September 23, 2005

S.A. Cuts Class Council Budget

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It had already been 15 minutes since the Student Assembly concluded a contentious half hour of debate by voting 12-4-1 to approve a 25-percent cut in the budget for the four class councils, but Krystyn Tendy ’06 and Tory Lauterbach ’06 were still upset. Tendy, the former president of the Class of 2006, and Lauterbach, a senior week co-chair, had been among a group of class council leaders who had testified against the proposed budget cut at yesterday’s S.A. meeting. After the lopsided vote made the proposed $14,000 cut a reality, they both expressed dismay at the outcome.

“With one quarter of our funding gone, the quality of events we offer will drop, and we will not be able to serve students as well as we have been,” Lauterbach said.

Tendy was even more direct.

“The S.A. has done an injustice to students,” she insisted.

Lauterbach and Tendy weren’t the only class council members angered by the result of the vote.

“I’m surprised and very disappointed that the S.A. didn’t recognize all the good things that class council does,” said Senior Class President Mike Zuckerman ’06.

The cut will not take effect until next fall, but it will stay in effect for at least two years after that. Since the S.A. approved a 67-percent budget increase for class councils two years ago, all undergraduate students have been paying $10 of their annual $167 Student Activities Fee to support the councils. Now, as a result of the budget cut, the class councils will get only $9 a year from each student.

Michelle Fernandes ’06, S.A. vice-president for finance is the chair of the finance committee that voted to recommend the $1 cut at their meeting on Tuesday. After the S.A. meeting ended, she explained that the finance committee had recommended the cut because, “the class councils hadn’t shown us that they had been responsible with the money we gave them two years ago.”

The S.A. voted only on the $1 cut recommended by the finance committee, but the cut could easily have been more severe, as Fernandes pointed out. The finance committee considered recommending a decrease of $1.60 but ultimately rejected the larger cut by a 5-4 vote.

Fernandes and other S.A. members contended during the meeting that some class councils were mismanaging their finances. During the meeting Fernandes told other S.A. members that, “the finance committee felt that the programming aspect of class councils was wasteful and that a lot of their money was just being spent to be spent.”

S.A. Vice-President of Public Relations David Bean ’07 said that the fact that the Class of 2006 Council had spent $700 on pingpong balls with the class logo on them to give out at Tuesday’s “Beiroot Beer” event on the Engineering Quad showed that the class councils were being irresponsible with their money. Bean suggested that class councils should seek more bids on giveaway items like pingpong balls before purchasing them.

Sophomore Class President Joanna Dai ’08 denied that class councils were spending money unwisely.

“Last year we had $12,000 to spend, and we spent our money in a productive way,” Dai told the S.A.

Zuckerman said after the meeting that he couldn’t understand why the S.A. had approved the budget cut, since he felt that “we addressed all of their objections” during the debate.

He added, that he found it ironic that “officers of the S.A. who attended and enjoyed our [Beiroot] event yesterday, then voted to cut our funding today.”

Tendy, however, offered a simple explanation after the meeting for the S.A.’s decision. S.A. President Tim Lim ’06 had chaired the finance committee meeting that recommended that $1 cut because Fernandes was not present, and Lim, she said, “has made it clear through his public statements that he hates class councils, that he has a vendetta against our organization.”

“I think the finance committee and the S.A. had made up their minds to cut our funding before we even made our presentation. It felt as if they didn’t hear a single word we said. We might as well not have come to the meeting at all,” Tendy said.

Perhaps reinforcing Tendy’s suggestion of animosity towards the class councils, several S.A. members openly mocked the way class councils spent their money during a debate on funding the African, Latino, Asian, Native American Students Programming Board (ALANA) which followed the debate on class council funding.

However, Lim and Fernandes vehemently denied that they were personally opposed to the class councils.

“Totally ridiculous,” was Lim’s response after the S.A. meeting had ended.

The debate on the funding cut began with a presentation by class council members, who explained the contributions their organization makes to the Cornell community.

“We are the only organization that serves the entire undergraduate community,” said Jared Levin ’06 Senior Class Treasurer.

“With seven colleges at Cornell, it’s tough to foster class unity… [and] in order to continue doing all that we do, it is essential for our funding to remain the same,” he added.

Ryan Lavin ’09 provided an underclassman’s perspective on class councils.

“I’ve been here only five weeks, but I’ve already seen how the class councils help in generating relationships and a sense of camaraderie among students,” Lavin said.

As the debate over the funding cut unfolded, Fernandes and other S.A. members repeatedly stressed that their worries about how the class councils spent their money did not extend to Senior Week and Convocation, which are also the responsibility of class council. As a result, these two programs will not suffer any cut in funding, which pleased Zuckerman and other class council members.

Several S.A. members focused their questions on whether class councils were using their funds to sponsor too many small events. Calvin Selth ’07, vice-president for internal operations, said that he was concerned about “high cost but low attendance events” and asked class council members if they could sponsor more large events. Similarly, representative Jonathan Feldman asked class council members, “how do small events build class unity?”

Zuckerman and Lauterbach each defended the practice of holding smaller events. Lauterbach noted that because of the difficulty of finding venues on campus for larger events, there was a limit to the number of big events class councils could sponsor. Zuckerman, meanwhile, argued that “smaller events are more intimate … they appeal to the diverse interests of the undergraduate student body.”

Judging by the 12-4-1 vote, the S.A. ultimately found Zuckerman and Lauterbach’s arguments unconvincing, but Kristen Rich ’06, one of the four dissenters, said after the meeting that she thought the S.A. was sending a contradictory message on event size.

“Large events are expensive, so how can we tell the class councils to put on more large events while cutting their funding,” Rich asked.

Opponents of the budget also argued that the S.A. was failing to recognize the importance of class councils in promoting alumni giving.

“The memories, unity, and spirit for Cornell developed by the class councils are long-lasting… [and they] motivate alumni into giving back to the university … significantly more than a dollar per person, said Miriam Gross ’06, senior class vice-president of publicity.

Gligor Tashkovich ’87 voiced the same opinion about alumni giving. The former president of the Cornell Association of Class Officers “made a detour” to Cornell from his home in New York City in order to ask the S.A. to “to vote against this very short-sighted motion.”

Although the S.A. voted to cut class council funding, they also voted yesterday to approve a $2.25 increase in the student activity fee for ALANA and a 70-cent increase for the Community Centers Programming Board.

Archived article by Elijah Reichlin-Melnick
Sun Staff Writer