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Guidelines on Ethical International Engagement

Office of the Vice Provost
Faculty Guidance

A Message to Cornell University Faculty

From Michael Kotlikoff, Provost and Wendy W. Wolford, Vice Provost for International Affairs

Dear colleagues,

We are pleased to share Cornell’s guidelines on ethical international engagement, which will support our faculty members in creating and sustaining ethical relationships and collaborations with partners outside the United States. 

The guidelines below were developed with and refined by Cornell’s International Council, composed of senior leaders from each of Cornell’s colleges and schools and chaired by the vice provost for international affairs. These guidelines are intended to help faculty members collaborate with research partners in areas of the world where certain forms of speech and expression may be prohibited or limited, while still protecting academic freedom. Additionally, when there are concerns about violations of academic freedom or other core Cornell values in faculty international engagements, the guidelines can help faculty members to carefully consider and develop an appropriate response with assistance from university leadership.

We would like to extend our appreciation to all who participated in this effort, including the members of Cornell’s International Council subcommittee: Elizabeth Brundige (chair), associate clinical professor of law; Eli Friedman, associate professor of international and comparative labor; and Max Pfeffer, professor of development sociology.


Mike Kotlikoff

Wendy W. Wolford
Vice Provost for International Affairs

Guidelines on Ethical International Engagement:
Creating and Sustaining Ethical Collaborations Around the World

  1. Strive to ensure that international engagements are consistent with Cornell University values, including our commitment to purposeful discovery; free and open inquiry and expression; diversity, inclusion, and non-discrimination; justice and human rights; and respect for the natural environment.
  2. Vet your relationships well; partner with people you know and trust and avoid partnering with colleagues, organizations, agencies, or companies that are under credible and direct suspicion of malfeasance or serious legal or human rights violations.
  3. Privilege collaborations that promote the social good. Consider the short- and long-term impacts on both participants and broader society when planning, implementing, and evaluating collaborations. Pay attention to the potential and actual unintended consequences of your programs, and work to ensure that your partnerships do no harm.
  4. Promote solidarity, respect for diversity, and equity in your international collaborations. Listen to and learn from your partners, respect local cultures, and proceed diplomatically as a representative of Cornell and the United States.
  5. We protect and hold dear academic freedom, as stated clearly in the Memoranda of Agreement that underpin our international collaborations. If you are working or considering working in a place where certain speech or expression is prohibited, consider how your collaboration may open up spaces for expanded speech or expression as well as how your academic freedom and that of your colleagues, students, and collaborators, may be limited or threatened. 
  6. Where concerns arise within a given collaboration about violations of academic freedom or of other core Cornell values, carefully consider the response that is most appropriate and useful in the circumstances. Potential responses are varied and wide-ranging, from dialogue-based responses to amendment of the terms of the program or termination of the program and relationship. There are people and resources in the colleges and central administration who can help, including staff and faculty in the office of the vice provost of international affairs.