October 21, 2004

Johnson Speaks About Salient Election Issues

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Stephen Johnson, assistant vice president of government and community relations, addressed a group of students about the issues he thinks Cornellians should pay most attention to in the upcoming presidential elections last night. Johnson’s address was followed by a debate between the Cornell College Republicans and the Cornell Democrats. The Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars sponsored the event.

Johnson acts as Cornell’s liaison to Washington, representing the University on legislative issues that affect college students.

“Some people are surprised that the University has a lobbyist — I spend most of my time in Washington,” Johnson said. “My job is to bring home money for student financial aid and research.”

As the presidential election looms nearer, Johnson listed the Iraq war, stem cell research and the military draft as the most salient issues for college students.

“No matter who wins it’ll be a very difficult situation to govern,” Johnson said. “The war in Iraq is sucking out all the government’s discretionary money, taking away anything that could go towards other purposes.”

Johnson discussed the issue of stem cell research and how he feels current regulations are putting the U.S. at a disadvantage in relation to other countries. He mentioned that many leading research universities are building new research facilities while the U.S. struggles to determine its stance on this widely debated topic.

“Stem cell research is important for economic development of the University and we’re losing out to European and Japanese researchers,” Johnson said.

Throughout his talk, Johnson was careful not to endorse one political party over another. “You can’t say — and please don’t say — Democrats are good for education or Republicans are good for research funding … it doesn’t work that way,” Johnson said. “There have been many instances where these things have increased under the Democrats and the Republicans.”

Lastly, Johnson touched upon the issue of a military draft. He believes that even though President Bush and his administration have continued to state they will not institute a military draft, the current state of the military suggests one might be necessary.

“The selective service system — the draft — it can happen,” Johnson said. “With the military stretched thin, it’s quite possible … eternal vigilance by all of us is the price of liberty.”

During a question-and-answer session after the address, Mike Lepage ’05, president of the Cornell College Republicans, asked Johnson about his opinion on the cost of tuition. Lepage noted that different national publications have been publishing conflicting reports on tuition costs; some have said tuition has increased in the past five years while others have actually reported a decrease.

“Cornell’s take is that we are very expensive,” joked Johnson. “As an elite research university, most of our funding is in our personnel.”

In addition, Johnson said that while the standard tuition stays the same, state support and funding has actually gone down.

Johnson countered claims that too much funding is spent on research, which he said “are not true at all.”

According to Johnson, many budget items are billed under research when they actually benefit the University as a whole. For example, the operating costs of many buildings on campus, which are also used as by students as classrooms, are reported as research costs.. Chris Dieck ’06, a Meinig scholar, asked the Cornell Democrats and the Cornell College Republicans about each party’s plan in Iraq; whether they would end military operations early or how they would continue to rebuild.

Caitlin Shetter ’07 responded for the Republicans.

“Bush has a clear plan: elections in January and continuing to train Iraqi soldiers and police, shooting for 200,000 trained by the end of next year,” Shetter said.

“Although I’m disappointed with both parties in that they’ve focused too much on the past and not the future, Kerry will continue to rebuild and send a clear message to the world that we’re willing to rejoin the global stage,” said Randy Lariar ’08, a member of the Democrats. Johnson commented at the end of the event that he is “delighted with such activism on campus.”

Meinig hosted this event as a way to facilitate debate at Cornell.

“Overall, I think we’ve stimulated intelligent discussion, which is always good,” said Eric Wilson ’06, a member of the Meinig scholars.

Archived article by Dennis Dunegan
Sun Staff Writer