The dominant variants of SARS-CoV-2 can lead to breakthrough infections even in vaccinated people and in people who have been previously infected, In addition, a substantial fraction of people who have been infected are completely asymptomatic. These facts have important consequences for our class.
First, vaccination remains your best line of defense against serious illness. Cornell requires all students to have received an FDA- or WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccination, and strongly urges everyone “to receive every additional COVID-19 booster that becomes available to them.’” I have received a full course of two doses of the Moderna mRNA vaccine, plus a booster.
Second, masking remains an essential precaution. Cornell strongly recommends wearing a mask in classroom settings. You should assume that in any substantial gathering of people such as a class, someone present (including you) may be carrying an asymptomatic infection, or may be at risk of becoming severely ill if infected. For their health and yours, wear your mask consistently and make sure that it fits well.
Third, if you are feeling unwell, DO NOT COME TO CLASS. This has always been the case, but it is especially important now. Rest, take care of your own health, and keep your classmates safe. DO NOT FEEL UNDER ANY PRESSURE TO ATTEND CLASS. The recording will be waiting for you when you have recovered, and I will be happy to meet to discuss anything you are concerned about missing. If you have possible COVID-19 symptoms, please have yourself tested promptly. Cornell provides detailed, updated guidance on what do if you are feeling ill.
Fourth, I will make every needed accommodation to make up for the disruption that COVID-19 creates in your life. These come in many forms, from family health issues to travel restrictions to stress and trauma. I do not know now what improvisations will be necessary over the course of the semester, but I promise you that I will do everything I can to help you thrive under these difficult circumstances.
On October 7, 1868, at Cornell University’s dedication, its founder and namesake Ezra Cornell stated, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The University is committed to the principle of “… any person … any study.”
In particular, Cornell University prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, belief, disability, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, criminal history, military or veteran status, or genetics. All are welcome here.
I will do my best to make this course interesting, supportive, and enlightening regardless of your personal identity, beliefs, prior life experiences, degree program, or future plans. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.
If anything in or out of class makes you uncomfortable or interferes with your ability to participate, please raise it with me. Not all discomfort is avoidable, but I will do everything I can to help that is consistent with the educational goals of the course. I will also respect any requests for confidentiality as far as my legal and professional duties allow.
I am happy to address you and refer to you however you prefer to be called. I will ask you for your name, title, and pronouns on the first day of class, and after that please tell me if I am getting something wrong or you would like me to make a change. As a matter of personal courtesy and professional respect, I also expect that you will address and refer to classmates and guests as they prefer. Beyond that, Cornell Tech is generally a very informal place.
Names: Most assumptions about other people’s names are fallacies. (See Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names.) The only sure guide to a person’s name is to ask. It is tempting to think that when someone’s name is written as Firstname Lastname, it means that person is called Firstname. But this is wrong. Here are just a few of the many variations I have seen:
As for myself, I go by “James” (not “Jim”), and my surname is spelled with two ‘n’s at the end. For pronunciation, see my NameCoach badge.
Titles: I won’t use your title unless you prefer that I do. (Exception: when I write formal letters of recommendation, I will use your title unless you prefer that I don’t.) The Paper Chase convention of calling law students “Mr. Hart” survives only as parody or affectation. On those extremely rare occasions when a title is called for, I go by “Professor Grimmelmann.” But you should call me “James,” not “Professor” or “Prof.”
Pronouns: I go by “he” and its inflections. I generally use “they” and its inflections to refer to an unknown person. But when talking about a specific known person, the correct pronouns are the ones they themselves go by.
The island on which Cornell Tech stands was traditionally Canarsee Lenape land. It was “purchased” by Dutch colonial authorities in 1637 as part of the long history of violence, displacement, and erasure by which European settler colonialists appropriated the North American continent. Lenape tribes today occupy small reservations in Oklahoma and Wisconsin, which gives a sense of the devastation that Europeans inflicted on the Lenape and other Native Americans in driving them out from here.
By divers mesne conveyances, the island passed to the City of New York in 1828. It was used as an asylum, a smallpox hospital, a workhouse, and a prison. The conditions of life for the inhabitants of all of them were notoriously poor. Cornell Tech itself stands on the site of the prison, Blackwell’s Penitentiary, where inmates were subjected to disease, abuse, and forced labor.
The Penitentiary was demolished in the 1930s and replaced by Goldwater Memorial Hospital, a chronic-care facility. It merged in 2013 with Coler Specialty Hospital, also on the island, which serves high-risk chronic-care patients, often elderly and disabled. During the initial wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the crowded and conditions at Coler were responsible for numerous infections and deaths among its residents.
All of these things are parts of what we call “history.”
She said, What is history?
And he said, History is an angel
Into the future
He said: History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
Into the future
And this storm, this storm
—Laurie Anderson, “The Dream Before” (after Walter Benjamin and Paul Klee)
We cannot unsmash the debris of history; we cannot now restore the Canarsee to their homes as they were, or bring the dead to life. But we can force ourselves to look clearly upon the wreckage, to acknowledge the suffering and injustice that have brought us to this point. From it we salvage we what can, and learn what we can, to hold a mirror up before the face of the angel of history, that it might gaze upon the future, where it is always still possible to do better.
We are members of an academic community built on respect, trust, and honesty. Many of us are also members of a learned and regulated profession, one that enforces stringent codes of professional responsibility. I will take you at your word; in return, I expect you to be truthful and candid in your dealings with me and your classmates. Your conduct in this course is subject to the Cornell Code of Academic Integrity, the Law School Code of Academic Integrity, and the Campus Code of Conduct.
Except where I tell you otherwise, you are welcome to collaborate freely and to consult any sources you wish to in your work for this class. The most important exception is that you may not discuss the questions or answers of a graded assignment (i.e., the midterm or final) with anyone until you have received your grade. You may not give anyone else assistance on the assignment; you may not receive assistance from anyone.
If you have a disability requiring accommodation, I find it helpful to receive your accommodation letter from Student Disability Services as early in the semester as possible so that I have adequate time to make appropriate arrangements. If you need an immediate accommodation for equal access, or if you think there is something I could do to improve the accessibility of the course for yourself or others, please talk to me or send me an email. Everyone’s experience is important to me.
I will record all class sessions. I will provide you with access to the recordings for any reasonable justification, such as absence due to illness, job interviews, court appearances as part of a clinic, or disruption to your ordinary life due to a global pandemic.
I will have access to the recordings, as will your classmates who have reasonable needs for them, and any other Cornell faculty and staff who need access as part of their jobs. The recordings will not be shared outside the Cornell community. In special circumstances (e.g. at the request of a guest speaker) I may turn off the recording, and it might sometimes happen that the recording doesn’t work. You can request access to specific class recordings by using the law school’s video recording request form.
You may not record your own audio or video of this course without the knowing consent of all people being recorded.
I expect you to act respectfully to your classmates (and our occasional guests) at all times. I will not condone harassment.
Beyond that, I view ‘‘professionalism’’ as an act of care for others. I will do my best to model this version of professionalism in and out of class, and I encourage you to, too.