Future Student and University Assembly members expressed their concerns about Cornell’s student government Tuesday night during a forum for fall 2007 undergraduate candidates.
The Student Assembly’s Director of Elections Mark Coombs ’08 asked candidates how they believed student government is perceived on campus.
Candidates agreed that participation in student government at Cornell is low and that most students do not know very much about the student governance. “When I tell people I’m running for S.A., they’ll ask “what is S.A.?” said freshman candidate WeiQin (Samantha) Dong ’11.
During the fall 2006 elections, only 999 out of approximately 3,200 freshmen and 138 out of approximately 490 transfer students voted in the election, according to Assemblies Coordinator Amy O’Donnell.
“The community has issues that they want to bring to the table. Many of them just don’t know how to contact student government, be involved and express themselves,” said freshman candidate Gabe Sulkes ’11.
Once elected, new representatives may find it difficult to implement their goals, especially if faced with the apathy of other representatives, Coombs, who is also a Sun columnist, said.
Coombs said that S.A. members could easily abuse their power without repercussions because the community is uninformed about the behavior of S.A. members, who are often reelected without competition. “It would be helpful to the student body to reclaim the S.A. and to restore some of its legitimacy,” he said.
“If people don’t take government seriously that’s going to be very detrimental to us achieving what we want to do,” said freshman candidate Farhan Quasem ’11. “Each of the student assembly members, once we’re elected, has to serve as ambassadors to the rest of our class and to the rest of the community.”
“The S.A. is a communicative body. It’s for the student voice to reach the administration,” Coombs said. “The administration looks to the Student Assembly to get a feel for what’s on students’ minds.”
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 “comes to every meeting he can,” Coombs said.
Students who are not on the assembly are invited to speak during the beginning of S.A. meetings, which occur each Thursday from 4:45 to 6:30 p.m. in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall.
In addition to being a “communicative body,” the S.A. has legislative authority over the policies of the Office of the Dean of Students and the Department of Campus Life and establishes the undergraduate Student Activity Fee, which all undergraduates are required to pay, and guidelines for its distribution.
During 2005, the S.A. distributed over $2 million to student groups for the years of 2006 and 2007. Groups funded by the S.A. include Cornell Cinema, the Slope Day Programming Board and Cornell Concert Commission; the College Readership Program, which enables undergraduate students to receive The New York Times and USA Today for free, is also funded by the S.A., according to Director of Campus Relations Peggy Beach.
The S.A. has three freshman seats and one transfer seat to fill. There are 11 candidates competing to become freshman representatives, and two candidates competing to become the transfer representative.
In addition, the University Assembly, which deals with issues of common interest to all members of the Cornell community, has two undergraduate seats available. There are four candidates for these positions.
Cornell’s current student government system dates back to 1981 when the Board of Trustees approved the charters of the S.A., University Assembly, Employee Assembly and Faculty Senate. The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly was established later, in 1993.
“You don’t even have to leave your room [to vote],” Coombs said.
According to Coombs, every undergraduate will receive an e-mail containing instructions on how to vote online.
Voting begins at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 18 and ends at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20. Candidate profiles can be found online at http://assembly.cornell.edu/elections/candidateprofiles.