April 10, 2007

Trustee Candidates Face Off

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Last night, the student trustee candidates met in Warren Hall in a forum co-sponsored by The Sun. During the forum, Sun Managing Editor Rebecca Shoval ’08 asked the candidates three questions, which they were given one minute to respond to. The candidates answered each question in a random order.
The candidates for trustee are the following: Jason Brown ’08, Julie Cantor ’09, Kate Duch ’09, Grayson Fahrner ’08, Julie Geng ’08, Michael McDermott ’09, Karthik Rammohan ’09, Graham Rengert ’09, Peirce Stern ’10, Ola Williams ’10 and Brian Wolfel ’10. Students who are running but did not appear were Chris Gunderson ’09 and Iris Delgado ’09.
The first question posed was, “What does being a student trustee mean to you, and what campus activities have you been involved in that have prepared you to serve effectively?”
For many of the candidates, the answer to this question lay in the idea of representation. Many argued that in order to effectively serve the campus, a trustee must be able to adequately represent campus views. Candidates often cited on-campus activities as their gateway to understanding student thought.
McDermott believes his diverse array of activities, including sailing, working with varsity athletes and being vice president of the Class of 2009, has allowed him to better understand and, thus, better represent a diverse student body.
“… I have the background to show I know what students at Cornell actually want … I’ve been representing all parts of Cornell University, and I can take that to the Board of Trustees.”
For Geng, the gateway has been her time writing for The Sun.
“It is important that we bring out the student voice,” she said, “and I have done that through my reporting for the Cornell Daily Sun since day one freshman year.”
Duch argued that knowledge and experience qualify her for the job. She said that in addition to thoroughly researching all the “major issues” she has also had a lot of personal experience with student issues, due to her time on the Student Assembly, University Assembly and in the Greek Community.
The next question asked students to rank, in order of importance, three initiatives the University administration should undertake in the next 10 to 30 years to address.
Although not all candidates cited three specific initiatives, themes ran strong throughout the initiatives they did name.
Many touched on the idea of fostering a more community-orientated atmosphere.
Farhner focused on fostering a graduate community, proposing a graduate center on campus,to “create a unifying experience for grad students.”
McDermott and Rammohan both proposed the idea of building a community center, either on or off campus, so that Cornellians can congregate and socialize under non-academic circumstances.
Candidates also hoped to improve the campus’s state of finance. Duch firmly supported alumni financial aid as a means of attracting strong but needy candidates. Further, McDermott, Williams and Stern stated their hopes of ridding add-on fees such as gym membership. As Williams explained,
“No matter if your rich or your poor, no one wants to pay extra add-on fees such as gym memberships and student activity fees.”
Finally, the candidates hoped to improve the school’s academics as well. Cantor said she wanted to ensure that the quality professors remain at Cornell while Rengert wanted to ensure that the professors Cornell does hire are more diverse. Brown said he wanted to improve the academic advisory system.
The final question asked was for the students to take a stand on a campus issue that has occurred over this past semester.
One campus issue that turned out to be a small point of contention was student apathy.
Both McDermott and Brown pointed to student apathy as Cornell’s greatest weakness. The student sentiment, said Brown, is one that President Skorton himself has articulated
Geng rejected President Skorton’s alleged feeling on the subject saying it was an, “indication that Skorton has no idea what the students are thinking.” Instead of being inherently apathetic, Geng said, the students are made so because the administration does not allow their voices to be sufficiently heard.
In addition, Williams strongly criticized the “lack of understanding” amongst various groups, and Duch the newly instated ticket prices for athletic events. Stern voiced objection to the proposed Code of Conduct changes and Rengert urged the administration to reevaluate its policy towards program houses and contract arrangements.
The students were then given 90 seconds to deliver a closing statement. Many of the candidates used this opportunity to reiterate points they had made during the forum. Others searched for holes in their opponents or tried to underline traits they think are important in a candidate.
Brown underlined his passion for Cornell, Fahrner reiterated his understanding of economic planning, and Stern plead his trustworthiness.
Williams, who took the focus off of himself and onto the voters, told the audience, “it’s not about what we do, it’s about what we do for you.”