April 8, 2009

Panel Challenges Student Trustee Hopefuls to Distinguish Platforms

Print More

This year’s undergraduate student trustee elections hold special significance for Cornell. It was 40 years ago that the Takeover of Willard Straight Hall helped elucidate the need for a transparent University. Many credit the Takeover, and a series of tumultuous events that followed, with Cornell allowing four students to serve as voting members on the Board of Trustees.
Four decades later and with two fewer student Trustees seats, 11 Cornellians are vying to continue the tradition of student governance.
Cornell — the only Ivy League school that includes students on its board — has 64 Trustees. Two students, one from the graduate community and one from the undergraduate community, serve on the Board of Trustees as fully voting members. These student representatives are elected by the student body to serve one two-year term. Student members of the Board are responsible for working to shape University policies while also serving as a conduit between the students and their governing board.
Undergraduate candidates for the Board of Trustees responded to important issues regarding the Cornell community yesterday evening at a forum sponsored by The Sun.[img_assist|nid=36663|title=Getting down the line|desc=Candidates make their case for the one undergraduate position on the Board of Trustees at a forum hosted by The Sun yesterday in the Straight.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
Nine out of this year’s 11 undergraduate candidates participated in the forum, including Andrew Brokman ‘11, Andrew White ‘12, Eli Luxenberg ‘11, Bill Imperiale ‘11, Asa Craig ‘11, Gavrielle Untracht ‘11, Vincent Andrews ‘11, Max Aggrey ‘11 and Raymond Mensah ’11. Alex Freiden ’11 and Matt Goldberg ’11 were unable to attend.
Candidates continued to stress the importance of increasing the transparency of the Board of Trustees and of increasing communication between students and the Board.
“We have a big problem with transparency. Not to say that there is not a lot of information out there but the information is not getting out to the people who need it,” Mensah said. “I want to work to make the Board of Trustees a more open venue through the implementation of two open town hall style meetings a semester.”
“The current policy of closed [Board of Trustee] meetings needs to change,” White said. “If there is no real discussion in the community of the board’s actions, how can students plan their academic futures?”
“If elected it would be my job to make sure the connections between students and the Board of Trustees are present. If elected, I would plan to have weekly office hours so students can work with the Board of Trustees,” Imperiale said. “I want to make sure that you hear what is going on and that your voice is heard through me.”
Candidates also looked to resolve issues facing the University and improving student life at Cornell. Among the problems discussed were rising tuition rates, financial aid, academic campus resources, sustainability, undergraduate housing and the University’s current state of financial crisis.
Financial aid received specific mention by the candidates as increasing numbers of students require financial help to attend Cornell and as the University attempts to subsist on significantly decreasing funds.
“The financial situation is a main priority that must be focused on by the Board of Trustees. We have to enhance financial aid past the 60,000 dollar mark and extend it to international students” Craig said.
White proposed that the Board reevaluate the needs of students and the financial aid policy at every meeting in order to keep up with the changing economy.
In terms of changes dependent upon the University’s economic crisis candidates acknowledged that these changes will take time. But candidates emphasized their intentions not to let the decreased funds and increasing number of students dilute the education and student life at Cornell.
“If elected, I will focus on making sure everything students need to be successful students at Cornell is available because the students is what the University is really about,” Untracht said.
With the addition of 100 new students to Cornell this coming year, complaints about the availability of housing are certain not to disappear. Candidates also highlighted their intentions to improve the housing shortage.
“To help students with housing we can fight for things like rising Collegetown height limits so that more housing is available there,” Brokman said.
Above all, the candidates promised to work hard and stressed their desire to serve as advocates and liaisons for all undergraduate students.
Hallie Mitnick ’12 attended the forum and expressed her agreement with the candidate’s main priorities. “Financial aid is definitely a big concern considering the current economic situation and student engagement is essential to a successful community. The candidates did a good job of covering the important issues currently at hand.”
Candidates expressed their approval of current Student Board of Trustees Kate Duch ’09 and Michael Walsh’s grad work.
“I want to build on what they have done and consult them to see what works well and what does not,” Aggrey said.
Elections begin online on April 14, at 8 a.m. and end on April 16, at 10 a.m.