Much to the surprise of some of us, Cornell has had a long tradition of conservatism. Both Ezra Cornell and A.D. White were Republican Senators in New York and the University has been associated with some prominent names in conservative thought and politics. But this history has been hitherto undocumented and this series of articles shall be an attempt to rediscover our traditions and look back at our past.
It all began last month when I retrieved some editions of the Conservative humor journal “The Pink Elephant” dating back to 1969 from Carl A. Kroch Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections. A group called “Young Republicans of the Big Red” published the journal. These editions show that even in those days, people were shielding free speech, academic freedom and intellectual diversity on campus with characteristic wit and creativity. It was the culmination of these efforts that was reflected in the foundation of the Cornell Review in 1984. While we may not agree with everything that was said then or even with the manner in which opinions were articulated, some of our roots can be traced back to that publication.
The humor is unmistakable. Liberals are shown burning the effigies of Reagan long before he ran for President, claiming to speak on the behalf of half of mankind, and demanding disproportionately severe punishments. Some of these trends continue to this date.
But at the same time, in a discovery that might lead us to revisit our perception of the long-standing leftist bias on campus, these editions leave no doubt as to what it has meant to defend liberty at Cornell. An aversion to institutional conformism, belief in constitutional freedom, skepticism towards radical change and faith in the core principles of limited and sensible government run through the pages of the journal best known for its strong reaction to the Willard Straight Takeover of 1969. The foundations were strong but the magazine did not last long. Its staff graduated and it was discontinued after a year.
Besides campus activism, a more dynamic intellectual circle had come up at the Telluride House, a branch of the Telluride Association founded in 1911. Paul Wolfowitz and Francis Fukuyama were undergraduate residents of the House then. Both of these men studied under the philosopher Allan Bloom who served as a faculty mentor of the Telluride House. The tradition continues to this date even though the House has lost its conservative touch.
But it seems that between 1969 and 1984, conservatives on campus did not have a well-defined medium to address their views to the entire campus community. There were occasional political columns in the Sun and some of them took a right stance on national and campus events but the space for the expression of independent opinions was created with the foundation of The Cornell Review.