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Major Cornell donor yanks funding over DEI, demands President Pollack resign


One of Cornell University’s largest donors has declared he will no longer donate money to his alma mater while its embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion continues in a memo that also called on the Board of Trustees to force President Martha Pollack to resign.

Jon Lindseth, a former Cornell trustee who has been a major benefactor to the Ivy League institution for several decades, penned a letter Tuesday that calls on current trustees to consider his concerns at a meeting this Saturday.

The letter denounces how DEI ideology has been embedded into the institution, which he argues has created a “toxic academic environment” and damaged its excellence. He calls DEI a corruption and accuses Pollack of not only allowing it but encouraging it and helping it flourish.

“I am alarmed by the diminished quality of education offered lately by my alma mater because of its disastrous involvement with DEI policies that have infiltrated every part of the university,” Lindseth wrote.

“…I can no longer make general contributions until the university reformulates its approach to education by replacing DEI groupthink with the original noble intent of Cornell,” he added.

The letter comes amid a wave of Ivy League reckonings for campus presidents, with Harvard University President Claudine Gay and University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill both forced to resign recently amid controversies and scandals, and an effort underway to boot MIT President Sally Kornbluth as well.

Lindseth, in his letter, cites Pollack’s initial unconcerned response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that killed more than 1,200 Israeli citizens as “a watershed moment.”

He also flags a decision in 2021 to remove a bust of Abraham Lincoln from a campus library because some found it offensive. While it was ultimately returned, “even Lincoln could be canceled under the present administration. This is an absolute disgrace,” he wrote.

“As with any leading educational institution, the President is ultimately responsible for the culture of the university. Under President Pollack’s leadership, antisemitism and general intolerance have increased on campus,” he wrote.

After publication, Cornell’s media relations division provided a response Wednesday via email to The College Fix in support of Pollack.

“For nearly seven years, I have strongly supported President Pollack, and that support remains strong today. The board is working effectively with the administration to respond to various challenges facing higher education and opportunities to advance the university’s mission,” stated Kraig Kayser, chair of the Board of Trustees, in a prepared statement.

Joel Malina, vice president for university relations, added the meeting Saturday is part of a regularly scheduled gathering this week.

“We have received the letter, which has been forwarded to the chair of the Cornell University Board of Trustees,” he said. “Cornell’s trustees are gathering in New York this week as part of a regularly scheduled series of meetings to discuss university affairs. Board meetings are scheduled many years in advance.”

Board of Trustees representatives did not respond to a request asking whether Lindseth’s concerns will be added to Saturday’s agenda.

The letter makes seven demands: the resignation of Pollack and Provost Michael Kotlikoff; elimination of DEI staffing and programming; adoption of the Cornell Free Speech Alliance policy recommendations; confirming the SCOTUS affirmative action ruling will be honored; open support of free speech and academic freedom; the elimination of the bias response system; and the cancelation of the university’s new Center for Racial Justice and Equitable Futures.

“The damage we have seen inflicted upon Cornell’s reputation and academic standing by the current administration grieves me and necessitates a truly comprehensive shift in leadership and priorities to put Cornell back on the path towards academic excellence,” Lindseth wrote in his letter, addressed to the Board of Trustees.

Pollack has served as president since 2017. Lindseth argues Provost Kotlikoff also needs to go because of “his close involvement in the denigration of Cornell’s academic legacy under DEI.”

Lindseth chides top administrators for ignoring and snubbing the Cornell Free Speech Alliance’s 100-page report released last August that called for sweeping policy changes on campus.

The alliance’s report recommends 20 policy changes, including adding free speech training to freshman orientation, implementing the famous free speech Chicago Principles, eliminating DEI course requirements, removing its anonymous bias reporting system, and providing students robust due process.

Lindseth’s letter was posted online by the Ivy Excellence Initiative, part of the educational nonprofit Common Sense Society.

The initiative aims to advance a “critical university reform movement that brings together alumni groups, dissident faculty, and frustrated donors to hold their universities accountable to pursuing true academic excellence and open inquiry,” its website states.

MORE: Cornell stacks new free speech committee with DEI scholars

Editor’s note: The post has been amended to reflect statements from Cornell provided after publication. 

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.