March 1, 2007

Skorton Hosts Open Forum

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In an effort to solicit feedback and opinions from Cornell students, President David Skorton held an open student forum yesterday in Uris Auditorium.

“In addition to meetings with elected student representatives, this is a good way to meet and get input and points of view directly from students,” Skorton said after the forum.

According to Kwame Thomison ’07, president of the Student Assembly, who opened the forum, approximately 30 people attended the talk.

“President Skorton, from day one, has tried to be very interactive with students and its great to see him following up on what’s he’s said a few month’s later,” said Jason Brown ’08. “I’m excited to hear Skorton speak about issues that are immediately relevant to the University today, like sustainability and illegal music service.”

Abdul Chaballout ’08 attended the forum to hear Skorton’s take on the connection between the undergraduate colleges at Cornell and the medical school in Qatar.

“I’ve noticed that Skorton’s fostered a dialogue between the East and West, and I’d like to see a link formed to pursue it and further foster it on an academic level,” Chaballout said.

To this inquiry, Skorton reinforced that fact that the Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar is the first American medical school ever set up overseas and agreed that “academia is what can close the East and West divide.”

The first question asked concerned this year’s convocation speaker. Skorton said he was not yet “plugged into this process,” but said that if a student group recommended a certain speaker, Cornell would try to book him or her.

“We would not impose any filter on who’s chosen as speaker,” Skorton said.

Murphy clarified Skorton’s remarks: “We work with the Convocation Committee initially, and sometimes the invite to the speaker comes from the president, sometimes it comes from the students.”

According to Susan H. Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic services, if students identify a speaker, the administration tries to find someone on campus with a connection to the speaker.

Grayson Fahrner ’08 presented his personal situation involving interest accrued on a loan as a springboard for questioning Skorton on the rising cost of higher education.

Fahrner said that, in comparison to its peer institutions, Cornell freshmen have to take out more loans. In response, Skorton recalled his experience as being part of the first generation in his family to attend college, and said that he is sensitive to the issue of tuition.

“There’s a sense of urgency for doing more with the cost of higher education because of the inflation rate,” Skorton said.

Skorton told the audience that he is going to Washington, D.C. to lobby for student aid.

Andrew Cowan law raised the question of public transportation — according to him, there is a lack of late-night and weekend services.

Murphy responded to this inquiry by saying that a new plan for bus transportation is in the works and that late night and weekend service is at its core.

One graduate student listed many of the issues graduate students face at Cornell, including issues such as a lack of a career advising service, a feeling that graduate students are “lumped in” with undergraduates, and a feeling that graduate students are at the “bottom of the pile” of University life.

Audience members also questioned Skorton on the demolition of the Transfer Center as well as the possibility of required diversity and sustainability courses.

Throughout the forum, audience members were urged to respond to other audience members’ questions. A graduate student replied to the idea of a required diversity course by saying that students “take the cue from the top down,” and that if the administration makes a “genuine and authentic commitment to diversity,” students will follow.

In addition to open forums of yesterday’s variety, Skorton plans to hold office hours that are focused on a certain aspect of University life, such as professional issues or graduate student issues.

After nearly every question posed by an audience member, Skorton offered his e-mail for follow-up.

Skorton said that long before he arrived at Cornell, there were members of the administration who made a great effort to work with their respective constituent groups — the provost worked with faculty, the vice president for Student and Academic Services with students, and the vice president for Human Relations with staff.

Skorton will have a call-in on higher education issues with the presidents of both Tompkins County Community College and Ithaca College Monday at 7 p.m. on the public radio station WEOS.

“It’s great to have a president with student-centric ideas,” Thomison said. “It will encourage campus-wide debate and I think as students become interested in what’s happening, attendance at forums will grow.”