The Student Assembly (S.A.) voted yesterday to adopt a resolution reducing the punishment for absences from meetings by members due to religious reasons.
The move came after a week of debate following the protest and subsequent removal of human ecology representative Ben Solomon ’02 during last week’s meeting, which occurred on the second evening of Passover.
At yesterday’s meeting, S.A. President Uzo Asonye ’02 introduced a resolution to “condemn” Solomon’s actions, and to allow him to continue as a full member of the S.A. The resolution was unanimously approved.
Solomon then introduced a resolution to make changes to the S.A. charter concerning its policy on religious absences.
According to the resolution, if a religious holiday falls on one of the Thursdays that the S.A. is holding a meeting, any person wishing to change the date of that meeting can submit a petition to the S.A. President.
This is different from the requirement to hold a special meeting for other reasons, which necessitates the petition to come from more than one member.
If a special meeting cannot be accommodated, then the member not attending the meeting would only receive half an absence instead of a full absence.
An amendment was also added to the resolution to require that the special meeting be called at least two weeks in advance.
Yesterday, Solomon issued an apology in a statement to the Assembly in front of over 75 supporters in the audience.
Asonye then explained his decision to throw Solomon out of the meeting.
“If one member can get up and speak, whether they make a valid point or not, then this would just turn into a shouting match,” he said.
Several S.A. members offered their opinions on the issue.
“Congress does not hold session on Yom Kippur. The S.A. should not hold session on Yom Kippur,” said Jamie Fox ’04, agriculture and life sciences representative.
“There is a responsibility in serving on this body. [Representatives] must take the responsibility to look at their calendar and see when they can’t make a meeting,” said Asonye.
Members of the audience also weighed in on the decision.
“I believe that a great compromise has been reached on this resolution,” said Peter Cohl ’04. “I also believe that [the passing of] this resolution is a historic day for Cornell.”
A press release from the Cornell Students for Responsible Representation stated that, “By their actions today, the Student Assembly has acknowledged the importance of allowing representatives to worship freely without risk of punitive action.”
At last Thursday’s meeting, Solomon’s protest consisted of holding a Seder, the traditional Passover dinner, while listening to a presentation by the sailing team, which was requesting funds from the S.A. As the sailing team was leaving, Solomon stood and began reading the four questions of Passover.
Asonye repeatedly objected to Solomon’s actions, and then threw him out of the meeting. Asonye moved the meeting into executive session, requiring the public to leave.
“I feel that religion and acceptance should be a real priority on this campus,” said Solomon. “As students, we can’t expect a more diverse campus unless religious holidays are given their proper due.”
Solomon, who had not attended a previous S.A. meeting held on Yom Kippur, had already accumulated four and a half other absences, due to a death in his family, two debate competitions, a placement test, and sickness. S.A. members are only allowed six absences, thus requiring Solomon to attend the meeting on Passover.
“The policy is very lenient,” said Asonye, citing that the S.A. only holds 22 meetings and six absences are over 25 percent of total.
“The S.A. has an unique obligation to its constituents to be present at its meetings,” said Asonye.
Another topic of discussion at yesterday’s meeting was the contested results of the race for arts and sciences representative from Tuesday’s elections.
Five candidates for a seat on the S.A. submitted a protest to the S.A. elections committee concerning the abuse of funds by another candidate.
Despite this, Mark Greenbaum ’02, executive vice president, announced the results, which had been withheld until that time. The winners of the three seats to represent the College of Arts and Sciences were: Stuti Mandala ’04, Stephanie Adams ’04, and Josh Roth ’03.
After reviewing the protest in a meeting this morning, the elections committee decided that there had not been sufficient wrongdoing to affect the results. Members concluded that although one of the candidates did spend over the $50 limit, the violation had no impact on the outcome.
Greenbaum pointed to the margin of victory between the third place winner and the next candidate, which was over 100 votes.
At last night’s meeting, several members objected to the committee’s ruling.
“How can you say that candidates committed ‘major violations,’ but that they had no effect on the outcome of the elections?” questioned Nick Linder ’05, new student representative. “I feel that my rights have been violated because of this decision.”
Linder and four other candidates, all S.A. members, will appeal the decision to the Ombudsman’s Office, who will review the case and may send it back to the elections committee, who makes the final decision on all results.
Linder had several concerns about the fairness of the committee’s ruling. He charged the committee of bias toward Democratic candidates, asserting that all four members present at the committee meeting were members of the Cornell Democrats. He also noted that the Cornell Democrats’ president, Michael Moschella ’02, vice president of finance, also served on the committee.
“I think that what we have here is a case of sour grapes,” said Moschella. “I think that we’re going to have a great Assembly next year.”
“The complaint was filed before the results were even known and before we even knew if we had won or lost,” Linder contended.
Several members expressed their concern, but added that there was nothing the Assembly could do to address the issue until the review by the Ombudsman’s Office was completed.
“I don’t think this is a case of sore losers at all. I think that these people have a legitimate concern, but I also think that today nothing can be accomplished by bickering about this, and I would like us to move on to business that will have a greater affect on the student community,” said Fox.
The S.A. also passed a resolution yesterday recommending that the recent increase in ResNet fees be covered by financial aid.
The ResNet rates will increase to over $440 dollars in the next academic year. In the past, the University has subsidized the cost of Internet use, but next year the burden will fall squarely on students.
“This is causing a great increase in the cost of living for students,” said Abeezer Tapia ’02, engineering representative and chair of the Cornell Information Technologies (CIT) committee.
Tapia, Michael Wacht ’02, art, architecture and planning representative, and Funa Maduka ’04, minority liaison, contended in their presentation that the increase will have a greater impact on minority students who will be forced to move from program houses because of higher costs.
“Every other Ivy League institution includes Internet access as part of their financial aid in some fashion
,” said Tapia.
“The Administration must wake up and include Internet access in financial aid in order to keep up with the changing times,” he added.
The purpose of the resolution was to notify the Administration of the sentiment against the ResNet increases and offer a solution, according to Tapia.
“We are not specifying details, we are just saying that this burden is unacceptable,” Tapia said.
One possibility is for Internet use be included in the costs of housing, thus preventing off-campus students from having to pay for a service that they would not use.
Archived article by Mackenzie Damon