February 14, 2008

U.A. Decries Skorton’s Response to Proposal

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The University Assembly yesterday held an emergency meeting to discuss actions in response to an evaluation from President David Skorton on the Campus Code of Conduct, which had been revised by the Codes and Judicial Committee. In his critique, Skorton offered several changes to the Code, some of which were met with indignation and disappointment by members of the U.A.
“I was really disappointed,” said Prof. Randy Wayne, biology, a member of the U.A. at the meeting. “President Skorton’s letter showed that he is either ignorant of the charter, dismissive of us or he wants to usurp us.”
Prof. Elizabeth Sanders, government, added, “We had hoped for an inclusive attitude from David Skorton. The disagreements are so vague and scary that you think that it’s just an asserting of executive power and to hell with us.”
Many members of the U.A. had been concerned with a modification to the Code that appeared to concentrate power in the hands of the President and members of Cornell’s executive staff. Prof. Martin Hatch, music, faculty chair of the U.A. noted that many of the members of the committee were not present. The meeting was called so that members of the U.A. could devise an response to Skorton’s revisions to the proposal.
“Any area of discussion we might have been able to conduct with them will have to be inferred,” Hatch said. “Our discussion is one of procedure. Do we, the body charged with the code, accept that procedure as valid and want to participate in it? If the one thing we have legislative authority on seems to have be pulled out from under us do we have a reason to exist?”[img_assist|nid=27778|title=Timeline of Events in Code of Conduct Revision Process|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Both Hatch and Wayne offered resolutions for the U.A. to consider as a response to Skorton’s changes to the Code. Where Hatch’s resolution proposed that the U.A. form an “ad-hoc committee to formulate its response to the president,” allotting time for evaluation and consideration of Skorton’s response, Wayne’s offered a more direct response to Skorton’s perceived disregard of the U.A.
“Should the president choose to disregard the charter of the U.A. and usurp the legislative responsibilities,” Wayne wrote, “the members will resign as a consequence of their conviction that acknowledging the reality of an oligarchy is far more noble than participating in the illusion that a representative and deliberative body … has legislative authority.”
Most of the U.A. and CJC agreed with both resolutions on different levels.
“Marty’s and Randy’s [resolutions] are not mutually exclusive,” said Andy Cowan grad vice-chair of the CJC. “We want to continue working on this … but if the executive isn’t going to acknowledge our changes, what’s the point of it?”
“The CJC is important as a committee … it offers valuable knowledge,” said Kathleen Rourke law, chair of the CJC. “My suggestion is that we respectfully tell the president of the proper procedure and that if we have to go through it a few times, so be it. It’s always worked.”
Members complained that Skorton had bypassed the U.A., saying that any changes made to legislation regarding the Code of Conduct was supposed to go through the CJC.
Tamara Pardo grad, a member of the U.A., agreed with Rourke. “Give the president a benefit of a doubt. We should stick with what works,” she said. “If the president is still defensive or argumentative or confrontational in further suggesting that he has final say, then we can go to Randy’s resolution.”
The U.A. voted to table Wayne’s resolution, reasoning that it would be better to use it as more of a last resort. They decided, instead, to focus on Hatch’s resolution and how to present it to the president.
Julianna Marwell ’08, chair of the U.A., suggested that the resolution be presented as a letter.
“I understand that everyone is aggravated,” she said. “But we should try [the sending of the letter] before stronger action is taken.”
Prof. Emeritus David Rosen, music, disagreed.
“There’s something about a proposal that forces a response,” he said, “ a letter doesn’t have the same kind of force. We should fire a shot.”
“I think either way, the president has two options. He can go along with it … or say no, he’ll do things administratively,” Cowan said. “He’ll say whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not it’s a letter or a resolution.”
In the end, the U.A. voted to change the resolution into a letter that would be signed by every member of the U.A.
As the letter was being prepared, Jonathan Sclarsic law ’08 ex-officio, Judicial Codes Counselor of the CJC emphasized that the letter must be strong.
“We should have a stronger process. If this body is supposed to have a voice, don’t be afraid to confront the president,” he said, “We should stand up for this process.”
In a letter to the University Assembly Executive Committee dated Feb. 4, available on the University Assembly’s website, Skorton referred to his modifications as “necessary revisions.”
“I find many CJC recommendations acceptable as presented, some acceptable with modification and some that require further review and revision,” Skorton explained in the letter.
Skorton stated that he objected to some of the CJC’s proposals, which, he claimed, like the Current Campus Code, do not fairly protect accusers. He stated in the letter: “Codes that are unduly complex or overly encumbered with criminal-like protections for the accused do not sufficiently accommodate these interests of personal safety and individual accountability.”
Skorton called for the formation of a committee to work with a “representative group of leadership” from the U.A. to examine the CJC’s recommendations that he thought needed further revision. The committee would be made up of the Dean of University Faculty Charles Walcott Ph.D ’59, Vice Presidents Thomas Bruce, Susan Murphy ’73 and Mary Opperman and University Counsel and Corporate Secretary James Mingle.
The revising of the Campus Code began in 2005 when then Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III commissioned a review of the Code of Conduct. In 2006, Barbara Krause, a senior advisor to Rawlings, produced the Krause Report, a revision of the Code that did not welcome positive feedback.