October 20, 2000

S.A. Discusses Student/Faculty Relations

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At last night’s meeting the Student Assembly (S.A.) considered ways to strengthen student/professor relationships and passed a resolution to give students a stronger voice in decisions concerning the University’s endowment funds.

In a resolution specifically aimed to foster “student/professor nutriment,” the S.A. discussed enabling professors and students to eat together for free in any campus dining facility, with the University footing the bill.

“Our goal is to help students in larger classes to get to know their professors,” said Human Ecology Representative Frankie Lind ’01, who drafted the proposal before the S.A.

The educational benefits that this program, if enacted, would bring to the University greatly outweigh the increased expenditure, according to Lind.

By breaking down the “large University mentality,” this resolution aims to bring students and faculty together both in and out of the classroom, Lind added. At a large university like Cornell, it is easy for students to get lost and to feel neglected by professors, especially professors of large classes, he said.

Freshmen, often victims of this neglect-mentality, are typically on meal plan and thus would incur no extra costs in this program, thereby placing much of the emphasis on encouraging professors to get to know their students better, Lind added.

A similar professor/student dining program is already in effect at many small colleges, such as Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

Dean of Students John Ford attended the meeting and voiced his concerns about how this new resolution would impact the existing faculty fellow programs.

“For the administration to act effectively, the issue of how this fits in with faculty-in-residence must be addressed,” he said.

The current faculty-in-residence program, which has a similar goal of fostering student/professor relationships, consists of a series of discussion lunches and dinners that take place over the course of the semester. Faculty fellows present dining cards which allow students to enter campus dining halls for free.

The S.A. responded to Dean Ford with the argument that the current program is subject to limited outreach efforts and accommodates only those students who can make it to fixed-time meals. Furthermore, participation is limited to on-campus students.

While many S.A. members acknowledged the “professor student nutriment” program’s great potential, the source of the University funding remains under question. Debates on this issue will continue in upcoming meetings.

“The funding issue cannot be glossed over. This program has the potential to be very costly. There must be some way to regulate spending,” said Amy Gershkoff ’02, minority representative.

Dan Orcutt ’03, arts and sciences representative, summed up the general consensus among S.A. members that the potential long-term gains from the program would be well worth the time spent now in further investigations.

“One of the reasons why Cornell is so great is because we have such fantastic faculty at our disposal. The possible benefits of this program go well beyond just students,” Orcutt said.

“Faculty accessibility, which is a key factor in U.S. News & World Report rankings, will likely increase with the program. These news rankings are significant to Cornell in attracting students,” he added.

In the second half of the meeting, the S.A. passed a resolution creating a student-based standing proxy committee to oversee University endowment investments.

Currently, an ad hoc organization to the S.A. researches stockholder resolutions of companies in which Cornell holds stock and provides recommendations to the Investments Committee of the Board of Trustees.

Beginning next fall with the implementation of the standing committee, the organization will be expanded and elected committee members will consist of two S.A. representatives, six undergraduate students, one graduate or professional student, one staff member and one faculty member.

The administration and the S.A. will work directly with committee members to prepare presentations to the trustees. If the trustees are convinced that the students should act on behalf of the University, then they will have the avenue to do so.

“Passing this resolution is a significant step in giving students the power to tell the administration when they want something done,” said Michael Bronstein ’02, undesignated at-large representative and vice president of public relations.

Some S.A. members, however, were reluctant to support the resolution.

“The S.A. has no business meddling with administrative funding issues. For example, it is ridiculous for students to decide who has faculty tenure and who does not,” said Gershkoff.

Michael Wacht ’02, architecture, art and planning representative, agreed with Gershkoff.

“This is not a matter of political perspective. What we are talking about is hundreds of millions of dollars. Managing the endowment is the responsibility of the administrators who are paid to do the job,” he said.

Kira Moriah ’03, arts and sciences representative and vice president of finance, reminded S.A. members that the resolution was not designed to give students direct control of financial matters. She argued for the importance of allowing students to bring their complaints before the University.

“What we are confusing here is the difference between decision and recommendation,” Moriah said. “A student proxy group provides an extra check. If the University can make decisions on its own, then this defeats the purpose of student government.”

Bronstein added, “The administrators should be held accountable for what they do. This resolution represents a strong step into a new territory for the S.A.”

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts