About a dozen members of the Joint Assemblies Multicultural Issues Committee and Students For Ken Glover met with President David Skorton, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73, Provost Kent Fuchs and Deputy Provost David Harris yesterday to discuss their concerns about the administration’s treatment of minority communities, including the University’s reassignment of longtime Ujamaa Residential Housing Director Ken Glover.
At the end of the two-hour meeting, it was concluded that the administration would maintain its position, refusing to permanently reinstate Glover as RHD of Ujamaa. Glover has been the RHD for Ujamaa for 20 years and the community wants him to remain there permanently, but he was reassigned without advanced warning to the High Rises over the summer. After much community protest, in July Glover was reinstated in Ujamaa for one year so that the selection process for a new Ujamaa RHD could be more transparent.
Ebony Ray ’10 began the meeting by laying out students’ concerns. According to Ray, the abrupt removal of Glover alerted the community to several problems with the University’s treatment of students of color: The timing of Glover’s removal was troubling because it coincided with the program house review. The Asian/Asian American Center is grossly under-supported, with only $5,000 committed to it. Also, the Office of Minority Educational Affairs is not following New York State compliance for the number of counselors in the Higher Education Opportunity Program. Moreover, Diversity Hosting Weekend, which has historically been a large event in which diverse groups run programs and recruit minority students, has been radically changed without student input. Additionally, Ray mentioned that the position of vice provost for equity and inclusion was phased out over the summer and the Diversity Council has not met all semester.
“As students, quite frankly, we no longer trust the administration’s promises to equity and inclusion,” Ray said. “We have these types of meetings [with the administration], and the outcomes are commitments that are unmet, promises that are unfulfilled.”
Skorton’s rebuttal to Ray’s statement focused mainly on his commitment to the program houses and his efforts to date of trying to support communities of color.
“It’s not accurate and it’s not fair to paint a picture of program houses as being treated especially poorly,” Skorton said. He added said that the review is being held simply because periodic reviews on all aspects of the University are important.
Skorton said that when he took office, the percentage of students with Pell grants had been going down for the previous four years; but now the class of 2013 is the most racially diverse class in Cornell’s history. He also said that he chose to funnel large amounts of money into financial aid so that it would be possible for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds to attend Cornell. But as a result of this policy, compounded with the recession, there is not enough money to fully support everything as would be ideal. For example, the University is in too much debt right now to bring the program houses and older residential halls to the standards of the new West campus houses.
“We have a recession on campus that is making things tight, and it is tighter than it would have been because I’m pushing money towards financial aid,” Skorton said. “I thought that was the first step in having an inclusive community.”
Skorton also admitted that although the administration has fallen short of providing adequate support to students of color, in the end the administration and the students do share the same vision of the future. The students, however, persisted in getting concrete answers out of the administration on some of the issues they had brought up.
“The reason we’ve been able to rally here today as a united cause is because a lot of our community fundamentally supports one thing, and that’s Ken Glover,” said Matt Danzer ’12, student assembly LGBTQ liaison at large. “Rather than focusing on many of the generalities that we do agree on, one thing we would all like to leave this meeting with is an answer on Ken Glover.”
Skorton deflected the question to Murphy, who said: “To be quite honest with you, I think we’ve made a mistake in keeping a single person associated with a single program for 20 years. Ujamaa has to be more than a single person.”
In the end, the administrators promised the students more clarity into why Glover was reassigned but refused to change their decision on the issue. They also agreed to continue meeting with JAMIC to continue other conversations.
Students left the meeting with mixed feelings.
“I think this meeting was able to bring a lot of issues to the table that normally wouldn’t have been brought to the table and I think we’ve made some productive dialogue in the various issues that we’ve brought up regarding the Asian community with their center, regarding OMEA, regarding the Muslim community to some degree, but I don’t think the central issue that we talked about with Ken Glover has come with a new outcome,” said Alex Muir ’10, a member of Students for Ken Glover and co-president of The LINK: Men's Alliance.
Another active member in the group, Tia Hicks '11 said: “It’s clear that there are other reasons than a personnel decision.”
Muir added: “When they didn’t know if student input was taken in consideration to remove him, that shows they haven’t clearly researched this issue regarding the reassignment. Students For Ken Glover, as a body, all we’ve been talking about is student voice and [they] haven’t even been investigating it.”