Reminder: Expression of Personal and Institutional Opinion
Oct. 27, 2008
Dear member of the Cornell community,
Recently, we distributed an email to the Cornell community, requesting that you exercise caution when using university resources, including e-mail, to express personal partisan or political opinions. If read literally and out of context, portions of the memo would prohibit common uses of university resources (e.g., the moderate use of email for private correspondence). This was not our intention. As the country enters the final stretch of this election cycle, we are now writing to supersede our previous correspondence and clarify our central message.
The university has a longstanding institutional commitment to freedom of expression and exchange of ideas, which is essential to Cornell's continued success as a center of learning. Nothing in our message or in university policy is meant to curtail that freedom.
While it is deeply committed to these principles, Cornell as an institution must avoid involvement in partisan or political causes, and does not endorse candidates. This impartial posture is grounded in law as well as policy; institutional participation in partisan or political causes or elections can jeopardize the university's tax- exempt status. Unfortunately, occasionally, some may express their views in ways that might seem to suggest that Cornell, as an institution, endorses these views. In the past few weeks, a number of such situations have come to the attention of our offices, as have cases in which university web sites and other institutional resources were used to convey clearly partisan content. We hope that all of Cornell's employees can appreciate why it is important to avoid communicating in ways that might lead others to misconstrue the expression of an individual's personal partisan opinions as those of the university. Finally, because we believe your concerns deserve thoughtful consideration, we will work with the university community to develop more clarity and better communicate Cornell's position on this matter. If we can be of any assistance regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Stephen Philip Johnson
Government & Community Relations
Thomas W. Bruce