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AN OPEN LETTER TO THE EDITORS OF THE CORNELL PROGRESSIVE

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To: Shai Akabas ’09 and Ethan Felder ’09

Editors-In-Chief

The Cornell Progressive (formerly Turn Left)


Re: Concerns regarding your style of leadership and the future course of the publication formerly known as Turn Left


March 2007


Dear Mr. Akabas and Mr. Felder,

We, the staff, alumni and other members of the Turn Left community, who, over the past seven years, have helped our publication reach unparalleled heights and influence, wish to speak as one voice in order to emphasize our concerns about the course of management of the organization, including its name change, and to provide specific recommendations in order to remedy these issues.

Our ConcernsEdit

Both current and former members of your staff have expressed serious concerns about the decision-making process behind your choice to change the name of Turn Left, our beloved publication, to “The Cornell Progressive.” We do have some reservations about the name change itself, which are enumerated below, however, our primary concerns regard what we feel are deficiencies in your style of management and the consultation process behind your recent decisions. We wish to bring special attention to the following actions and situations:

  • We decry the decision, later rescinded, to simply announce the change of the publication’s name with little consultation and no vote among members or executives. Despite there being some support for the measure, no amount of agreement justifies this attack on basic democratic ideals. Your argument that a vote on the matter would have been “impractical” due to “a lack of standard of eligibility” is spurious and insulting to the democratic ideals founding Turn Left, and ignores years of a functioning democratic process. That it took an outcry from the staff to hold any vote at all on the name change is deplorable. Furthermore, we resent the inclusion of the opinions of individuals not associated with the publication at the cost of contributing members.
  • We have come to understand (not simply through “the rumor wire,” as has been claimed in the past, but through several direct channels to your staff) that a great many members of your staff have serious reservations about your leadership style. These staffers were so concerned with your lack of respect for consensus and consultation regarding the name change that several members of your executive voted in favor of the name change simply in order to avoid more serious conflict with the group’s leadership, conflict that would have threatened staff unity and the publication itself. This is a grave statement of the poor quality of leadership and consensus-building in the organization.
  • We are seriously concerned about the fact that, despite your staff’s several and severe reservations regarding your leadership style which have become obvious to the alumni through the testimonies of your staffers, you have yet to even acknowledge and affirm that your staff's concerns are genuine and worth consideration. Furthermore, during deliberation of the name change outside of formal meetings with members of the executive board, you blatantly and readily downplayed the vehemence and preponderance of dissent on the staff. Your staff's consternation cannot be explained away by group psychological theories, as you have incredibly claimed in the past. Your detachment from the needs of your staff is the worst lapse in leadership in our opinion.
  • We object to the lack of consultation with the alumni, who have invested seven years of their lives into a highly successful Turn Left brand, in regards to the decision to change the publication’s name to “The Cornell Progressive.” We note that no effort whatsoever was made to consult with the alumni on this very important change.

We strongly object to what we perceive as your lack of respect for the organization, its heritage and its staff. Specifically, your utter rejection of the highly-successful Turn Left brand, your lack of consultation with the alumni, your being, in our opinion, out of touch with your staff, and your repeated insinuation that Turn Left is a failed publication “close to collapse” despite the fact that your last issue was produced in large part by the said failed publication’s dedicated and competent staff, are clear signs of this disrespect.

Alumni StandingEdit

In our several conversations with you, you have addressed several issues regarding the alumni’s voicing their opinions regarding the name change and the decision-making process behind it. You have suggested that the alumni do not have the right to ask for a veto on the decisions of 3/4ths of the executive. The alumni absolutely do not ask for dictatorial power, nor could they do so to any effect. We, members of the staff and the alumni, simply ask that the proper means of consultation are utilized in all decision-making processes of this importance.

We believe that the alumni have standing in this specific issue because of their efforts over seven years to build the Turn Left brand, which has paid off significant dividends in recruitment, influence and prestige. It costs a considerable amount of resources in order to build a brand; it costs much less to maintain a successful one. Your decision to destroy the Turn Left brand is a rejection of years of time and energy expended by Turn Left’s excellent leadership over the past seven years. It is both a waste of resources and an insult to the successful work of the alumni. Moreover, your current successes are at least in part due to the alumni’s contributions to the strength of your organization, without which you would have absolutely no publication whatsoever. Indeed, Turn Left’s first budget from the Student Activities Committee was barely enough for half of one issue’s printing today; our credibility with the SAFC was built over years of productive use of Cornell students’ money.

Finally, we believe the alumni have standing in this issue simply as respected members of the Turn Left community. We believe you owe it to your organization, the TL community, and to the Cornell community to respect the traditions and heritage of Turn Left. It may be possible to do so and also change the name of the publication, but not in the manner that you have done it: with little consultation and even less consideration for the history and legacy of Turn Left on Cornell’s campus.

Reasons to Oppose the Turn Left Name ChangeEdit

Among our concerns regarding your leadership, we believe that your decision-making process did not give proper consideration to genuine and serious issues surrounding the idea of re-branding the publication and organization. Here, we will express our many reservations regarding the name change itself.

In our interpretation, based upon our correspondences with you and your staff and your editorial piece in the first issue of The Cornell Progressive, you have decided to change the name of Turn Left for the following reasons:

  • The name “Turn Left” made our moderate, reasonable and nationally respected publication seem more leftist and radical than it truly is. “Turn Left” was an embarrassing name, which few could take seriously. The name “The Cornell Progressive” seemed more inclusive and broad.
  • Turn Left is a “failed publication,” its brand tarnished because of a year of poor quality and infrequent publication. The Turn Left brand has little currency with the Cornell community, and did not survive what was, in your opinion, the greatest collapse in the organization's history. This is why an immediate name change is essential.
  • You received some support from the staff regarding the name change, and received a 6-to-2 vote among current executives to change the name of the publication to “The Cornell Progressive.”
  • The name change debate is an old one, dating back to the beginning of Spring 2006, giving the staff plenty of time to consider the issue. The name change is part of an overall re-branding effort geared towards recruitment.

We acknowledge these arguments, but ultimately we disagree with your logic and conclusions.

Firstly, it should be noted that the organization saw its most accomplished days under the Turn Left brand. The publication’s greatest recruitment drive, its most respected issues, its most influential columns and features, its most important reporting, and its highest level of organizational functionality occurred while the publication was known as Turn Left. Everyone on campus has known Turn Left to be a moderate and reasonable voice, but also one that represents the broadest and most respected spread of opinion on campus. Turn Left’s staff, dominated by reasonable, articulate and intelligent Cornellians who almost without exception represent moderate-left points of view, is testament to both its past recruitment efforts and the strength of the brand. In past years, Turn Left was the only place to see balanced and respectable debate over such hot-button issues as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Danish Muhammad cartoons, support within the left for third-parties in elections, and the future of the Redbud Woods.

Perhaps you are unable to work for a publication named “Turn Left” as you have insultingly claimed, but an overabundance of respectable people in Turn Left’s history would disagree. Such luminaries as Rwandan genocide hero Paul Rusesagabina, former US ambassador Dennis Ross, documentation Steven Greenstreet, activist and journalist Ali Abunimah, progressive evangelist Jim Wallis, author and political commentator Bill Press, The Nation Washington, DC editor David Corn, not to mention The Center for American Progress, members of Congress, dozens of professors and lecturers and many others felt no embarrassment being interviewed by or working with a publication called Turn Left.

Indeed, it is clear why you have taken on managing a paper whose name you cannot stand. Turn Left was an award-winning and respected publication, perhaps the most ambitious and accomplished independent student newspaper in the country in the past five years. It is not so much that our standards were simply high―it’s that, under the Turn Left name brand, our standards could have hardly gotten any higher. A name change will not help in recovering past glory-sex?. Hard work, creative leadership, smart marketing, effective promotions and the highest quality content will do that. Here, the alumni and staff note your lackluster promotional and recruitment efforts to date and your poor management of the editor’s desk.

Secondly, the insinuation that Turn Left is a publication on the brink of collapse is a serious exaggeration and an insult to your current staff. Note and respect the fact that your last issue would not have existed without the support of dozens of Turn Left’s existing staffers, recruited under the Turn Left brand, who include columnists, news and opinion writers, graphic and layout artists, promotions staffers, editors and technicians. The alumni know all too well what starting from scratch is like. Today’s Cornell Progressive is hardly that, but is a re-branding of an existing infrastructure and reputation which, if lacking, has proven functional. We believe the current staff deserve an apology for your considering their work a failure and their institution near collapse.

It is ironic that you have unwittingly chosen to name the publication after a true failed organization, the short-lived Cornell Progressive, which folded in 2000.

Thirdly, that the name change debate dates to early 2006, and that the name change received a 6-2 vote among executives, do not address our basic concerns regarding the lack of democracy, transparency, conciliation and consultation in your leadership style. That the debate is old is not a reason to ignore significant and passionate opposition. Moreover, the executive vote should be put into context: The name change passed only after staffers complained of the lack of any serious consultation or respect for the organization’s constitution. These complaints led to the executive vote—apparently the only vote you considered holding. According to members of your staff and executive board, the vote passed only because some executives felt that if it did not, you would not respect the decision of the executive, causing even more division among the staff and triggering a constitutional crisis. We also note that you have yet to explain or even announce the name change decision to the listserv, leaving the majority of your staff to learn about the name change on the front page of the first issue of the Cornell Progressive.

Finally, we feel that jettisoning the Turn Left brand has considerable costs, including the energy and time it takes to establish a new brand. You have apparently chosen to not use Turn Left’s award-winning website, built from scratch by former editor Evan Marshak, which includes efficient and powerful mechanisms aiding article submission, organization and editing. Popular and influential traditions which are a part of Turn Left’s branding have suffered or disappeared under your leadership, including the Back Burner, the Top Ten, The Editor’s Desk, and Turn Left’s trademark quality local and international coverage and our signature correspondence from students and fellow progressives from as far away as Britain, Denmark, India, Sri Lanka and China. What was once the most professional and impressive publication cover on campus is reduced to a parody of The Cornell Review. Turn Left’s logo and wordmark have disappeared without a trace. It will not be easy to recapture the breadth and depth of the Turn Left brand, and it is a possibility that you may never replicate its influence. Current juniors have nearly three years of Turn Left promotions and branding exposure, all of it thrown away.

It is curious that you have chosen such a radical re-branding path on such short notice with such high costs, including an unprecedented divisiveness among your staff. We hope that you will do what others before you have done and put the publication’s future and effectiveness in serving the Cornell community ahead of your personal ambitions. Otherwise, your misguided diagnosis that Turn Left is a collapsing publication will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Both The Cornell Progressive and the Cornell community will suffer, as will your legacy.

Recommendations and RequestsEdit

Given the above, we request the following:

  • An acknowledgment of and a full and formal apology to the current staff of The Cornell Progressive for your past undemocratic and non-conciliatory decision-making process and leadership style, as well as for your disrespect for Turn Left’s staff and traditions
  • A full and formal apology to the Turn Left alumni for your grievous actions with no consultation with senior members of the Cornell community
  • A promise to your staff to uphold the highest standards of consultation and leadership in future decision-making

Further, we recommend:

  • A formal and ongoing discussion among your staff, open to all current staffers, regarding how to improve leadership, transparency, decision-making, consultation and staff unity
  • A formal and ongoing discussion among your staff, open to all current staffers, regarding the future course of The Cornell Progressive, its content, coverage, organization, leadership, politics, editing, visual culture and quality control
  • A course of leadership which fundamentally involves substantial consultation with the staff, conciliation and consensus-building among staffers, inclusion, transparency, openness, and respect for and addressing of genuine dissent
  • Content which maintains the most effective elements of past branding and infrastructure, including the mechanisms of the Turn Left website, the Back Burner, the Top Ten, our trademark broad perspective on all opinion and news coverage, and an impartial and unbiased news section.
  • An organizational culture which emphasizes quality first in all aspects of the organization, whose goals are stated explicitly in Turn Left’s mission statement:

To promote the liberal cause: striving towards the ideal of social and economic equality for all. We at Turn Left wish to encourage dialog between the political Left and Right as well as critical discussion among progressives.

Our fundamental tenets are:

1. We are non-partisan

2. We are respectful of all political beliefs

3. We are self-critical

4. We have a global outlook

It would serve us well if all leaders had the strength, composure and foresight to strive for the ideals expressed in Turn Left’s mission statement. In this letter, we, members of the staff and alumni, hope to give you the opportunity to prove us wrong and demonstrate your leadership and decorum.


Signed respectfully,


Members of the staff and alumni

SignatoriesEdit

  • Andrew Garib '06, Editor 2003-2004, Editor Emeritus
  • Scott Beemer '03, Editor-in-Chief 2001-2002, President 2002-2003
  • Tsee Yuan Lee '02, Co-Founder, President Spring 2001, President Spring 2002 (as well as other leadership positions)
  • Tsee Yung Lee '02, Co-Founder, Webmaster, Editor-In-Chief, the whole lot
  • Thomas M. Leung '02, Co-Founder & President (FA01)
  • Michael Mouton '10, Features Editor Spring 2007
  • Joshua Perlman '07, Managing National and International News Editor, Fall 2005-Spring 2006, Executive Managing Editor, Fall 2006
  • Wayne Huang '07 (concurring opinion with sections 1, 3 and 4 of this letter), Editor-in-Chief, Spring 2005 - Fall 2005; Editor Emeritus

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