March 12, 2007

Trustees Hold Brief Open Session

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The Cornell University Board of Trustees convened in Ithaca last week, with the full Board meeting on Friday in the Beck Center of Statler Hall. President David Skorton, Student Assembly President Kwame Thomison ’07 and Graduate and Professional Student Assembly President Janet Vertesi grad presented reports to the Board during the part of the session that was open to the public.

Skorton reported on his trip to Albany on Feb. 26, during which he met with legislators and commissioners to gain support for Cornell. He also met with SUNY Chancellor John Ryan, who announced Wednesday that he would step down May 31.

“We had a very productive, collaborative meeting talking about issues that were common to the SUNY system and to Cornell, many of which of course are oriented towards the contract colleges, but not all,” Skorton said. “The general message that we conveyed in those meetings was ‘Thank you for the support Cornell is receiving from New York State.’ One of the surprises that I get here at Cornell is how much state support we have, not hugely different from what a lot of primary, public research universities get as a proportion of their budget around the country.”

Asked about admission figures for this year, Skorton said, “We got a little over 30,000 applications this year for 3,200 slots. About a third of these slots were filled by early-decision and the rest are in process now. The applications were up 7 or 8 percent since last year and something like 45 percent since 2004.”

Other issues discussed on his trip included an increase in the budget for the Cornell Cooperative Extension Programs, support of capital projects and the increasing role that the Provost’s Office is designing for Cornell to play in regional economic development around the state.

Skorton also updated the trustees on on-campus initiatives, including his signing of the American University and College President’s Climate Commitment on behalf of the University.

“[The committee] decided that this is a very big stretch for us to become what the contract calls ‘climate neutral’ by 2050, but that the long history of education and research at Cornell, the good work of the people responsible for campus stewardship and the students were all pointing us in the direction of signing this commitment,” Skorton said.

“I do want the board to understand that we are far in American higher education from being able to fulfill all the terms of that commitment right now, but we are dedicated to getting it done,” he added.

Other initiatives he touched upon included working on a series of ways to increase contact with undergraduate students and a push for greater diversity.

“We also started presidential office hours. We tried to find a time that everybody would agree on but we could not find one. Then we took one that everybody could agree on except the athletes, and that is 4:30 to 6 p.m. The students might find midnight to 2 a.m. acceptable, but that would not work for me,” Skorton joked.

Skorton’s report was followed by Thompson’s report on the Student Assembly.

“One of the themes for this year was bringing down barriers between students,” Thomison said. “Cornell is kind of segmented; we have our different communities, so what it means is bringing students together, including graduate students, for common goals and activities. One of the first things we did this year was make Homecoming free for all undergraduate students.”

Thomison also mentioned that the student body’s representation on the Board of Trustees was reformed to guarantee one undergraduate and one graduate representative and told the Board that the S.A. was cultivating its with Ithaca College’s student government, investigating the possible expansion of Olin Library and investigating off-campus living.

“One of the programs I am most proud of this year is the transportation initiative we started to Syracuse airport. Right now we have over 300 students signed up, and they are collectively saving over $10,000. I think that is just tremendous,” Thompson said.

Vertesi, in her report, echoed Thomison’s sentiments on the success of the joint resolution concerning representation on the Board of Trustees and welcomed the increased cooperation and communication. However, Vertesi’s report focused mostly on the issue of graduate housing.

“One of the big issues for us this year was the moving of transfer students into Hasbrouck Housing Complex and this was a real concern for the GPSA for different reasons. Primarily because Hasbrouck is really one of our only successful graduate communities, so the influx of undergraduates was not just seen as an inconvenience, but it was actually a threat to the graduate student community there,” Vertesi said.

Vertesi went on to list several recommendations drawn up by the GPSA, including the creation of a graduate student community center, development of premier and personal resources for graduate students and increased attention to the integration of the graduate student experience.

“The real success of the undergraduate residence life initiative is the proof that when we pay attention to student community and the physical, the academic and the social resources needed to support it, profound changes in student experience do fall,” Vertesi said. “So I would like to encourage you to take some time to think about what is possible in the graduate student experience if we think meaningfully about the essential issues of graduate life and invest the time and resources to support them.”

Vertesi is formally presenting the recommendations to Skorton today.