In an open letter addressed to the Student Assembly, members of Cornell Cinema wrote that Provost Michael Kotlikoff said that it is “quite unlikely” that the University’s budget for next year can cover the budget deficit the Cinema would incur if S.A. votes this Thursday to allocate $0 from the student activity funds to the Cinema in the next byline cycle.
“We don’t have anything in our next year’s budget to do this,” Kotlikoff said, according to the letter, adding that some S.A. members’ assumption that the College of Arts and Sciences, Student and Campus Life or the Provost’s Office will rescue the Cinema from going out of business is “troubling.”
The undergraduate student body paid Cornell Cinema $150,943 in 2017 — 30 percent of the Cinema’s operating budget — according to a document released by the Appropriations Committee last Monday outlining Committee’s rationale for defunding the Cinema. That amount is subject to being defunded in the Appropriations Committee’s recommendation to be discussed and voted on by S.A. this Thursday.
The realistic consequence of discontinuing S.A. byline funding to Cornell Cinema in 2018 appears to be the Cinema going out of business after losing 30 percent of its operating budget, the letter wrote, and the University is unlikely to secure $150,000 of funding for the Cinema before the next byline cycle begins.
“The current proposed resolution could do significant harm, because we don’t have funding in the budget for next year for this activity,” Kotlikoff said, according to the letter, which was signed by undergraduate members of Cornell Cinema, Yuji Yang ’19, Simi Best ’19, Amy Wood ’18, Izzy Pottinger ’19 and Steven Torres ’19.
The provost delivered those remarks after the S.A. Appropriations Committee voted to recommend defunding Cornell Cinema last Monday.
However, Kotlikoff said the University may consider adding the Cinema as a budget item if he were persuaded that “Cornell Cinema … is not a significant student activity on campus” and not under the purview of the Student Assembly to support.
During last Thursday’s S.A. meeting, Gabriel Kaufman ’18, S.A. vice president for finance and chair of the Appropriations Committee, justified his committee’s position, saying that the Cinema, and its professional staff, are better funded by the University than the Student Assembly.
“We support the arts. Just because we don’t believe the Cinema belongs on the activity fee does not mean we don’t think it has a place in this University,” Kaufman said at the meeting.
Kaufman added that funding the Cinema through byline spending is unsustainable. In defense of funding cuts, other members of S.A. corroborated Kaufman’s view.
“I don’t believe students should carry the burden of an organization that Cornell professors and faculty use to enrich their curriculum,” said Samantha Romero Zavala ’19, S.A. ILR representative and member of the Appropriations Committee in an email to The Sun on Tuesday. “Cornell University is using this organization to enhance its courses and, as such, Cornell should be the source funding Cornell Cinema.”
The Appropriations Committee has publicly defended its decision to allocate $0 to the Cinema, citing the high costs borne by undergraduates for a single ticket to the Cinema — $18.03 per person — and the Cinema’s high per-ticket expenditure, which amounts to $27.33. It reached the $27.33 figure by dividing $512,263 — the expected yearly expenditure — by 18,743 — the expected yearly attendance.
For at least the past four academic years, Cornell Cinema has used the S.A.’s appropriation to pay professional staff wages and benefits — which the Cinema pledged it will no longer do starting in 2018. In 2017, the student activity fund will cover 10.59 percent ($37,495) of the Cinema’s total expenses on staff wages and benefits ($354,059), the Committee said.
Cornell Cinema said it plans to appeal the Committee’s decision at this Thursday’s S.A. meeting. After assuming a 22-percent reduction in byline funding for the 2018–20 byline cycle, the Cinema stated, the Cinema will be completely independent from S.A. and will not apply for byline funding in the 2020–22 cycle.
“We began discussions with University administrators at the end of the Spring semester to alert them to the situation and those discussions have continued this fall,” said Yuji Yang ’19, president of the Cornell Cinema Student Advisory board, in a presentation to the Appropriation Committee on Oct. 30.
Cornell’s revenues in fiscal year 2018 is projected to be $4.33 billion, according to the budget plan released in May. However, the Cinema stated that getting full replacement funding from the University “is not something that can happen overnight.”
While the University bureaucracy works slowly, it said, the two years between 2018 and 2020 will help the Cinema to completely divest of activity fee funding as allocated from the Student Assembly.
While the Appropriations Committee stated that it will help Cornell Cinema “in finding other means of financing their enterprise,” the S.A. has not demonstrated it can guarantee Cornell Cinema additional funding from the University to cover its deficits after it divests immediately from the cinema, wrote Cornell Cinema’s letter on Tuesday.
S.A. President Jung Won Kim ’18 told The Sun on Tuesday night that he is expecting to meet with the Provost on this matter before Thursday’s meeting.
Neither members of the Appropriations Committee nor the members of the Student Assembly has yet met with the Provost regarding this issue. The Committee has not yet specified a source within the University that they expect to provide this aid.
Drew Musto ’19 and Yuichiro Kakutani ’19 contributed reporting to this article.