The Sun sat down yesterday with Student Assembly president-elect Elan Greenberg ’08 to talk about the future of the S.A.
The Sun: First I’d like to know your story. Where are you from, how did you come to Cornell?
Elan Greenberg: I’m from Rockaway NJ; I’ve lived there my entire life. I had two cousins that went to Cornell, I used to come up and visit them. And you know it seemed like a college that had everything. And I was right, in that assumption…I’m very lucky to have gotten here.
Sun: What’s your major?
Greenberg: I’m a PAM major, inequality concentration, sociology.
Sun: What do you want to do after college?
Greenberg: I’m in ROTC here, marine option, so I’ll be a marine core officer when I graduate. This summer I am going to officer candidate school, in Guanaco, so that’s my big stressor right now.
Sun: How do you feel about serving?
[img_assist|nid=23104|title=Big man on campus.|desc=Rebecca Thomas/Sun Photo Editor|link=node|align=right|width=100|height=100]Greenberg: I mean, I’m excited for it. it’s something I’ve wanted to do, ever since 9/11. I feel I’ve been very lucky to have the best of both worlds here at Cornell, an excellent ROTC program, and at the same time too a world-renown university. Knowing what I know, and being able-bodied, I honestly feel like it’s my obligation. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily agree with me, but that’s kind of the way I’ve thought about things the last few years.
Sun: Do you think your involvement in ROTC has really benefited you and your involvement with the S.A.? Or has it been more of a conflict in terms of time commitment and such?
Greenberg: I saw ROTC as a good source of confidence, a good source of drive. Getting so involved made me want to get more involved and meet people outside the unit as well.
Sun: In your words, can you describe the primary function of the student assembly?
Greenberg: For next year especially, the primary function of the S.A. is to take every student’s student activities fee, which right now is set at $182 dollars, and through the process of “byline funding” they will disperse it to a little bit over than 20 groups on campus, who in their own right will disperse it to further groups.
So we fund a lot of the major groups on campus, and it is the S.A.’s responsibility to make sure that the money gets allocated fairly. That’s one function.
Another function is to act as a sounding board for any undergraduate concerns or issues. We’re a great place to hold campus debates about things that are going on, whether in the world at large, in the community, on campus itself. What students don’t realize though, that in order for that debate to exist they have to bring things before the student assembly.
In order for people to see that kind of fully-functioning student assembly, where it’s just constant debate, students on campus need to get involved, and recognize it is that kind of an organization.
Sun: Do you feel that, with your position, it is partly your responsibility to get students involved?
Greenberg: Absolutely. I think one of the problems right now is not that the students don’t want to get involved, but instead they just don’t know how or they don’t know that they can. I know that people complain about it not having a lot of individuals running in a lot of student assembly elections. That was also because not a lot of people knew they were going on.
Something we’ve been trying to do for a long time is get list serve access for the entire University. Somewhat limited, obviously we’re not going to spam people or anything, just an e-mail telling them about things going on on campus, that’s something that can get people involved. We are going to try and work on for the end of the year.
Sun: Why did you get involved in the S.A.?
Greenberg: Second semester freshman year what I really wanted to do is you know, branch out a little bit beyond the ROTC program. I did that by joining the fraternity (Pi Kappa Phi). I thought one more thing could be cool…something beyond the Greek system, something beyond ROTC, and the student assembly seemed like a good place to start.
Sun: Can you summarize your experience on the S.A.?
Greenberg: Very rewarding, but very frustrating at times too. Because, unlike other organizations on campus, I think for the S.A. it is actually essential that there has to be debate, there has to be disagreement in order for it to actually function properly. It’s very easy to take certain things personally, but you have to learn to separate, when people disagree with your idea, and when people disagree with you as a person. I think once cooler heads prevail, and people realize we’re ultimately all there for the same purpose, trying to make the community a little better place, that’s when people start to really get along better. People on the assembly this year, and even this past year; have been very good at doing that so far.
Sun: It has been said that the atmosphere gests very tense in S.A. meetings. What is the most outrageous thing you’ve ever witnessed?
Greenberg: There is stuff between individuals that I cannot mention.
Greenberg: No fistfights. Some people get involved in the student assembly because they crave a sense of power; they crave the influence that they might have. But I think when people get involved because they genuinely want to make a difference in the community great things can happen, provided they know how to work well with those around them.
Sun: You have held several different positions, in terms of that progression to your initial involvement with the S.A. to your current position. Can you comment on this progression?
Greenberg: I was the VP of internal operations. In that capacity I was responsible for staffing and organizing all of the committees of the assembly, such as the appropriations committee, the dining committee, residential student life. That was a challenge at first; because one of the criticisms of the SA in the past was that we didn’t have functioning committees. I would say we were not as successful with this as we would have liked to have been, but it was still a huge step from the year before that. I think that about 2/3 of the committees were fully functional by the end of the year. Others, we need to revisit what their purpose is right now.
Sun: What are your opinions on the reform of the ticket system for S.A. elections?
Greenberg: I sponsored that resolution, so I am 100% in favor of it, obviously, as one of the most critical reforms that had to happen. I think that part of the reason people saw the student assembly as such a joke is that they saw grown men and women acting like children for a period of about five or six weeks every spring semester. And then people would win the S.A. elections, and then people would be like, “Of course they won the S.A. elections they had to sell their soul to get on.”
It forced people to run on their own account, to think for themselves, this is something that I want to do. If it was something they wanted to do, they were going to have to use their own resources, they were going to have to support their own campaign, which was also very important they couldn’t just let someone run their campaign for them.
One of the negative parts I suppose about that was that not as many people ran in the elections. Though, it is the first year the reform was in place, I think that next year we are definitely going to put in the provisions in place to send those letters out to different groups, to the entire constituency, getting people involved, getting people excited to run, kind of selling the whole process as a good learning experience but also a good way to engage in service to Cornell.
Sun: What do you think about the last elections?
Greenberg: I would have liked to have seen more people running. When people see elections uncontested, they start to question their legitimacy. But, at the same time, I think the year before there must have been something in the realm of over 100 election violations, or accusations of election violations. How many do you think there were this year?
Greenberg: There was zero. I thought that was a huge improvement, this year there wasn’t any of that. Also too I think the positive preface from the Sun regarding the elections resolution helped a lot as well.
Sun: Why are S.A. internals closed to the public? Is that a good or a bad thing in your opinion?
Greenberg: I think that, well, is probably a good thing. I think that it’s good because [an open election] doesn’t necessarily show the assembly at it’s best. At the same time too, I think that people have certain rights to privacy in regards to how they vote. … I think it’s the one time during the year where the actual process of something the S.A. does is not open to the public — everything else is open — and at the same time too people don’t show up to S.A. meetings, they don’t show up to the forums that we have, I don’t necessarily think people would be coming in droves to our internal elections.
The executive board meetings are now open to be a public forum. You can come if you have anything to say to the executive board you are more than welcome to express your concerns. There are certain things we are going to discuss privately, but we think that any time the students want to come to the S.A. it is important.
Sun: Why did you want to become S.A. president, such a controversial job with so many responsibilities?
Greenberg: I thought the student assembly was a bit of a joke, like most people on campus. I thought that it was an organization with enormous potential, but I saw it being squandered by very unethical conduct of certain individuals. I thought that was terrible, at a school like Cornell. Through the VPI position I was able to jumpstart a lot of the committees and jumpstart a lot of the actual operations of the assembly.
When it came to student assembly president, of those that were running, I was convinced that I was the best candidate. I thought that I might not necessarily have the charter memorized, I might not necessarily have been involved since my freshman year, but at the same time, I think I know people. I think I know how to deal with people. I know how to solicit ideas; I know how to take a lot of information. And when I feel comfortable, I know how to make a decision. I think that those qualities are very important for somebody that’s going to be leading an organization like this.
Sun: You have emphasized making a difference. What are your plans, as S.A. president, to improve Cornell?
Greenberg: Fall semester our biggest priority is going to be that by-line funding happens in a very transparent, very efficient, and very effective manner. At the same time though, it’s going to be absolutely essential that we are able to balance our responsibilities with by-line funding, while also actively seeking out concerns on campus.
Certain things that we’ve brought up as concerns, while working with other students groups, include the debate about sustainability; we’ve worked with KyotoNow! And other sustainability groups on campus, we’ve facilitated that $5 dollar opt out renewable energy resolution that students are going to be able to pay when they enroll at Cornell, and that money’s going to go toward investing it in sustainability on campus, initiatives, programs research things like that.
We want to expand the S.A. sponsored bussing program, expand cities and schedules, that program was very profitable.
Most of the stuff we’ve been doing this year we never even thought of doing last year.
Sun: In more specific terms, what are your goals and how do you plan to accomplish them?
Greenberg: I don’t want to start listing off things that would be on a campaign program. I’ll give you some things that would be on my personal wish list that I would like to see, that I would like to work on.
I’ve been talking to Allen Katz, assistant director of budgeting for the athletics department. Two years ago they were turned down because of various technicalities with the student assembly, we’ve worked very hard to make sure that does not happen again. We’ve been looking at ways the by line funding can go back to the interests of students, whether it’s reducing the fees for sporting events, or other options.
Gyms on campus are not free, that’s a big point of contention for some people. It’s probably not viable to make them free, because they can’t handle the increased demand. If there were a pass that allowed you to go to the gym for free, from maybe 6 to 8:30 in the morning, people would get into a very healthy routine, and people would be able to use the gym facilities for free.
Harvard and Princeton have no loan financial aid grants. For people below an X amount of money per year, they are going to get a full tuition scholarship for that university. Cornell is obviously a much bigger university, with a complex financial aid system, but at the same time the SA is in a unique position to drive debate on that issue, to put a lot of pressure on the financial aid office and the university on the whole…it is in a position to offer a similar package to students we are competing with those institutions for.
The Collegiate readership program — it’s a great program; they love doing business at Cornell. How can we make it better? Can we maybe make services available online to students as well? So that’s maybe something we are going to be revisiting.
Something else, this is very personal, UVA has an honor code. It forces students to become accountable for themselves. Especially recently with the discussion about the campus code of conduct, I think people are kind of in the mindset to deal with issues like that. I think getting debate started on it is a feasible option.
Sun: What are your thoughts on the current S.A.?
Greenberg: Everybody is there because they are passionate about trying to make a difference; I just think it’s absolutely essential that every assembly representative stays very keenly aware of the issues on campus. They can’t just come to an S.A. meeting for an hour and a half and think that they are fulfilling their obligations.
Sun: A lot of people don’t know what the S.A. does. What steps do you intend to take in order to make the S.A. a more visible working body on this campus?
Greenberg: Virtually every student is involved in some organization outside of academics. Perhaps the best way to engage those students would be through something that they’re passionate about. Demonstrate to students why it is in their best interest to come and speak, address issues in the past that have really affected students.
Sun: You’ve made a lot of mention of “lasting impact” on Cornell. Why do you think that is such a drive for you?
Greenberg: I don’t want it to seem like that is my greatest concern. One of the founding fathers of my fraternity, the president of the S.A. always used to say, “If you’re going to be somewhere, be there.” It’s kind of stuck with me, and it’s true. There’s no reason to half-ass your way through an organization. If you’re going to be there, a hundred percent of you, your thoughts, your actions, the way you conduct yourself, it all has to be there.
Given our position to positively affect change, should something extraordinary not be accomplished by this time next year, or the seeds of some major endeavor not properly sewn for the following term, all of this would have been for naught. There is no way we’re going to allow that to happen.
Correction appended: “Greenberg ’08 Discusses S.A. Plans” incorrectly stated, in its original form, that Elan Greenberg will be going to officer candidate school in Guanaco. The school is actually in Quantico. The Sun regrets this error.