May 2, 2007

Student Agencies Acquires Yearbook

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Since January 2006, the Cornellian, Cornell University’s yearbook, has been undergoing changes to its business management.
These changes, which involve Student Agencies, Inc., have stirred up issues relating to editorial control of the yearbook, according to Jenn Sela ’07, a previous editor in chief of the Cornellian, and others on the Cornellian staff.
A contract between SAI and the University is pending; details on the contract have not been made public.
The Cornellian’s website, however, states, “The Cornellian is a service of Student Agencies, Inc.”
“The University has had good experience with working with SAI,” said Dan Kathan MBA ’73. “As a result of the good experiences the University has had with Student Agencies, they approached us to work on the Cornellian.”
The Cornellian has long been considered an independent student organization. According to the website of the Student Activities Office, “independent organizations are primarily those organizations that have a volunteer advisor whose University job description, if any, does not require service as an advisor.”
The Cornellian has had a Board of Directors; members of the pre-SAI Board of Directors include Demetra Dentes ’70, senior associate director in employer and alumni relations, Pam Doran, associate audit director in the University Audit Office, and Wendy Tarlow, associate University counsel in the Office of University Counsel, the corporate legal office for Cornell.
“The three University administrators on the Board of Directors of the Cornellian were not very involved with the Cornellian,” said Ian Murray ’07, Cornellian manager. “It’s not in their job description, and the yearbook is difficult to deal with.”
Dentes stated in an e-mail that she did not have information on the relationship between SAI and the University; she added that she thought Doran handled the details.
Doran declined to comment on Student Agencies’ relationship with the Cornellian.
Tarlow did not respond to e-mails or telephone calls.
In reference to the Cornellian’s relationship with SAI, Shashi Bhat ’06, editor in chief of the 2005 and 2006 editions of the Cornellian, said, “The Board of Directors and I were looking to establish financial continuity for the Cornellian.”
“We originally applied to become part of the University, for example, to become part of the Office of the Dean of Students,” Bhat said.
Catherine Holmes, associate dean of students in the Student Activities Office, said that she met three to four times with Cornellian staff last year.
In a separate e-mail conversation Bhat said that the main reason the Cornellian never became a part of the University was that it had been independent for so long and was hesitant about the possibility of having to relinquish editorial control.
“Student Agencies was perhaps the more appealing option because theoretically the Cornellian would still be independent and student-run, but we wouldn’t have the burden of the business side of things,” Bhat said.
Transferring management of the Cornellian to Student Agencies is a “way to stabilize the yearbook financially while keeping it under student control,” Murray said. “In the past the yearbook had problems with accountability.”
However, previous members of the Cornellian staff feel that editorial control was compromised once SAI began involvement with the Cornellian.
Sela believes that the final version of the yearbook has “suffered greatly due to the shift of power” between the Cornellian and SAI.
In an e-mail, Sela said that the Cornellian had the “potential to be a product produced in the hands of individuals with great experience and passion for yearbook-making. Instead, the yearbook has become a technical, sterile work that was not produced for the love of the book.”
In this e-mail, Sela is said that Meredith Shull ’07, editor in chief of the 2007 Cornellian, had never worked on a yearbook before her work on the Cornellian. Shull had worked at Student Agencies as a graphic designer and in Campus Promotions, one of SAI’s six businesses.
“There was not a specific day when I became the new editor in chief,” Shull said. “I stepped in to fill a void left by the previous editors in chief without assuming any specific title in the organization. I was called editor in chief only after the previous editors in chief were no longer involved.”
“I didn’t want to become editor in chief,” Shull added. “It’s not what I envisioned doing the spring semester of my senior year.”
Sela and Suhey noted that Shull is Murray’s girlfriend.
“I don’t like the fact that we both worked on the yearbook at the same time, but our careers at Student Agencies overlapped,” Murray said.
Murray and Shull met before either worked for involved with Student Agencies.
“Student Agencies has no desire to be editorially involved unless the yearbook is not being produced.” Murray said.
“To my knowledge, Murray was not involved in the editorial process until Sela and Suhey asked him for help,” Shull said.
Shull noted that both the editorial and business sides prefer to keep their production separate.
Murray said that his assumption of some roles on the editorial side of the paper was not his “forte” and “complicated a lot of things.”
Murray, however, did not have to become involved in the editorial side of production of the yearbook until “deadlines started lapsing.”
According to Scott Malamut, disorganization — or, what he termed a “drama fest” — ensued around Thanksgiving 2006, when Amanda Suhey ’07, previous editor in chief of the Cornellian, resigned from her position.
Suhey said she dropped out because of “classic Cornell burnout.”
“SAI’s involvement with the Cornellian can be problematic for the future of the yearbook,” Suhey said. “It’s not supposed to be a pretty public relations view book; it’s supposed to show the nitty-gritty of what happened during the year.”
According Suhey, the corporate environment of SAI was not suited to writers or those interested in design, but said that “she should get used to the corporate world, as it’s a part of reality.”
“I don’t feel that SAI or any business should have the power to change the dynamic of the yearbook,” Suhey said.
“Student Agenices was very hands-off at first, but once the editorial side of the book began to miss deadlines, and business began to suffer, they took a more active role,” said Eric Safstrom ’06, photo editor of the Cornellian and a Sun staff photographer. “At first, Student Agencies took the attitude that they were only controlling the money and business and left everything else to the Cornellian staff.”
Sela and Suhey said that they have not yet received payment for their work at the Cornellian.
Murray said that Sela and Suhey have had to wait an extended period of time for payment for their work on the Cornellian because of bureaucracy: “SAI couldn’t pay employees of the Cornellian due to a contract with the University.”
“It wasn’t us not wanting to pay them; it was us not being legally allowed to pay them,” Murray said.
After this year’s winter break, Sela said she took a break from working on the Cornellian to study for the MCATs. After this, however, Sela said she was more than prepared to finish the book and have it out on time.
“All I wanted to do was to make a good yearbook, but, I was barred by people technically not even in charge of it from doing so,” Sela said. “SAI was not the official owner of the Cornellian — the contract hadn’t been finalized — and yet the rug was pulled out from under me.”
According to Shull, by the time Sela was able to return to work, the main components of the book had been completed. The senior photos, parent and organization ads, index and some final copy editing were the only remaining parts of the process, according to Shull, and Sela was not interested in any of these roles.
Sela acknowledges that Shull did, in fact, offer her work to do. She said, however, that it was “bitchwork.”
The 2007 Cornellian has already been finished. According to The Cornellian’s website, the yearbook costs $97.
According to Murray, circulation of this year’s Cornellian increased from 1,800 last year to 2,300 this year. In addition, the number of seniors who had their picture taken increased from 1,750 last year to 2,339 this year.

For other stories about The Cornellian, click here.