Mary Beth Grant J.D. '88, senior dean of students, explains the SAFC security fee policy at the Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Mary Beth Grant J.D. '88, senior dean of students, explains the SAFC security fee policy at the Student Assembly meeting Thursday.

September 14, 2018

Cornell Pauses Security Fees for Select Events as S.A. and Community Members Grill Administrators

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Correction: The Sun previously reported that there is no body called the “President’s Office.” In reality, all those who directly report to the University President Martha Pollack are collectively called the Cabinet.

“We’re putting the security fee charge from column A, sections 2,3 [and] 4 on pause,” said Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur, in a move that temporarily eliminates potential security fees for minimal security events with less than 1,200 attendees.

Pendakur was restating the changes announced at the beginning of the Thursday Student Assembly meeting by Mary Beth Grant J.D. ’88, senior dean of students, who was fielding questions from the student body regarding recently changed event planning procedures. The statement was punctuated with snaps, sighs and applause.

This change was made “to roll in the new process” and allow organizations to accommodate for the policy in their budgets; therefore, Grant initiated the meeting with reassurance that the University is “not going to have a security cost for types a 2, 3, 4.”

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Impassioned students asked questions ranging from police brutality, the silencing of minority voices and distrust in the University administration for more than an hour in response to potential increased security at events. Over 65 students filed into Willard Straight Hall’s memorial room to voice their concerns following the implementation of revised event planning guidelines.

According to Grant, four procedural changes were implemented this semester:

  1. Event Registration Forms are now required for events with 50 or more students, rather than the previous 200 or more students;
  2. “Late-night” events now require security in some cases;
  3. ERFs must be submitted four weeks in advance instead of three;
  4. The University will pay up to $1,000 to cover the difference if real security fees exceed initially expected security fees through no fault of the student organization.

The above rules are still in effect, but no security fees will be charged for minimal security events — “a capella groups or small late night events” according to a Cornell University website — with less than 1,200 people.

Grant further affirmed that the changes do not significantly alter the ERF process and attributed any inaccurate information to a communication gap, saying, “sometimes people don’t read the emails from OrgSync.”

“Those [changes] were made based on safety concerns,” Grant said, while also saying that no specific event had prompted the changes.

Zelia Gonzales ’20, an audience member, confronts the administrators.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Zelia Gonzales ’20, an audience member, confronts the administrators.

“Your definition of safety is different than ours,” said Zelia Gonzales ’20, an audience member. “Funding disproportionately affects students of color.”

Specific event fees are determined at the discretion of the Event Management Planning Team, a “team of experts,” according to Grant. The team is comprised of around 20 University staff and faculty; no students are on the team.

According to event planning guidelines, “controversial” events require ERFs and EMPT approval. When asked by Grace Park ’19, S.A. representative for the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, on whether any students had provided input on the definition of “controversial” that would be used by the EMPT, Grant said that no student input had been taken, and she had written it herself.

According to Gonzales, her organization has a budget of around $1,000. Paying over $200 to have security for an event would be around a quarter of the budget, gone on just security.

“We literally are held back by that financial burden,” Gonzales said.

Pendakur sympathized with her organization’s financial obstacles and said that the “meta” issues regarding the modifications could not be resolved at the S.A. meeting. He invited student organizers in the audience to voice their “needs,” “recommendations” and “concerns” to the “president’s cabinet.”

“We need to postpone this,” Gonzales said. “This is unfair, it’s not okay if the administration says ‘we need to figure out that meta issue later’ at the brunt of us. For how many years does that happen?”

Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur addresses the students.

Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Dean of Students Vijay Pendakur addresses the students.

“The EMPT process is not to evaluate the controversiality of the subject itself, but … for crowd management, fire safety,” Pendakur said. “So if you have [a] meeting and you want to talk about Palestine and you file an ERF, it’s not a flag for the need for security at that event. If you’re going to have an event where there’s going to be 500 people, and a speaker that is speaking on a controversial subject, it might flag for a security.”

Michael Jeong ’19, co-chair of the Student Activities Funding Commission, said that the baseline security fee guidelines on the Event Planning website had changed after students had submitted their SAFC budgets. According to Jeong, students weren’t notified about the changes and had submitted their budgets according to the old fee structure.

“How are we supposed to trust what you are saying when you are making mistakes and changing the website and not letting us know?” asked Jeong.

“I think this is not the first or last mistake that I will ever make,” Grant conceded.

After the University administration representatives left, the S.A. discussed a proposed resolution that would prevent the usage of Student Activity Funds to pay for security fees.

Some S.A. members, like Dale Barbaria ’19, vice president of finance, expressed concern that the resolution itself wouldn’t affect University policy, but would just make it harder for organizations to fund their events. Omar Din ’19, College of Human Ecology Representative, a resolution sponsor, said that while the resolution will not likely be approved by President Martha Pollack as it is, the resolution could be amended in the coming days after dialogue with administrators. The resolution was tabled.

The temporary change for requirements for minimal security events would allow for time “to revisit this whole process and recruit students in a conversation about what’s feasible, what makes sense in the SAFC budget structure, and what’s really meaningful for the University’s safety,” Pendakur said.

For the future, Pendakur anticipated more communication with the students, saying the team would “be in a lot more contact with S.A. throughout this and the SAFC chairs.”