Dear Drs. Khoury and Brand,
President Pollack and Dean Yoon have asked me to reply on their behalf to thank you for sharing your concerns regarding the recent lecture in Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP).
Cornell is committed to upholding free speech rights and to a core belief that learning flourishes in an environment where diverse ideas are presented and debated without hindrance. The Department of Architecture at AAP was pleased to host a recent lecture by Dr. Azoulay in a lecture series that centers around various histories and interpretations of the world's many desert territories, and aims for an intersectional understanding of the desert's spatial possibilities - through the scholarly work and perspective of each of the speakers.
As you noted in your letter, a message was posted in the virtual lecture’s chat function indicating that future lectures would feature other viewpoints. That short message was intended to be conveyed by Chair Simitch in a verbal introduction to the department lecture series before the lecture started, not during it. Unfortunately, the message was mistakenly sent via the chat function after Dr. Azoulay had commenced her lecture and, through its timing, was, indeed, disrespectful of Dr. Azoulay’s work. Professor Simitch has apologized directly to Dr. Azoulay and Dr. Henni for the action and for the distress it inadvertently caused; and Dean Yoon and Chair Simitch followed up with a message to the entire AAP community. Dr. Simitch’s post did not, however, violate Cornell’s standards of conduct nor did it impinge, in our view, in any way on the academic freedoms of Dr. Azoulay or the Cornell faculty who invited her to speak.
Thank you again for your letter.