s past statements and deleted his tweet, something left out by graduate students angry at Collum.
At the time, Collum responded to the controversy by saying his department “provide[s] an environment that optimizes everybody’s sense of well being, happiness, and professional progress.”
“Life offers no emotionally safe spaces—statements to the contrary are a crock—but you can take actions to optimize the world around you,” Collum wrote. “The adults on campus are poised and anxious to help.”
Jacobson himself was smeared in the current anger surrounding Collum due to his defense of Collum back in 2017. Cornell students claimed Jacobson “has his own history of running starkly against campus opinion, holding a generally dismissive view towards Black Lives Matter.”
“It’s a total pile-on seeking to enforce rigid uniformity of opinion, even opinion expressed away from campus. The Cornell motto of “any student … any study” has been a theme of the attacks on Collum, arguing that Collum’s tweeted words make students feel unsafe and the campus non-inclusive,” Jacobson wrote.
Jacobson also cited George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley, who explained the nuance behind the video of the Buffalo cops to which Collum referred.
“In the background, you can hear someone say ‘push him back’ as the police seek to clear the area. It is standard for police to shove back individuals as a line moves forward. The question is whether this shove constitutes not just excessive force (subject to disciplinary action) but an actual crime of assault. An eyewitness who was highly critical of the police action is also quoted as saying that he thought the fall after the shove was ‘an accident.’ He is likely to be called to any trial and that statement would be admissible in any examination,” Turley wrote.
Further, officers did render aid to the man in the video, Martin Gugino, 75. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown also stated that Gugino was an “agitator” who had been trying to work up the crowd and was asked to leave “numerous times,” The Daily Mail reported.
“What we were informed of is that that individual was an agitator. He was trying to spark up the crowd of people. Those people were there into the darkness. Our concern is when it gets dark, there is a potential for violence,” Brown said, according to the Mail. “There has been vandalism, there have been fires set, there have been stores broken into and looted. According to what was reported to me, that individual was a key major instigator of people engaging in those activities.”
Collum’s tweets appear to have picked up steam after actor Kumail Nanjiani quote-tweeted his response about police brutality, which sent a rage mob Collum’s way. Collum has since protected his tweets, though he and I have followed each other since the last time Cornell students went after him. In a statement to The Daily Wire, Collum said he was “stunned by the vitriol at all levels.”
“When a mob acts in unison, the individuals have ceased thinking for themselves. It has been eye opening,” he added.
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