Statement on Prof. William Jacobson and Academic Freedom

Cornell Law School is a law school with values. In keeping with the core values of Cornell University, we value the diversity of our society and of our academic community, and we are committed to the values of the legal profession, including equal protection under the law. We see in the ongoing struggle of Black Americans a reflection of those values, and we embrace the goals of that struggle, as I said in my statement of just one week ago.

Cornell Law School’s commitment to these values goes beyond mere words — it is reflected in the Law School’s curriculum, its diverse student body, its administration, and the remarkable work of our faculty and clinics. We are proud of the Law School’s long record of confronting the racism and disproportionate racial impact of mass incarceration and the death penalty. We are grateful that distinguished practitioners work with Cornell Law School students to support racial justice advocates in a number of experiential courses. In light of this deep and rich tradition of walking the walk of racial justice, in no uncertain terms, recent blog posts of Professor William Jacobson, casting broad and categorical aspersions on the goals of those protesting for justice for Black Americans, do not reflect the values of Cornell Law School as I have articulated them. I found his recent posts to be both offensive and poorly reasoned.

We can simultaneously affirm our commitment to diversity and inclusion and equal justice while employing someone who has written the sorts of things about the protests that Professor Jacobson has, because, as an institution of higher learning, we also value academic freedom, which prevents us from censoring the extramural writings of faculty members. And we value job security for our clinical faculty. Both of these values are crucial to the work of all of our clinics, which operate in any number of controversial areas. Our unwavering commitment to these values means that all Cornell Law professors must be able to write and speak freely.

As an administrator, I do not share my views on a faculty member’s speech lightly, but it is important to make clear that the Law School’s commitment to academic freedom does not constitute endorsement or approval of individual faculty speech. But to take disciplinary action against him for the views he has expressed would fatally pit our values against one another in ways that would corrode our ability to operate as an academic institution. 

Respectfully,

Eduardo M. Peñalver ’94
Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law