March 3, 2009

C.U. Grants Asian Center a Space

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A little over one year ago, students on the Asian/Asian-American Center (A3C) committee held a forum to demand the creation of a community center for Asian/Asian-American students. Last night, after a year of planning, discussion and activism, students held another forum, with Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67, President David Skorton and Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73, to update students, staff and faculty on the center’s progress.
Willard Straight Hall was proposed as the center’s permanent location last fall; however, there will be an interim center at 14 South Ave, a University-owned facility formerly used by a fraternity and a sorority and currently used to house students, according to Murphy.
“We thought if there were an interim space that it would be close to Willard Straight,” Caroline Hugh ‘10, A3C committee co-chair, said.
The interim facility consists of a large area for multiple uses, two offices and a bathroom. There is a chapter room not in use next to this space that would double the entire space if A3C were granted use, said Hubbell, who is also an A3C committee co-chair.[img_assist|nid=35722|title=Discussing plans|desc=Cornell President David Skorton responds to questions at the Asian/Asian-American Center Forum last night in Goldwin Smith Hall.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
In April, Patricia Nguyen will take her post as assistant dean and director of the A3C in the interim facility, according to Hubbell.
At last night’s forum, Hugh and Hubbell gave a brief introduction to students, staff and faculty, who filled approximately two-thirds of the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith, before Skorton addressed the crowd and then opened up the floor for questions.
Skorton began his address by reminding the audience of the current financial crisis and its implications for the University, but stated that the administration is committed to A3C, especially given the student work and ingenuity used to find a cost-effective space for the interim center. Bhavna Devani grad, member of the A3C committee, moderated the forum by asking Skorton audience-submitted questions. Among the most pressing issues were the location of the center, a timeline for when the facility will go into use, donations for the center and multiculturalism in general at Cornell.
Hubbell addressed the interim center’s location, saying that he “looked high and low on campus … I think it’s fair to say that we could envision it as an adequate space in the near future.”
Hubbell said he is willing to discuss use of the chapter room with Campus Life, which negotiated the use of the space for A3C.
“Every building on campus has a history… So that legacy amongst many who have something at the table in these negotiations was to respect that room because that room has characteristics to be preserved. At the same time, I’m not won over, but I’m only half of the negotiation,” Hubbell said.
A3C could not extend into any other parts of the building because the space is also used to provide dorms for freshman and transfer students, which is necessary since class sizes are growing, Murphy added.
As for a timeline, Murphy said that moving A3C into the Straight would be based on University protocol and finances. Construction of the center in the Straight has been estimated to be $1 to $2 million.
“We’ve had estimates for the Straight, we will have to be able to show where all that money is coming from,” Murphy said.
Despite the financial crisis, Skorton affirmed the administration’s support to create a permanent center.
“I am committed … to establish this presence on campus as soon as possible … I’ll commit to you that by the end of the fall semester, there will be a plan … This is not the end. We didn’t just find a spot to satisfy the initial request then forget the end goal,” Skorton said.
Last weekend, the Cornell Asian Alumni Association held a banquet in New York City to raise funds towards the center, however, students asked why the center was not a priority in the University’s donations.
“This was not listed, however, Student and Academic Services is a priority. My highest priority has to do with student financial aid. We have shifted something like $300 million from buildings into people,” Skorton said.
Several audience members questioned the staffing of Nguyen, who will take on two positions due to the financial crisis, according to Hugh.
“Without knowing much, this has to be an enormous stretch for [Nguyen] to do this … To be honest with you, this is a big vote of confidence in the program,” Skorton said.
Concerns over administrative support for minority communities across Cornell were also raised, especially concerns that certain administrative positions were not filled prior to the financial crisis and hiring pause.
Skorton stated that if a position or positions cannot be fully met by the resources of the University, the University still attempts to partially fill these positions instead of leaving them altogether unfilled.
“The campus has had a reach, an aspiration farther than it can reach. The campus aspirations have been growing for the past 20 years, that’s what led to the concept of a $4 billion campaign. We have enormously large aspirations, many of those aspirations are translated into partial aspirations instead of no action,” Skorton explained.
Devani questioned this assertion, saying that vacated positions are likely to be lost entirely if left unfilled in the long run.
“There’s a difference between filling some spots and not all spots, and cutting spots,” Skorton said.
Devani also expressed that minority affairs positions have a high turnover rate and that people filling these positions burn out.
Skorton framed multiculturalism in context of the ramifications of the financial crisis.
“Multiculturalism is being shortchanged on this campus like a lot of things and that’s the way it is … Everyone gets short-changed … All multicultural things on campus are not where they’d like to be but are moving in the right direction,” Skorton said.
After the forum, students expressed mixed reactions to the administrators’ answers.
“I feel like a lot of student concerns were not assuaged … [There was] a lot of lip service, in my opinion,” Hugh said.
Several agreed that good questions were asked.
“I’m glad they brought up the [chapter room] not being used, hopefully we can get that space,” Susan Duan ’09, a member of the A3C committee, said.
“I’m very glad that not only the Asian and Asian American community but other communities were brought to the floor,” Clara Ng-Quinn ’10, a member of the A3C committee, said.
The next steps for A3C will be committee meetings with Nguyen.
“There’s lots and lots of work to do. President Skorton will be good to his word. I don’t think anybody doesn’t want this to happen,” Hubbell said.