January 21, 2010

Facing Student Pressure, S.A. Restores Some of Cinema’s Budget

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This story was originally published on Dec. 5, 2009.

Correction Appended

After heated opposition followed the Student Assembly’s initial decision to cut Student Activity Fee funding to Cornell Cinema, the S.A. voted yesterday to increase Cornell Cinema’s funding up to $10 per student — $1.40 more than the previous allocation decision.

While the final decision increased funding to Cornell Cinema from the $8.60 per student allocation decision in October, the $10 allocation still represents an overall $1 cut from the cinema’s funding last year. Initially, Cornell Cinema had asked for a $0.75 per student increase.

Although there was discussion to reduce the funding for the Slope Day Programming Board to make up for the increase to Cornell Cinema, the S.A. ultimately decided to leave the SDPB funding unaltered and decrease the SAFC’s funding by $1.40.

The atypical Friday S.A. meeting was scheduled in accordance with the S.A. charter’s requirements to approve the SAF by the last day of classes in the fall semester. The S.A. held a three-hour meeting on Friday to reach a consensus regarding the allocation of byline funds drawn from the SAFC. Throughout the semester, the S.A. approved individual funding allocations for the 29 groups that receive byline funding directly from the S.A., including groups such as Cornell Cinema, SDPB and the SAFC. The final SAF amount must be an even-numbered, even dollar amount, relegating the bulk of Friday’s meeting to reconsiderations regarding certain funding decisions made earlier in the year in order to reach a final number in line with Charter regulations.

Around two-thirds of the meeting consisted of a debate regarding the SAFC’s previous allocation decision of $8.60 to Cornell Cinema. Over 50 people showed up to the meeting in support of Cornell Cinema — for the third time this semester — to protest the S.A.’s cut to cinema funding. Daniel Rodriguez, an employee at Cornell Cinema, said, “I’m confused and disheartened that the S.A. has not taken into consideration the opinions of its constituency.” Turning to some of the representatives, he said that, in regards to funding, “You guys really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Vice President of Finance Chris Basil ’10 explained again in detail the reasons for the $8.60 allocation: “I think the reason that Cornell Cinema has trouble with funding year after year is because it’s the only group that asks us for program support. The University should give [Cornell Cinema] more support, but it doesn’t. If the University were paying the amount that they should then the S.A. would only need to fund [the cinema] $5.80. I think that as an assembly we have to stand firm … with an allocation that will catalyze change [in the University’s lack of cinema funding].”

Minority Representative Justin Min ’11 expressed his dissent with the prevailing views amongst assembly members. “I disagreed with the [funding] cut and I still disagree with [many] opinions on the S.A,” Min said. “I think that’s a minority opinion on the assembly, [but] I think we need to listen to our constituency; and as much as we want to be as [fiscally] rational as possible, there’s really a need for compromise in that sense.” Min’s statement was met with cheers from the large crowd.

While many assembly members still continued to defend their initial positions, Cornell Cinema supporters continued with a barrage of complaints, ranging from detailed arguments to off-the-cuff sarcastic retorts, as was evidenced by an incident when Engineering Representative Zack Glasser ’12 asked for all the engineers in the room to raise their hands. Upon only finding three hands in the air, he said, “I’m an engineer, and I’m not voting in [Cornell Cinema’s] favor because I don’t see many engineers here.” Immediately, an audience member sarcastically shouted, “That’s real scientific.”

Student Representative from the University Assembly Andrew Brokman ’11 reminded assembly members of some of their past funding decisions: “You guys did pass an amendment last semester [to pay] $10,000 to [student] web designers to update the [SAFC] website [and] you did use the Student Activity Fee to pay student salaries,” Brokman said, noting his perception of the contradiction in the S.A.’s current stance on Cornell Cinema’s funding with its own past funding precedents.

As more students and staff spoke in favor of Cornell Cinema, assembly members gradually began to alter their positions on the issue. Architecture, Art and Planning Representative Ulysses Smith ‘13 asked for a show of hands as to how many S.A. members had ever been to Cornell Cinema. After relatively few hands were raised, he commented, “Well, I think more of us need to attend Cornell Cinema first [before deciding to cut their funding].” His statement was met with raucous cheering and applause.

Arts and Sciences Representative Natalie Raps ’12 said that, although she was originally in favor of the $8.60 funding appropriation, she no longer felt that amount was appropriate. “I have taken student input into account and changed my mind, and I think that to not listen to [the students supporting the cinema] would go against what we do as a Student Assembly,” Raps said.

Like Raps, other assembly members began to change positions on the issue. Eventually the group reached a consensus more amenable to Cornell Cinema, deciding to allocate $10.00 per student of the SAF.

Many S.A. members worried about the result of this increase to Cornell Cinema funding. The funding increase for the cinema would correspondingly increase the total SAF, which is supplied by student tuition. Executive Vice President Nikhil Kumar ’11 suggested that to avoid increasing the SAF, the assembly should consider an equivalent cut from the funding allocation for Slope Day Programming Board. The previous allocation for SDPB had been $18, a $3 increase from last year.

Basil expressed his opposition to this suggestion, noting that, “Gannett studies have shown a high correlation between Slope Day artist and drinking — the worse the artist the more drinking.” He added that the SDPB spends approximately $200,000 to put on the Slope Day show every year, and a decrease in its funding would likely preclude them from hiring a high quality artist.

S.A. members also noted the absence SDPB members at Friday’s meeting. Since the initial decision was to increase the SDPB’s funding by $3, there was no reason for members of the board to attend the meeting Friday. While Cornell Cinema supporters came out in droves to sway the S.A. to increase cinema funding, SDPB advocates would not have been afforded the same opportunity to protest any potential cut. Also, as Raps noted, “We all did approve the Slope Day [Programming Board]’s budget earlier this semester, and I think it’s unprofessional of us to go back on that.”

Ultimately, the SPDB’s funding remained set at $18. To make up for the increase in funding to Cornell Cinema, the difference was taken out of the SAFC funding, which had already enjoyed an approximate $5 increase over its funding last year. Although the S.A. could have opted to round up and thus increase the SAFC’s allocation by an additional $.60, in order to minimize the increase to the SAFC they decided to decrease the SAFC’s funding by $1.40.

By the meeting’s end, the total SAF increased by 2.9 percent from $204 last funding cycle to $216 this funding cycle.

This article incorrectly stated that it was the Student Assembly Finance Commission that made the initial decision to cut funding for Cornell Cinema. In fact, it was the Student Assembly. The Sun regrets this error.

Original Author: Keri Blakinger