At Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, representatives heard complaints on the recent change of policy governing the use of the Willard Straight Hall by student organizations and debated whether purchasing iPads for S.A. meetings are the optimal use of the Assembly’s surplus.
Student Organizations in the Straight
Several of the student groups who recently lost permission to hold meetings in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room took to the floor to air their grievances, citing the one-week notice they said they received before being forced to find new meeting places as too short.
Earlier this month, the Student Union Board changed the rules governing the use of the Memorial Room, ousting Class Councils, among other organizations. The board initially justified their decision to Class Councils by saying the group’s meetings did not reach capacity. They subsequently retracted this statement after Class Councils contested it, and are now saying that Class Councils did not abide by programming guidelines.
John Lowry ’16, president of the class of 2016, defended his organization’s right to use the space, disputing the Student Union Board’s allegations.
“We want a resolution. We are not seeking retribution,” he said. “The reasoning was unjustified and on top of that, there was no real effort to take any input into the decision.”
Class Councils representatives argued that all organizations with associate deans as advisors currently housed in the Straight should be immune to removal from the building. They also urged the S.A. to take a deeper look into the finances of the Union Board to determine if they are worthy of the funds they receive.
“We are all elected to represent our communities, so it is important to have our own jurisdiction, especially with programming,” said Blake Brown ’17, incoming Interfraternity Council president.
Shikha Patel ’17, director of policies for the Student Union Board, said the board has the opportunity to increase the number of organizations who can meet in Willard Straight Hall by changing occupancy guidelines. They decided to reallocate many groups to make room for more programming in Willard Straight Hall, which is usually assumed to be off-limits as a space to all but a few organizations.
Patel apologized for any confusion caused by their policy reforms and said the Board only had the “intention to find a balance between programmings and meetings.”
While both Class Council and S.A. members requested that the Union Board share the specific programs and organizations they have selected to occupy this space in the future, Patel declined to provide specifics.
The S.A., which had to negotiate with the Union Board to keep their meetings in Willard Straight Hall through the end of the semester following the policy changes, recommended Class Councils and similarly affected groups get their rooms back right now, but voted for Class Councils and the Union Board to resolve the issue outside of the meeting after 35 minutes of back-and-forth discussion.
A Surplus of Ideas
The S.A. then addressed Resolution 32: Addressing the Student Assembly Surplus. The resolution, sponsored by Emma Johnston ’16, S.A. executive vice president, and Matthew Stefanko ’16, S.A. vice president for finance, addresses the $39,000 surplus the S.A. has accumulated over the past six years.
It proposes that they “allocate the Student Assembly’s surplus towards the purchase of 34 tablet devices that will be available for rent to byline funded groups, a Student and Campus Life Fellowship program and a fund for initiatives planned by the Cornell Social Consultations.”
“On the appropriations committee, something that we look really strongly at is the amount of surplus that groups have, and we are not holding ourselves to the same standard,” Johnston said. “This resolution seeks to spend the surplus in a way that is cost-effective and also allows outside groups to get outside funding that they have been needing.”
They propose that the first $15,000 of the surplus go to cover the cost of the iPads. A variant of this proposal was raised last year, but failed to gain approval. The resolution’s proponents argued that the iPads would actually cut overall costs by replacing the binders full of Student Assembly meeting papers to reduce printing costs.
They added that iPads would be better than having representatives use their computers, because tablets allow for eye contact and can be controlled to block representatives from using them for anything other than viewing official documents.
An additional $12,000 will be allocated to pay for three fellows to help staff the Student and Campus Life Resource Center, in response to what Johnston said was a request from the center for more staff.
Many S.A. representatives expressed opposition to the resolution. Robert Dunbar ’18, arts and sciences representative, described this use of the funds as “asinine.”
The main objection to Resolution 32 was the prediction that it will likely cause a public relations nightmare. Members said that spending $15,000 will anger many students. An alternate solution raised was to give the money back to the students themselves rather than organizations.
“iPads don’t make sense, we did the math; we tried this once already and it failed,” said Gabriel Kaufman ’18, undesignated at large representative.
Both sides disagreed on the financial feasibility of the plan. Those in favor of the iPads said they will actually cost only $12,000 and that the S.A. spends $4,500 a year on printing, whereas those aligned with Kaufman said printing costs are, in fact, only $3,000.
Through the debate, Johnston emphasized that “if we don’t spend our surplus by the end of the year, the Appropriations Committee will probably cut us.” This, she added, means that the Assembly actually must decide much soon, for the intended meeting with the Committee to approve any plan is this weekend.
“This is benefitting 30 other groups,” Stefanko said. “It shouldn’t be a P.R. issue if we are saving students money.”
Johnston agreed, adding, “if we don’t hold ourselves to the same standards as other organizations, that’s a P.R. problem … It turns into a P.R. nightmare when we have laptops out and people come and feel they don’t have personal contact with us.”
After an hour of deliberation, Resolution 32 presenter Maha Ghandour, S.A. vice president for public relations, took the microphone to urge the assembly to make a decision, telling members that “sitting here talking in circles isn’t doing anything.” He also said that if there were to be no resolution by the end of the meeting, a special executive session could be held.
The S.A. then voted to hold an executive session this weekend, where attendance will be taken in order to have more time to deliberate on the issue.