March 5, 2004

Grilling the Trustees

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The Straight’s Art Gallery hosted the seven students vying for the student-elected trustee position last night, allowing voters to become familiar with the candidates and their platforms.

“This is a good thing that helps the candidates get in touch with the public,” said current student trustee Funa Maduka ’04.

This year the event — sponsored through funds from the Trustee Office — was much more formal than in the past, according to Hope Mandeville, director of the Office of the Assemblies.

Although the event was publicized, attendance was still quite small with only around 30 people in attendance. In response to the turnout, several of candidates sought to recruit additional students in the Straight to attend the forum.

The candidates first gave brief opening statements concerning their campaign and why each would make the best student trustee. Each emphasized their respective backgrounds — placing them in a position that would serve the best interest of the student body.

After the opening statements, the discussion turned to questions from the audience. Despite the small audience, there was a multitude of questions addressing a wide variety of issues. Questions included topics concerning Cornell’s U.S. News & World Report ranking, town-gown relations, tuition rates, graduate student life, international student life, athletics, diversity and eCornell.

Several controversial topics emerged as well. These included candidate Josh Katcher’s ’06 platform on strict requirements for teaching assistants to be proficient in English. “It’s a horrible statement,” said candidate Justin Giles ’06. Other candidates commented that the problem does not lie in teaching assistants not knowing English but their having thick accents. “We can learn a lot from them,” said candidate Brooke McDowell ’06.

The other main controversy arouse from a question asking candidates Peter S. Cohl ’05 and Doug Mitarotonda grad about what effect their age difference from their constituents would have on their position as student trustees. Cohl and Mitarotonda both took offense to the question. Cohl called it “ageist” and against the Title 9 policy of discrimination. Audience member Tanneasha Gordon ’06 also was greatly offended by the question. “I find the question offensive because if it was race related [instead of age], I would have been greatly offended.”

Dealing with the issues surrounding tuition increases, Katcher proposed creating a policy that would keep the tuition rate constant for each student attending Cornell in their four years in Ithaca. Cohl also took a critical stance against tuition costs stating, “My wife and I are going to leave here with six figures in debt and that has to stop.”

Candidate Anup Bogineni ’06 took issue with this claim. “I’m not making any false promises,” he said, adding that he would work on the “little things” such as small amounts students are charged for the use of various services.

After questions from the audience were addressed, each candidate made a brief closing statement in which they summed up their platforms and submitted reasons why they should be elected.

“It was helpful because I got to know their positions on the issues,” said Geunwon Kim ’05, an audience member. Kim added that it was interesting to hear discussion about issues surrounding international students, who according to Kim, are not discussed very much in these settings.

Several students were troubled by the size of the event. “This discussion was held in a room legally able to hold 49 people,” said Eugenia Shmidt ’07. She added that the student-elected trustee position was the most important student-elected position and that attendance should reflect that.

Trustee nominating committee member Melissa Ariate ’04 was glad that the discussion was “issue based” and that the candidates did not personally attack one other.

“This is when the real issues are discussed,” Shmidt said.

Archived article by Ted Van Loan